“I pretty much do whatever Oprah tells me to”

9 years ago

said Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, when asked what religion she practices. Seems she’s not alone:

Even before Oprah drew throngs in Iowa, the Des Moines Register poll showed Mr. Obama leading Hillary Clinton among women for the first time (31 to 26 percent) in late November

. Now his surge is spreading. In New Hampshire, the Rasmussen poll after Oprah’s visit found that the Clinton lead among women had fallen from 14 to 4 percent in just two weeks. In South Carolina, where some once thought Mr. Obama was not “black enough” to peel away loyal African-American voters from the Clintons, he’s ahead by double digits among blacks in four polls. (A month ago they were even among African-Americans in that state.) Over all, the Obama-Clinton race in all three states has now become too close to call.

I, too, attempt to channel Oprah when I'm in doubt. I read her magazine, although I never watch the show. Her power feels magnanimous, as if she is willing to share her secrets, and bring me into her world. She has the power to sway minds, but clearly the Obama campaign feels comfortable sharing influence with Oprah. And if you're in the mood to talk about power, politics, and people-powered politics, join friend of BlogHer Zephyr Teachout online now at TalkingPointsMemo.com.

In her post, Zephyr makes a point on campaigns use of what she calls "decentralizing tasks" (Internet political tactics, like email fundraising, Facebook, blog outreach). She notes the difference between these tasks and real decentralization of power. This notion has a lot to do with the current debate (which Lisa Stone discusses here) on how candidates are or are not actually reaching out to online communities. Are they really considering online activists as real aspects of their electorate, to be dealt with in a real way, or are they just paying lip service? If they really engage online, are they going to lose too much power? This has been a question since 2004, and Zephyr and her team of former Howard Dean staffers know it well

Zephyr just wrote a new book about her work on the Howard Dean campaign, and on TPM she writes,

Tom Streeter and I argue in the final chapter of Mousepads, Shoe Leather and Hope that decentralized power is different than decentralized tasks. The internet enables both, but the former increases democracy, whereas the latter increases heirarchical control. The Dean campaign decentralized power; many campaigns have borrowed the tools and innovations from that cycle, but primarily for decentralizing tasks.

Power is decentralized when participants have a meaningful chance to change the structure—what Jonathan Zittrain calls ”generativity.” Power is not decentralized every time a person participates. A supporter can make phone calls, door knock, forward emails, but not be encouraged to strategize on her own; she has little more power than a person sending in a video entry to a Cheerios contest for a new ad campaign. I regularly participate in the newspaper industry by reading papers, but that doesn't give me power to change the structure.

Why should we care? Distributed power leads to distributed responsibility, which is good for a healthy polity.

Agree? Disagree? Feel like we're a little far from being a healthy polity? Weigh in.

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