My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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my February 5 voting ballot: Barack Obama and CA Propositions

It’s election time. For the first time in my life, I’m excited about a primary. Why? My vote actually counts for once!! It’s kinda a weird feeling and it makes me realize how much different it would be to vote if it were all about choosing delegates rather than a winner-takes-all scenario. I ended up taking the primary pretty seriously, researching the candidates and thinking long and hard about what my choice should be.

At first, I defaulted to identity politics. I mean, I’ve been dreaming of a woman president all my life. But then a friend of mine asked me if I’d vote for Condi just to have a women president and I was like omg no. So I decided that this was irresponsible and that I should sit and think about the issues more deeply.

Problem is that the issues aren’t the issue – by and large, Barack and Hillary are on the exact same plan. Then they came to Los Angeles and one glaring difference became visible: Hillary is all about old media and Barack is all about new media. Hillary is totally in bed with big corporations (and Hollywood) and Barack embraced a lot of the innovative ideas put forward by independent startups and tech culture. This started to make me very nervous about Hillary. For me, net neutrality is a *HUGE* issue and I would hate to see the next president play nice with old media just to get some bribes.

This all started making me think about media and its relationship to the presidency. For better or worse, media plays a HUGE role in making a president and helping the president communicate to (or outright manipulate) the masses. I realized that Barack had an asset that few really thought through: Oprah Winfrey. I don’t think that Oprah can necessarily get him elected, but if he were president, what I do think that she can do is help the masses understand the decisions at play. She’s her own woman and I don’t think that the White House could ever buy her off, but if she’s invested, I strongly believe that she can help people understand sticky complex issues in an elegant way. This is going to be extremely important as we face the crisis in Iraq. Iraq is not a matter of pulling out/staying in. Both really really suck as solutions. Problem is that the mainstream discourse is binary and that’s going to make things a mess for the next president. The economy and its implications are another piece of chaos. The environment is another issue. We need a president who can communicate to the masses and get support to make difficult changes in this country. I don’t believe someone in Washington can do this alone and, damn, Oprah is about the best asset in the world for helping out.

Then I started thinking about the general election. Hillary is soooo divisive. I actually feel badly for her on this front, but I can’t ignore that reality. People love her or hate her. She has enemies everywhere. She’s going to have a hard time getting things done because of those enemies. She doesn’t motivate young people to be engaged in politics like Barack does. And, frankly, I don’t think that she can beat McCain. And that worries me. Cuz even if McCain isn’t that bad, the idea of another term of Republican machinery SCARES THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME.

Finally, when I was in Davos, I expected everyone to be pro-Hillary and anti-Barack because of the whole “experience” thing. I was shocked to find that this was not the case at all. Most foreign diplomats and companies thought that Barack would be much better at negotiating with foreign powers than Hillary. They all knew that the candidates would have huge advisory teams that would help them understand what was going on. Even though Hillary knew more people already, they felt as though Barack would be more effective. (And most were extremely worried about how Bill would overshadow anything with Hillary… another sad reality.)

So, I made my decision and I’m going to vote with a level of enthusiasm unprecedented in my lifetime. I donated to his campaign and I’m going to vote for Barack Obama.

California Propositions

Before leaving for Davos, I threw a proposition party so that my friends could come together and collectively decide how to vote for California Propositions. Here’s my slate for anyone who is interested (or any lazy person who wants someone to tell them how to vote). More notes over at Mindtangle.

CA Prop 91: NO (Not even the proponents are for it any longer.)

CA Prop 92: YES (This formula should’ve been redone long ago; community college is extremely important and, arguably, more important than HS ed.)

CA Prop 93: NO (I don’t like fishy changes in term limits that suit the proponents and have unclear long-term effects.)

CA Prop 94-97: NO (Gaming contracts the benefit the top tribes at the cost of the smaller ones are extremely problematic and without clear audits, it’s not clear that it will be the economic benefit that people believe.)

LA Prop S: YES (Yes, the 10% tax was illegal and so yes, this is an increase not a decrease in taxes. But the damage done by propositions in the past makes funding some of these necessary services really challenging and I strongly believe that we should modernize the phone tax and, more importantly, that companies using digital systems should pay per user not per company. This prop isn’t ideal but it’s necessary.)

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26 comments to my February 5 voting ballot: Barack Obama and CA Propositions

  • Joergen Springborg

    I can’t vote but would have voted for Hillary.

