I've got a new Guardian column, Internet-era politics means safe seats are a thing of the past, which analyzes the trajectory of Internet-fuelled election campaigning since Howard Dean, and takes hope in the launch of I'll Vote Green If You Do.
The Obama campaigns went further. Building on the Dean campaign, two successive Obama campaigns raised millions in small-money donations, creating purpose-built Facebook-like social networks and using them to recruit highly connected supporters to work their way through their social graphs, contacting friends and friends-of-friends to pitch them on donating and voting.
But both times, Obama took office and immediately shut down these grassroots networks. The Obama governance style is big on closed-door, back-room horse-trading – Obama came out of Chicago Democratic Machine politics, after all – and this is fundamentally incompatible with having a bunch of true believers running around waving the flag, making categorical statements about which compromises are (and are not) acceptable.
Governing in tandem with a grassroots is a hard problem. The best example we have of this is the Tea Party, which, despite the big-money backers who bankrolled it, is composed of people who are genuinely passionate about politics and are serious about insisting that the politicians they backed act in accord with their principles.
Leaving aside my political differences with the Tea Party, it's fair to say that this has been a mixed bag for Republican lawmakers, whose caucus has been responsible for a congressional deadlock that's run on for years, so that it's become normal for vital US governmental agencies to shut down and send everyone home until a budget can be passed.