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3/26/2009
05:45 PM
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Obama's Crafty Web 2.0 Experiment

It wasn't exactly the Nixon-Kennedy debates, but the White House Online TownHall meeting today will go down in history, though not for the reasons you might think.

It wasn't exactly the Nixon-Kennedy debates, but the White House Online TownHall meeting today will go down in history, though not for the reasons you might think.Yes, it's the first time a president addressed citizens' questions--including one on legalizing marijuana (it's not gonna happen)--via Web video from the White House.

But the real significance was watching a president masterfully exploit the Internet as a communications tool. Almost 93,000 people submitted questions online, and 3.6 million votes decided which of those questions got asked.

The event enabled an unprecedented dialogue between U.S. citizens and the president, but in a format that favors Obama's calm persona and showcased his skill at extemporaneous speech that blends talking points with personal anecdotes. Unlike a press conference, there were no pesky follow-up questions, and, unlike a debate, there were no time limits nor opponents to challenge his answers. What politician wouldn't like it?

That said, the event wasn't an infomercial. Questioners often cited personal examples of how proposed policies would affect their jobs, finances, and health. The president's answers didn't always satisfy. Yet it was heartening not just that the questions were asked, but how.

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