    Obama speaks on the time of change, but is more conservative than Hillary.

    A woman president is a bigger revolution than an afro-american.

    Germany elected a woman primeminister – she is doing fine.

    The french said no to woman president and got Sarkozy.

  • McCain not that bad? The guy says we’ll stay in Iraq for 10,000 years!

  • To Joergen Springborg: How is Obama more conservative? I’m under the impression that it’s Hillary who is the more conservative one of the two.

    If I had the vote, I would vote Obama as well. Too bad he’s not a black female, but we can’t live in a perfect world like that. 😉

  • mo

    @ joergen:

    >”A woman president is a bigger revolution than an afro-american.
    >Germany elected a woman primeminister – she is doing fine.”

    Seriously I think the election *should* be a question of qualification instead of race or gender (although i must commit, that in this case it’s quite interesting). Anyway, I would not vote for Hillary just because she is a woman, nor would I vote for Obama for being afro-american.

    >The french said no to woman president and got Sarkozy.
    damn right.
    Austria was different: They said no to a woman president in the last election as well, but that was a good choice.

  • Tex

    Johanka,
    Don’t get me started on the black female thing. I’m still pissed about Moseley-Braun. Shit I don’t think I’ll ever get over that one, and I’m not referring to the token-fetishization angle, either.

    As for danah’s lament on binary v. complexity, I’ll just throw in that I wish Iraq would create a local-based Civilian Conservation Corps. Fuh real, yo. Only answer I can come up with that is neither stay nor withdraw.

  • I’m a Hillary supporter, and have you checked out her website? I get regular updates, and there’s all sorts of organization, videos, etc. I guess I’m just surprised to hear you say you think Hillary is “old media.” She’s been working new media quite effectively, seems to me. I donated to a campaign for the first time ever and more than once! 🙂

    You know, I just love Hillary, I find her so inspiring and experienced. I definitely believe she has what it takes to win the election.

  • Jon

    He is exciting a lot of people. He has intelligence and charisma. We will see if that is enough to overcome his lack of political experience.

    I think intelligence and leadership abilty and the ability to inspire people is enough to overcome inexperience.

  • Thank you for that analysis — interesting points, indeed!

    On proposition 92, meanwhile, a friend of mine linked to this analysis by “Pete Rates”, which points out some significant flaws in the proposed new formula. It sounds like to me that, regardless of whether or not the formula should have been redone, this proposal isn’t a good way to do it.

    (He also disagrees with you about proposition 93, by the way; might be interesting to look at.)

  • This is awesome: our primary vote actually matters! I am waiting to see if the Oklahoma meeting produces anything useful, and I wonder if their influence has produced some of the endorsements we’ve seen so far.

    Most interesting so far, is the complete mess that’s been made of primary season: Obama (Iowa, S.C.), Clinton(Florida,N.H.), Romney (Michigan,Nevada), Huckabee (Iowa), and maybe McCain(Florida) have all won primaries based on demographics and established regional connections; Huckabee(S.C.) and Romney (Florida) have shown strong second place positions. I don’t see this trend vanishing before Tuesday, either.

  • Peggy Pendleton

    I too payed close attention to the political theater today and though we view the day’s events through a different filter we came to the same conclusions. I live in Utah, surrounded by the Mormon culture, and I feel like a refugee. I cannot remember an election when my vote counted–though it never stopped me from proudly voting anyway if only to cancel out a Republican vote. But this political season I have real hope that for once my vote will matter. I write a blog called “Utah Savage”. I hope someday you will pay me a visit. I will be back to your site often. Thanks again for taking the time to keep the dialogue going.

  • I had the same thoughts/feelings you had and I’m really happy you decided for Obama. Even though the rest of the world doesn’t vote, all eyes are on you [americans], since your decisions can make a very strong difference in many issues everywhere. And I *really hope*, as you do, the world doesn’t have to deal with another republican like Bush so soon.

  • I’m still rooting for Ron Paul. Yeah, he’s a Republican, and he’s anti-abortion, but he understands issue #1: that concentrating power in Washington is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. The issue here is not getting the right person in office — it’s making it less crucial to have the right person in office.

    Distribution of power among the states — because no President can be trusted.

