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Tom Vilsack Challenges, People Respond: In Ten Words, What Does It Mean to be a Democrat?

This past December, I caught word of a project called “In Ten Words” initiated by people connected to Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack’s website, Heartland PAC. The challenge: can you say in just ten words what the Democratic Party stands for? The ten words limit is important, because it requires people to strip away the excess and identify the essence of “Democrat.”

I tapped the verbal equivalent of my foot in impatience for that project to get going, but I am pleased to say that Vilsack’s team has really gotten a great conversation going on the topic. They’ve not only created an entire website, Our Ten Words, devoted to the challenge, they’ve not only let people submit their words of choice, but they’ve also devised several ways for people to read through, digest, support and challenge others’ choices of words.

Tom Vilsack's Our Ten Words Project for the Democratic Party: A Tag Cloud for Feburary 2006One of the nicest features at Our Ten Words is a “Tag Cloud” that describes the 100 most often used words to describe the core Democratic agenda; words within that set appear larger the more often they’re used. As of this morning, the tag cloud in the graphic to the right represents a group consensus of sorts on what a Democratic vision is (or at least should) be.

Another really interesting feature of the website is that after you submit your ten words, you have an automatically generated account with a web page that not only contains your ten words, but also lets others vote for your set of words if people like them. People can leave comments regarding your choice of ten words, allowing for the initiation of discussion. Finally, the page with your Ten Words contains links to the other ten-word descriptions of the Democratic Party that are most like your own.

In short, Tom Vilsack’s organization has managed to really build something that’s not only innovative and technically impressive, but filled with potential to actually change the way that people talk about and think about what it means to be a Democrat. Although I am not a Democrat myself, it is efforts like these make me more likely to be impressed by Democrats. More practically, it’s a poorly-kept secret that Tom Vilsack is interested in running for President in 2008. Assuming this is a sincere effort reflecting Tom Vilsack’s approach toward building connections between citizens and government, I’ll definitely have to keep an eye on him as the next presidential election approaches.

By the way, here are my Ten Words to describe what the Democratic vision should be:

Safeguarding Liberty, Creating Opportunity, Thinking Globally, Remembering History, Looking Forward

Visit Our Ten Words to share your own words, hear others’ words, connect and (just maybe) help change a party’s direction.

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