This is a much-anticipated session at Gnomedex - everyone is looking forward to hearing what a potential president of the USA has to say. Senator Edwards starts by saying that blogging and podcasting is where America is going. People engaging with politicians, not just listening and watching. He says he's learning from bloggers, so finds it a bit strange to be giving a speech to us. He says what we're (bloggers) are doing is important for the country and the changes that we're creating - "and I'm trying to keep up with" - is an important step in engaging people in politics. Talks about having a "meaningful dialog" and thinks what we're doing is "enormously important". But wants it to be beneficial to everybody in the country, so that all have access to the technology.
Dave McClure asks the Senator whether he's read The Wisdom of the crowds. He hasn't...yet. Marc Canter gets up and introduces himself as a "third generation" commie and says "I'm looking for some balls" about things like net neutrality. Great spiel by Marc! Mr Edwards responds well and says "we've got to stop this mealy-mouthed" politics in the Democrats. Says his party needs to show what they're made of and get away from "weasel words". Another question from the audience about politicians needing to speak in a "human" voice. The Senator says politicians are conditioned to be plastic and not normal, but he says "being normal and real and authentic requires you to shed that conditioning." He says the next president of the united states is likely to be more of a 'normal' speaker. He says he's trying to get out of that conditioning, but it's very hard. He ends by saying "We've been trained to do the wrong thing, that's the problem".
My impressions of Senator Edwards: he's a very natural speaker and likeable guy (of course most politicians try to be that way). Like Bill Clinton, he seems to be the kind of person who can identify with any group or type of people. So with this geek crowd at Gnomedex, he makes all the right noises about wanting to speak in a human voice, utilize blogging technology to make politics two-way, and generally use technology to enable conversations and 'engagement' (a word he used a lot at the start of his speech here). So yes I like Edwards (I also like Barak Obama, so now you know my political pursuasion!), but I guess I'll wait and see whether the Senator's words here will actually be put into action. But anyone who can give a great response to a tough Marc Canter question gets my respect :-) However, here's a more cynical (realistic?) view than mine from dotben (Ben Metcalf) in the backchannel: "Man he's great at regurgitating the kool aid. Does he actually believe any of this? Perhaps. But only if it will win him votes."
A question from the audience about the use of language by politicians - e.g. use of the word "terrorism" when spying on peoples data. Senator Edwards acknowledges the Republicans are winning the language fight, but he doesn't focus on that. He thinks presidential elections aren't driven or decided by language issues. He says it's more about integrity, leadership, etc. Some of the audience around me disagree and think language does determine the presidential election.
Question about democrats chances of winning the next election. Senator Edwards says there's a battle going on for the soul of the democrats party. He says big ideas that you're willing to stand behind with backbone -- these will be the way to win the next election.
Back to technology questions (Chris Pirillo demanded it!). Halley Suit says blogs became big in last election, so what will be the next technology to make a difference? Someone points out that blog use in the last election was just using the internet to do what politics has always done (campaigning etc). Then Senator Edwards says they use video blogging already, but wonders how do you empower people to generate ideas on what the government should be doing. Soon after Mitch Ratcliffe makes a great suggestion: give a seat on the democrat presidency election bus to a blogger, to daily report on their campaign.
Overall, Senator Edwards was upfront and tried very hard to engage (that word again!) with the Gnomedex attendees. I think he was successful at doing that. Personally I would've liked to hear more from the Senator and the Gnomedex audience on how web technology can be used in the next election or politics in general. Chris Pirillo tried his best to steer the conversation that way, but attendees mainly focused on the political topics. So Senator Edwards had to go with the flow. The end of the session did have some of those types of questions and comments. Hopefully the blogosphere can continue the conversation over the next year or so! Senator Edwards ended by asking for our (bloggers) help to make politics not top-down and to democratize the political process.
Photos: Scott Beale