  • Danah

    “net neutrality is a *HUGE* issue” is a belief many of us share, and have been working on for years. But I’ve started to think we have to pay more attention to some other issues as well, in particular affordable prices for basic service. NN becomes less of an issue as Internet speeds rise; Verizon’s 20/20 FIOS would be technically difficult to make seriously non-neutral, for example, and speeds are going even higher. Only things going at speeds above 1 meg are an issue today, when most service is 1.5 or 3.0 down. That’s a big issue, because good full screen video takes about 2 meg. But when speeds go to 5 meg down and up, 2 meg streams will almost always get through unless the carriers seriously distort the network.

    Being able to watch TV of my choice, especially at 5 meg plus HD rates, is an important issue with free speech implications. That means the NN debate will continue, and now is spreading to wireless. Important stuff.

    But 40% of U.S. homes don’t have a broadband connection, mostly because the price is too high. AT&T reported more customers are being shut off because they can’t pay their phone bills. There’s been a big increase in basic phone rates the last decade, from state deregulation and bad deals like the FCC line charge. Wireless basic plans have been stuck at $40-50/month for years and text message rates have doubled because the wireless companies are acting like a cartel.

    Making sure everyone is connected, and paying an appropriate price, is also a battle worth fighting.

    This isn’t a personal critique, rather something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
    Dave Burstein

  • Ken

    Not that this is entirely what drives my support for Senator Obama, but I find it fascinating to compare how often he and Senator Clinton use the words “we” or “I”.

    Each candidate specializes: Obama = we, Clinton = I.

    The point can be drawn too far, but the Clinton approach to politics has always seemed paternalistic (and cynical). I find the idea of “us” and “we” sharing in a common task far more potent and inspirational.

  • Jon

    On the old media/new media distinction, it’s interesting watching the flow in the Facebook groups. Obama made a great point in the debate that while all the Democrats have helped galvanize turnout, he’s contributed by far the most — especially among younger voters. Old media have a hard time seeing this and have vested interests in dismissing it, and in any case are likely to underestimate the power of youth.

    If Obama wins, especially if it’s a landslide, when people look back at the election, they’ll speculate about the tipping point: the Kennedy’s endorsement, followed by the NY Times “civil rights” editorial and Teddy’s appearance on El Polin? MoveOn’s endorsement? Last night’s debate (because after all, it was in Hollywood)? This thread?

    > Problem is that the issues aren’t the issue – by and large, Barack and Hillary are on the exact same plan.

    Some of the differences matter a lot. Take their positions on LGBTIQ issues. Both are light-years better than the Republican candidate’s will be. Obama’s support for a full repeal of the “Defense of Marriage Act” and an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act are significant. I also think he’ll be a lot better at building bipartisan support for this, based on his success in Illinois.

  • Greg

    Danah: I favor Obama too, and I agree with your reasons. However, as a feminist man, even one who does not like H. Clinton very much, I want to THANK YOU for using “Barak” and “Hillary” not “Obama” and “Hillary”. It drives me crazy that the female candidate is generally called by her first name, even by many of her supporters, while the men are referenced by their last names. I try to say “Obama” and “Clinton”, but calling them both by their first names works too!

    Thanks for that detail.

  • Greg – thanks for bringing up that issue… I’ve actually been wondering about it cuz I always used Barack, Hillary, and Edwards. While I think that the gender issue is definitely at play, I can’t help but wonder if it would be different if Hillary wasn’t a Clinton. I remember when our current president ran for office, everyone called him W since it was the only thing to distinguish him from his father.

    I think that I tend to go with whatever name is less common or mod the name to be uniquely identifiable. With our president, I usually just say Bush and then make a face which separates him from his father who gets called The First Bush. Condi because that’s distinguishable. Same with Barack. Better than Obama where people tend to think Osama. I call my governor the Governator or Ahhh-nold. I still call our former president Clinton. All of the current Republican candidates get their last names since that’s what’s rare except for Ron Paul who gets his full name.

    But this makes me think.. maybe it’s partially that women’s names are so rare in politics that first names are distinguishable while, especially in Hillary’s case, last names aren’t. Of course, thinking about what I call celebrities, it comes down to distinguishable names. Angelina, Britney, Paris, … all female first names. With men, I have a weird tendency to use full names: Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman… Hmm.. I wonder.

    Or maybe men just need to start having more original names. Tehehe.

  • > Ahhh-nold.

