This phrase — “gets it” — is a phrase tossed around obnoxiously by us internet veterans, and is used to refer to an individual or an entity that “groks” (there’s another one of those words) the internet. Not just uses the internet, but that fully appreciates and takes advantage of the give-and-take and the limitless possibilities afforded by “Web 2.0” (there’s another one) and what comes of the open, free exchange of information. To say whether or not somebody “gets it” is, of course, an extremely judgmental thing to do, with declarations of “doesn’t get it” usually outpacing “gets it” by an enormous margin. By handing out such opinions, those of us who fancy that we “get it” make ourselves feel special.
Tim Kaine’s campaign for governor “gets it.” The first sign came a few months ago, when they hired John Rohrbach to be their internet guy. John gets it. The second sign was when John set up the Kaine campaign blog, which is a proper blog — updated regularly, it’s not just rehashed press releases, comments are enabled, it’s built in WordPress, etc. The third sign was when the campaign began podcasting. They’ve done two podcasts so far, and all signs indicate that they’ll keep going.
The fourth sign that the Kaine campaign gets it came last night. They invited five Virginia bloggers to attend last night’s event in Arlington, VA — a fundraiser featuring Sen. Barack Obama.
When I arrived at the Clarendon Ballroom, in the thick of the bizarre world that is Upstate Virginia, the neighborhood was full of eager-looking young professionals bearing Kaine signs and lapel stickers. Inside the crowded, dim venue, he campaign had set aside a table for the five of us (me, Lowell Feld, Sam Penney, Kenton Ngo, and Maura Keaney) and arranged for WiFi (which ended up not working, unfortunately), providing press passes for the each of us. We were assigned a friendly young man as our handler, who looked after our needs (and presumably kept us from getting in trouble, too).
At 8:00, when Reps. Jim Moran and Bobby Scott began their introductions, hundreds of people had packed the open concert hall space. The density of human bodies was inversely proportional to the distance from the stage; moving freely was impossible. Moran and Scott warmed up the audience, speaking the need to “take this country back,” defend social security, and fight the PATRIOT Act. Scott, in his train-conductor speaking style, interjected a few times, so Moran and Scott ended up trading off and working up the audience. Fifteen minutes later, the first time that the name “Barack Obama” was spoken by Rep. Moran, the audience cheered wildly.
When Sen. Obama was introduced, to the strains of U2’s “Elevation,” the audience went nuts. It was as if Dave Matthews (or, more appropriately, Bono) had just walked onto stage. The admiration and awe was palpable. Obama is an excellent speaker, and he played the audience like a drum. He established a rapport through self-effacing humor, provided a brief biographical sketch, and then announced that he’d brought a check for Tim Kaine for $10,000. Now, that ain’t much, but the crowd reacted like Sen. Obama had just offered up his firstborn to Kaine.
While they were busy cheering in reaction to the announcement, Obama plowed on through, urging them to do their part — to be prepared to lick envelopes, go door to door, do whatever the Kaine campaign needs them to do. And on that note, he introduced “my man Tim Kaine,” who was able to bask in the considerable glory of standing next to Barack Obama on stage.
During Kaine’s remarks, we bloggers were threaded through the crowd and left in a holding area to wait to speak with Sen. Obama. At the end of Kaine’s remarks (when, bizarrely, something that sounded very much the the Friends’ theme song, by The Rembrandts, began to play), the crowd pressed forward, eager to share a few words or simply touch Obama. After a few minutes, security began to move everybody back, and we were permitted backstage, where we waited while proper journalists did their interviews with Tim Kaine and Barack Obama.
And then we got our five minutes. Ostensibly, the goal was to conduct interviews, and questions had been prepared and were asked. Sen. Obama was candid and friendly, while Kaine chatted amicably in side conversations. All the while, the crowd continued to press forward — I spotted one young woman crying under the tantalizing stress of being so close to Obama yet unable to speak with him. Maura pulled me over for a group shot with Obama, and that was that.
What made our invitation to the event noteworthy is not that we were treated like journalists. That’s an increasingly-common trend, although this would be a first in Virginia politics, I believe. The title of “journalist” was more of a fig leaf — the Kaine campaign was providing us with an opportunity to talk with Tim Kaine and Barack Obama.
Blogs matter. They matter in ways that we can’t yet quantify. Maybe we’ll know, in retrospect, how they affected state races this year, if that’s even quantifiable. The Kaine campaign knows that. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, they know there are things that they know that they don’t know, and one of those is what role blogs will play in the race. So they treat bloggers well. They treat us like the journalists that we’re not, and like the opinion-shapers that we could be, even though they don’t have to.
The Kaine campaign gets it. And we appreciate it.
Some photos shamelessly stolen from Kenton Ngo. B&W one by John Rohrbach.