change.gov and the social media citizen

Stories right now on Huffington Post and Salon.com about the backlash over Obama's selection of Rick Warren to speak at the inauguration. Thousands of posts on the change.gov site the Obama team has created are just the tip of the furor. Of course the idea of the change.gov site was/is to bring Obama's supporters, and other Americans, into the conversation about reform and thus to capitalize on the advantages of social media during the election for Obama.

Will it work? Who knows.

I'm pretty sure about this however. I think Obama is a moderate, particularly on the kinds of social issues that really get people angry: gay rights, abortion, etc. However, I also think that we may have reached a historical moment where it is no longer possible to have it two ways. It is appropriate that Obama is always quoting Lincoln. And it may be true that Lincoln had a cabinet of rivals and was open to hearing the voices of those who differed from him, but Lincoln obviously presided over a civil war. Assuming that the outcome of the war was not certain (which of course it couldn't have been), Lincoln was willing to risk the destruction of the US rather than allow the status quo to continue. For Lincoln it was a matter of declaring that certain practices and values, certain ways of life, would no longer be acceptable as part of American culture. And Americans killed each other over the matter, and in many ways, we remain divided.

So Obama is happy to say that change is necessary. But at what cost? What will he be willing to risk? What you can see on change.gov is what you can see on 1000s of other sites, which is that Americans who could be bothered to write anything at all have very strong disagreements. They have absolutely nothing to gain by trying to come to an agreement, and if anything, there interaction on sites like these seems only to harden their respective resolves. Maybe at some future point we will achieve some ethos that compels us to try to get along online, but I doubt it. Would we ask the 19th-century abolitionist to get along with the plantation owner?  I don't think so. At some point, something has got to give.

If Obama is going to be a president of the network, who listens to the network, he is not going to discover his mythical "united" states. If he looks closely enough, he might see the post-human, dissensual state of America and the many apparatuses of capture working to map dissensus onto an ideological map. What one does with such knowledge as a president I have no idea.

UPDATE: David Weinberger has an interesting take on this on the NPR site defending Obama's choice.

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