    :Mentally trying to imagine danah pretending to have a thick Austian accent and a low voice:
    :Mind blocked on that:

    > I still call our former president Clinton

    Thank you!
    For what? “our”, instead of “the”; it sounds better to foreigners, promise.

    The first name for female candidates was also an issue in our presidential campaign (in France): the habit, “Royal” doesn’t sound too democratic, but the short version of her first name (Ségo) and his last name (Sarko) both rhymed with -o, which sounds better. It’s actually a very old habit, with many justification: women needed to me told apart from their husband, often into politics too; changed their last name; used their gender. From the cases that I can think of, it seems having a husband involved in politics turns out to be a burden when running: is it because it is easier to imagine a household then?
    All females candidates here (including one who tried the Presidential race seven times, starting in 1974) were always designated by their first name.

    I’ve always said that the situation will be balanced not when the first women will take office, but when one looses a race and people don’t think of it as a shame that “a woman” lost, but consider that she simply wasn’t as good. Not there yet.

  • I remember as I watched his victory speech after winning the Iowa caucus. For the first time in my life I regretted that I wasn’t American, because I was ready to campaign and vote for him. I see this as a defining moment in American politics.

    I don’t know if this is similar to the Kennedy movement as I wasn’t alive then, however I feel motivated to better my own life whenever I hear Barack speak. I believe if he becomes President he will energise the USA and to a great extent citizens around the world, like Prime Minister Trudeau energised Canadians during 1968 when Trudeaumania swept across the nation.

  • alex

    How is Oprah not old media?

  • Oprah *is* old media. But Oprah supporting Barack is not the same as Hillary playing to old media when it comes to policies like net neutrality, copyright, IP, etc. Barack has to engage with old media, but that doesn’t mean he supports their lobbyist causes.

  • Jon

    The Yes We Can video’s propagation through the networks is good a example of the Obama campaign getting new media.

    [If any academics are reading this, it will also be a fascinating study — please forward me early drafts of the papers :-)]

    And while Oprah certainly seems like old media, she’s also done a lot more experimentation than most — I’m thinking of her foray into Yahoo! Answers, for example.

  • Greg

    Danah — You’re response to my comment about HC being identified as “Hillary” is interesting. I think you are right that it is not entirely due to sexism. It may have a lot to do with informational efficiency, and it may also be in part that she came into public awareness because of her role as the former president’s wife, etc.

    However, I think also that there is a way in which most people, lovers, haters, men, women, democrats, repubs, don’t realize they are being dismissive when they continue to call her “Hillary”, and I think their capacity to identify a serious presidential candidate by her first name without realizing how that is dismissive, is the result of sexism.

    And, I feel, as I said before, that even though I don’t prefer her in the presidential race, that I owe it to her to try to call her “Clinton” or at least “Hillary Clinton”.

    Because you brought up how we identify male vs. female celebrities, etc… I started thinking about that more generally. My observation is that in the public discourse, only Presidents and a few other political leaders of utmost national prominence get identified solely by their last names.

    Almost everybody else, whether in politics, sports, the arts, film, music, etc. get called by their first and last name. Some people get called ONLY by their first name, but that is usually when they are being recognized more for their personality/celebrity status and less for their accomplishment at WHAT THEY DO.

  • Jon

    Well said, Greg. I try to keep things parallel in any given conversation: if the surnames are unambiguous in context, I’ll typically use “Clinton” and “Obama”; if not, I’ll use “Hillary Clinton” and “Barack Obama”.

    On the “new media” front, Ari Melber’s Obama’s Star-Studded YouTube video makes the point that

    While the Obama campaign had no role in this video, it has run a sophisticated and effective YouTube strategy. It was the only campaign to record a YouTube address for this week’s State of the Union, which has already drawn over 850,000 views and is one of the most popular clips in the world this week. The campaign also promotes a battery of ring tones, which splice one-liners from Obama with riffs of music. Young voters can get the items for free by providing the campaign with their cell phone number — a life-line for organizing a demographic that is rarely listed in party databases.

    There is also a very solid infrastructure for activism on Facebook, although I’m running into some of the same challenges Derek Blackadder did

  • There may also be a generation thing at stake here. I get way weirded out when people call me anything but “danah.” I’d rather think of my president in first name terms. Otherwise, I think they are abstract creatures who aren’t about being one with the people. Using only last names makes me think that they’re people on a sports team.

  • yes there was expectation at first,still obama has not delivered.