Political meetings, old and new.

I went to a staid, under-networked house party last night. Meanwhile, Facebook is transmitting crucial grassroots lobbying information at great speed. Both are useful.

Last night, I went to an Organizing for America house party. There were about seven of us. We had a nice conversation. We watched DNC chair Tim Kaine give a decent and reasoned broadcast about the recovery package; it backed up, though less strongly, the desire that Obama telegraphed on Monday night to have the conference committee put things like school construction back in the bill. And we talked about both what we wanted Obama to get from our conversation and what else we might do to turn the stimulus and bank bailout in the direction we preferred. When I suggested that people not only contact Obama but also their senators and members of Congress, people were receptive but seemed somewhat surprised. When I told them that a snail-mail letter to Congress had greater impact than an email or a web form, precisely because it was harder to write, they were really surprised.

Meanwhile, I find this morning that Facebook has, on the surface, blown this method of organizing out of the water. The group “We are the Change” (hat tip: Matt Compton of The Democratic Strategist, which is a great post itself, by the way) contains not only links to detailed substantive information on the stimulus but–missing from this morning’s political blogs, at first scan–the names of the conference committee members. Last night we mentioned Henry Waxman, our local congressman, expressing doubt that writing him would do much good. Had we signed up for this Facebook group, we’d now know–as I know purely by accident–that this was not entirely correct.

My stubborn refusal to join Facebook, on the grounds that spend too much time online as it is, and wish I read the print New York Times more carefully instead, didn’t serve me well here. But here’s why I’m not too ashamed to be behind the technology. Though Facebook members will be more likely than we boring oldsters–at 39, I was probably the youngest last night–to know they ought to send letters to Waxman, I’d bet money that we Van Winkles are more likely actually to do so. Technology allows for low-cost, low-commitment political communication (and fundraising, also now very easy). But politicians will only listen to people willing to contribute consistent attention and serious time–which the new political communications doesn’t rule out, but also doesn’t rule in.

Facebook politics and the house party still need each other. Luddites of the world unite. That’s a statement, not a slogan.

Update: By the dog, things are moving more quickly than I thought. A tentative deal is apparently all but settled (h/t: Steve Benen), and the terms look pretty good: a “smaller” package than the House bill, but with savings coming from the silly tax cuts, and some of the state aid and school spending restored.

Maybe politics at the speed of Facebook is the only game in town after all.

Second Update: Or maybe I was right in the first place to think that Waxman and his fellow House conferees were going to be key to the negotiations. It seems that they were willing to nix the deal proclaimed, too soon, above rather than let the House and Senate leadership negotiate behind their backs a deal that slighted school construction spending. I can’t say that I blame them. And I bet this maneuver will result in at least a little more of that spending.

Third Update: It’s complicated. Somebody schnookered somebody, but it’s not clear who, whom.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.