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Going Global — 'Net Roots'-Style?

As Washington speculates on how President-elect Barack Obama might import his high-tech campaign methods into government, the commentary has focused on using his grass-roots network and ground organizers to rally Americans around legislative initiatives or to lean on recalcitrant lawmakers.

That's an easy reach for political imaginations. Every self-respecting congressional candidate uses e-mail these days. Nobody thinks of rounding up campaign cash without some Internet fundraising.

But then there are the more adventurous, like Obama. Last August, his campaign skipped the press conference — and the media generally — to announce via text messaging that Sen. Joseph Biden would be Obama's running mate. And on the final night of the Democratic convention in Denver, Obama supporters awaiting their candidate at a football stadium flooded local cell phone nets by sending a reported 30,000 text messages to the campaign headquarters.

To harness that sort of power, Simon Rosenberg of the think tank NDN envisions a scenario that combines the Obama campaign's high-tech skills and Obama's new foreign policy agenda: "Every time the president makes a major speech, they'll be releasing versions of it translated into the 15 or 20 major languages of the world. So if you have a cell phone with video capacity on the streets of Dubai, you'll be able to watch an Arabic translation of the president's remarks on your phone."

It's a provocative idea. It raises questions such as how President Reagan's famous line, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" would have played if Reagan had had cell phone video technology. Looking forward, maybe the question is how we'd feel if other countries' leaders started beaming videos to our cell phones.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.