The following piece was produced by the Huffington Post's OffTheBus project.
On Thursday MySpace and MTV launched "A Presidential Dialogue" with John Edwards, and MySpace members submitted questions during the video stream by IM. An ongoing real time reaction chart was shown, not unlike cable debate coverage, but here is where it gets meta.
Edwards had a chance to adjust his responses based on feedback texted to MySpace when viewers didn't feel he answered a question adequately. It would have been interesting to see Tavis Smiley include a "Here's how you're going over so far" or "What?" follow-up during the debate he hosted the same day.
Speaking to a generation touched by Operation Enduring Freedom, Edwards took questions including "What are your plans on preventing troops from having more than one active term of duty?" He told the New Hampshire audience that when he hears their concerns including whether "Some president like Bush is going to send you off to a war in Iraq, I think America's a lot better than this."
The MySpace / MTV series contrasts with the CNN / YouTube debates in that Republican frontrunners are in the mix, with the notable absence of Romney and Thompson.
The alphabetical lineup is: Brownback, Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Giuliani, Gravel, Hunter, Kucinich, McCain, Obama, Paul and Richardson. For those who want a seat in the room, adding The Impact Page Presidential Forum to their Top 8 Friends qualifies them for the chance to attend. The page also takes voter registration applications. Video clips are listed, with titles like, "Does John Edwards Make You Nervous?" and "You Brought the Heat."
As the candidate who kicked off his campaign in New Orleans and is auctioning off the chance to build a house with him there, Edwards fielded questions from more than one New Orleans native. This as a growing influx of volunteers in Mercy Corps / Teach America / Common Ground / Acorn / Americorps and church groups are coming south to gut and rebuild homes. MySpace paid for a few bloggers to attend, not me, but as a displaced New Orleanean and Off the Bus correspondent I watched with particular interest.
Levees, police, hospitals, schools and job programs were at the top of his list. "Instead of having Halliburton contracted to come and rebuild New Orleans, let's have the people of New Orleans rebuild their own city. Let's give them a good job with decent pay and decent benefits." Edwards is also proposing "Brownie's Law", where, "If you're going to be in charge of an important federal agency, you actually have to have some experience at doing the job." That drew applause, but then a viewer texted a hardball:
"Ask him about foreclosing on homeowners in New Orleans." So Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post did.
Edwards went into a discussion of predatory lending post-Katrina with subprime mortgage foreclosures. "I worked for a company that had some investments in one of those companies that was doing the foreclosing. I got my money out of that because I didn't want anything to do with it." Then he stayed in damage control mode describing an ACORN foreclosure prevention fund he works with.
The forum's real-time graph included the categories: "Dodged Questions, Out of Touch" or "Understands Reality." With his closing comments, Edwards answered Instant Message follow-up questions with a sentence touching on everything from Darfur genocide to global poverty to global warming to New Orleans to universal healthcare.
I recently asked a Midwestern high school student who the current sentimental favorite is at her high school. "It was Obama, but now it's Burma," she said. "Today a freshman was giving out red ribbons to wear in solidarity for Burma, but he ran out of ribbons."
Following generation Y Should I Vote, it's possible that for this era empathy is replacing emo. Based on his MySpace / MTV Presidential Dialogue, Edwards is hoping so. And hoping that enough of them will be old enough to vote by the primaries to make a significant difference (or that Ron Paul will somehow manage to drop the voting age to 16).
One young MySpace member posted on the Presidential Dialogue page today: 'You can LOVE YOUR COUNTRY but you better FEAR YOUR GOVERNMENT! Actually it's the world's rich that run the world (the illuminati) LOL."
The Illuminati and Laugh Out Loud? The beat goes on.
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