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June 29, 2007

Watershed Event?

I think that I may have participated in a watershed event in the development of the concept of extreme democracy last night. I blogged the Presidential Forum Watch Party live last night at the LBJ Library for Texas Forums and the Media Bloggers Association. It was extraordinarily frustrating. However, ultimately, I think the experience provided me with some insight,

Here was the design of the evening. PBS hosted the 1 ½ hour forum live from 8 to 9:30 CDT. The audience at the LBJ Library viewed the broadcast together. It ended with a group discussion of what people heard.

Preceding the broadcast, an hour was devoted to small and large group discussion. I was assigned a table for the small group discussion along with about six other bloggers. We were to report the discussion of the citizens of big issue questions prepared on topics like poverty, equality, etc.

Unfortunately what it boiled down to is that we only had ten minutes to discuss one of many big questions at the table. The group I was with took a lot of time trying to select the question, and then didn’t really get to the meat of the issue until about 8 minutes into the discussion.

The forum suffered from the same problem – big questions and too little time. The time each of the democratic candidates had to answer a question started at one minute, quickly went to 30 seconds, and finally on the last question to 15 seconds. Sound bites. And, this was PBS.

Why do I think this was a watershed event for extreme democracy? I believe it demonstrated the utter futility of mass media to handle national issues. And, locally it demonstrated the futility of having far too little time for the participants to get into any kind of deliberation. And, I don’t believe that we can realistically expect people to be able to give more time. This evening was already a three hour event.

This election may be a watershed event just because of its nature. Every thinking person in this country agrees that we have some very big fundamental problems. I believe there are more problems and more agreement that the problems are important than any presidential election in my memory, And, perhaps less agreement on solutions or even how to go about solving the problems.

Not coincidently, we also have the largest number candidates in my memory as well. There are, depending on who you count, 8 democrats and 11 republicans, according to the PBS News Hour web site.

We really need a completely functional extreme democracy system in place right now, with technology and issues literacy for at least the majority of Americans. And, we don’t. For me, this is likely to be a very frustrating election. But, maybe things will be different in four years.

Posted by Paul Schumann at June 29, 2007 9:27 AM


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