Altered States

Changes They Can Believe In

How the candidates edited their Web sites last week.

This week Slate introduces a new feature, in partnership with Versionista, that tracks changes to campaign-related Web sites, including those of Barack Obama and John McCain. Click on the links below to see before-and-after comparisons. (Deletions are marked in red, additions in green.)

The story of the week, of course, is Sarah Palin, who had lots of people scurrying around all weekend. Last-minute changes to her Wikipedia entry have been chronicled elsewhere. But the McCain site was mad busy, too. Hell, we couldn’t even reach Drudge for a few tense minutes! The McCain camp graciously, if somewhat weirdly, provided a “Governor Palin application” on Facebook.

Wherever we went, things were vanishing. The Palin for Governor site, as expected, was soon deleted. It looked like a big story when a pro-Obama press release appeared to vanish from the Palin site last week. Alas, a day or two before her selection was made public, the architecture of her Web site was totally reworked. The Obama PR is still there—it’s just harder to find. It is a bit curious that Palin decided, just a day before she became the vice-presidential nominee, to spend taxpayer money to make such major revisions to her site yet not to increase the intolerably slow bandwidth.

Meanwhile, last week was also a big one for Barack Obama, with his triumphal convention speech highlighting his Midwestern roots (as opposed to anything more, ahem, cosmopolitan). There is now an “executive summary” of the speech newly bolted to his biography page. “Kansas heartland”? Check. “Values”? Check. “Christian”? Double check! (Michelle Obama’s biography was also reworked. In keeping with the effort to soften her image, a dry résumé was changed to focus far more on family.)

On the policy side, this weekend saw a number of edits to Obama’s pages. (An aside: Unlike his opponent, Obama loves to edit. So, naturally, his Web site will attract more attention from our software than McCain’s. We’re not being partisan!) Cynically, we can only assume that this was the perfect weekend to make major changes: Everyone was paying attention to Gustav, the GOP convention buildup (or lack thereof), Palin, and Labor Day parades.

So what to make of this? Among other things, there have been significant edits to Obama’s Family page. He’s selected a particular target for minimum wage ($9.50 an hour by 2011). He has added a requirement that those receiving a college financial “credit” must now do 100 hours of public service per year. (Yikes.) And the “foreclosure fund” is no more.

On the Economy page, lots of details are lost. For example, his proposal to extend and expand unemployment insurance is gone. Perhaps it has moved to another area—economic stimulus, anyone? But those pages are now seemingly focusing more on energy and bridge maintenance. Who knows? Some of these deletions do seem recklessly bold. A couple of these changes are also mirrored in edits to the Poverty page and the Urban Policy page.

In the past, we’ve seen sizable revisions to Obama’s Foreign Policy page—but these are somewhat less notable. Previously, Obama’s back-and-forthing on the “donut hole” of who gets taxed for Social Security caused some minor press notice. We wonder how these recent policy shifts will play out.

On the Republican side, let’s face it: McCain’s site is crusty. It never changes. Sure, he has a blog and a “press releases” section. But the various issues pages almost never vary. The last edit we found was this benign expansion of his Space page. (Exciting, huh? Try to contain yourself.)

McCain does have a lot of new friends. (Yet his 250,000 don’t quite compare to Obama’s 1.5 million.) Speaking of friends, Cindy McCain lost one this weekend: Her page received a rather curious edit. In reference to Cindy taking two babies back to the United States for medical attention, “Mother Teresa convinced Cindy” changed to “Cindy was convinced.” Apparently, Cindy never actually met the Calcuttan-Albanian nun.


Is this vaguely messianic 404 error really such a good idea for Obama? … If you went to the Democratic convention, we’re assuming you didn’t go by rickshaw. (Click on the link to find out why.) … Should (East) Indian Americans (and others!) be distressed that they haven’t yet made the cut? … Hey, does anyone know anything about this? I mean, why is the White House deleting executive orders on various “intelligence activities” from its index? The linked-to page itself is still there, but—this seems a little strange, no?