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On Sunday afternoon we had an FDL member town hall webinar with guests Josh Koster, Daniel Ellsberg and Michael Moore.

Josh Koster, a partner in the digital media firm Chong and Koster,  gave a presentation on the use of online advertising in political campaigns.  Josh’s firm just won their first statewide election, the No on 8 campaign in Florida, by using online advertising as the primary form of voter communication (rather than much more expensive TV or direct mail).  To give you an idea of what is possible, their entire online campaign — with millions of impressions carefully targeted at specific demographic groups — was done for the same cost as one piece of direct mail.  We will definitely be having more trainings to help FDL activists make the most of this innovative and cost-effective campaign tool in the future.

Following Josh, Daniel Ellsberg (of the Pentagon Papers fame) gave a presentation on his thoughts about the possibility of a third party Presidential candidate for 2012.  Dan’s idea was to compete only in the states that could not have an impact on the outcome of the race, in the hopes of getting 5% of the vote and qualifying for federal funding in 2016.

Dan’s contention is that when it came to things like Supreme Court appointments, one party is affirmatively worse than the other but that neither was good enough to be worth supporting.  By running in states that could not impact the outcome of the election, it would allow a third party candidate to enter the debate and stay in it to the end, as opposed to a primary challenger whose media presence would end when the primaries were over.  (And on a practical note, when Nader decided to compete against Gore in swing states in 2000, his polling dropped from 5% to 2%.  So there is historical evidence to support the idea that running in swing states could actually hurt the chance of reaching the 5% target.  One of the primary obstacles that third parties face in the US is that they are relegated to playing the role of spoiler in a 2 party system, which keeps them out of the debate and undermines public support for their message.  Instant runoff voting, recently passed in Great Britain, can help to mitigate that effect.   We’ll be having a webinar on IRV and other systemic changes that facilitate 3rd party viability in the near future.)

Michael Moore relayed his history working with Ralph Nader in 2000. He said he didn’t think he was “talking out of school” to say that Nader had not intended to campaign in swing states until after Gore and others kept him out of the debate.  After that, “Ralph decided to change the plan” said Moore.  Nader’s strategy was essentially “to hell with Gore,” and he started campaigning in Ohio and Florida.  Moore said that it was unquestionable that the political system was no longer responsive to the public, but did not know if it was better to take over the Democratic Party as the Tea Party had done to the Republican Party and run a primary candidate, or build a third party.  If it was the latter, he suggested the “Roosevelt Party,” the “New Deal Party” or the “New Democrats.”

The panelists also took questions from community members.  Donna M. spoke for a lot of people when she asked:

Desite honoring Daniel Ellsberg for his work, I have to disagree with him, specifically his saying, in effect, go with the lesser of two evils — Obama — until we get something better. I’d like to be educated as to how Romney would be worse — particularly if there were strong “Democratic” opposition to the more draconian of his policies. Among the WORST things about Obama is the way he has shut down all criticism and opposition to those same policies when enacted by HIM. Frankly, I don’t want to wait 4 more years, letting Obama destroy the Democratic Party more effectively than the Republicans have done.

Dan said that when it came to criticizing the President he took a back seat to no one, but he could not in good conscience back an effort that could be a spoiler in the race and result in a Republican being put in office.  As bad as the Democrats were, they would at the very least make better Supreme Court appointments.

Tim F. wanted to know if they thought Elizabeth Warren would make a good third party presidential candidate. Ellsberg said that Warren or Russ Feingold would probably not risk the wrath of the Democratic Party by running. He liked the idea of former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, but conceded that few knew who he was.

Michael Moore had two words — “Matt Damon”:

I think that [Matt Damon] has been very courageous in not caring about who he offends by saying the things that need to be said here, and if you want to win, the Republicans have certainly shown the way — that when you run someone who is popular, you win.  Sometimes even when you run an actor, you win.  And I guess I only throw his name out there because I’d like us to start thinking that way.  I don’t really want to spend a whole lot of time running symbolic campaigns.  Because there are a whole host of things we need to do, and Jane you have certainly mentioned a couple of things that you are going to have in your next thing here in September that are really critical, in terms of instant runoff voting and proportional voting, these are really important — things that need to be instituted to make this more democratic.

But I think these two parties are very weak right now.  Dan mentioned 1856 there with the Republicans, and 4 or 5 years later there was a Republican in the White House.  These times occur very rarely when a political party is so weak that it  literally can be killed off.  And I think both parties are in that position right now.  And I think that a group of people, if we had some real national leadership, and a real commitment to grassroots organizing, to form a new Democratic Party…and call ourselves the New Democrats, in fact that’s the name of a party up in Canada that occasionally does quite well up there….or call ourselves ourselves the Roosevelt Party.  Come up with something that would really be catchy.

Listen I throw these ideas out there, because I recognize the country I live in.  Living in Michigan now, the main topic of conversation this week was the last episode of the Bachelorette, and why did Ashley pick J.P. over Ben.  That’s the country I live in, and they all vote.  And I’d like to communicate with them.  I know that they’re upset.  And I know they don’t like these wars and they’re desperate for jobs.  Living in Michigan, we’re living in a depression right now.  There really couldn’t be a better time to organize, to run a viable candidate.  And to really say the Democratic party has not served us well, so we’re going to Democrats 2.0. We’re brining it into the 21st century, we’re going to be called the New Democrats, or the Roosevelts, or the whatever you come up with, and we’re going to run people who are going to win.

The mention of Matt Damon’s name immediately drew a chorus of “here here’s” from the participants in chat.

In closing, Moore said that this was an important conversation to start having, and he thanked Dan and the FDL community for initiating it.

I announced that we would be having two member webinars upcoming in September, one on instant runoff voting and other systemic changes to make third parties viable in the US, and the other by Adam Kanzer of the Domini Group on the way they are  challenging Citizens United in Montana.

Bill Egnor, our Director of Membership Development, announced a new volunteer opportunity for those who wanted to be a part of the Membership Engagement Team.  We’re looking for five volunteers who will be responsible for calling new members to welcome them and letting them know about all the opportunities that are available to them, whether that means blogging and commenting as part of the FDL community, the upcoming programs and webinars they can sign up for,  the tools that are available at FDL to help them further their own local activism, or just letting them know they have a friendly person they can contact if they need help.

If you’re an FDL member you’ll be getting an email tomorrow with details about how you can apply to be on the Membership Engagement Team.   And if you’re not an FDL member, you can join now for as little as $45 per year.