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<nettime> The Dean campaign and the Internet
Jon McKenzie on Sat, 13 Dec 2003 11:41:02 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Dean campaign and the Internet

Some thoughts on the Dean campaign, gathered in part from the blogosphere
(esp. dailykos.com), mainstream media, and deanforamerica.com (the official
Dean site). 

Dean's online fundraising has indeed been impressive: up until the Gore
endorsement, he was raising an average of $10,000 an HOUR. After Gore, it
has risen to $16,000/hour. From what I've read, the average donation is $77,
which means he's attracting lots and lots of folks, exactly the opposite MO
of the Bush campaign, which relies on major fundraising events. They don't
spam: donators seek them out and then get on mailing lists. Dean is
apparently very frugal and extremely smart about where and when to spend:
eg, immediate response ads to right-wing attack ads. He's raising so much
money, he's also been able to donate to key "down-ticket" candidates (eg,
local pols running for House), something unheard of for an insurgent

However, the fundraising is just one component of his campaign. Just as
interesting has been the organizational infrastructure that has developed.
Key has been the use of meetup.com as an off-the-shelf way to bring
supporters face to face and build a massive, nationwide grassroots
organization. Dean already has over 500,000 people associated with his
organization, dwarfing all other Dem presidential candidates. As the NYT
magazine stressed, the campaign has had extraordinary appeal to young
people, but reports of these meetups suggest a wide range of supporters.
There are hundreds of smaller Dean-related organizations, including
Economists for Dean, Seniors for Dean, and Republicans for Dean.

Some critics have wondered, however, about Dean's ability to appeal to
people of color given the demographics of web use in the US. The Gore
endorsement, as well as key union endorsements (AFSCME and SEIU), suggest
the organization may be gathering support from traditional Democratic
constituencies, including African-Americans and Latino-Americans. Indeed,
it's the combination of the old school grassroots and the new school
netroots that really seems powerful and new. Time will tell whether it
succeeds in creating a truly diverse base.

Potentially, the most important topic worth discussing may be the bottom-up,
open source politics that Dean supporters stress in interviews and blog
entries. In a July interview with Lawrence Lessing, campaign manager Joe
Trippi stressed this network structure and its ability to respond quickly to
emerging situations and provide people a real sense of empowerment. It is
interesting to contrast this flexibility and empowerment with the other,
mostly Washington-based campaigns, which are run from the top down. They
have been caught flat-footed by events such as the Gore and union
endorsements and have responded mostly in a negative and reactive manner.

Also relevant here is the wider blogosphere, which is currently dominated by
leftward rather than rightward blogs. The Dean campaign seems tightly woven
into the blogosphere, using it as an information source, organizational
tool, and sounding board. Though they originated as mostly personal diaries,
blogs are emerging as an alternative news and reporting media, as well as a
forum for public debate. Not only are many blogs relentless in criticizing
Fox, CNN, MSNBC, NYTimes, WashPost, etc, they sometimes break through and
bring mainstream attention to important events and stories. The scandal over
Trent Lott's racist comments "broke" on the blogs, and they have been
crucial in investigating and sustaining interest in the Plame Affair, the
Diebold voting machines, and most critically, alternative views of the war
in Iraq. The Dean campaign has already and will no doubt continue to draw
upon the blogs for info, organization, and strategic input.

But what about Dean, his issues, his positions, his message? Taking up Paul
Wellstone's phrase, Dean says he represents the "Democratic wing of the
Democratic Party." Though he's been painted by some mainstream media as
another McGovern or a left-liberal anti-war candidate, Dean is nowhere near
being a leftist politician and barely qualifies as a liberal. He governed
Vermont as a centrist and pissed off the liberal establishment there (which
has mostly come to support him now). His strong anti-war position and his
virulent attacks on Bush and the existing Democratic establishment have,
however, successfully attracted the left-liberal wing of the party much more
successfully than Dennis Kucinich.

If nominated, Dean will no doubt try to tack back toward the center some (as
that's where he seems to reside), but he seems determined to keep energizing
his base and run his campaign off of it, much like the Republicans have done
for decades with their campaigns. Unlike them, however, the web has been
central to Dean's campaign and will almost certainly remain so. Indeed, the
most important thing about Dean may be less his issues and more the
sociotechnical infrastructure he's building. As one of his supporter's sig
reads: "He's the messenger, we're the message."

If Dean loses either the nomination or the general election, the question
will be whether this infrastructure, or to put it in another way, this Dean
desiring-machine (his supporters call themselves "Deaniacs") will simply
collapse, or whether it will morph into something else. Alternatively, if he
should win the Presidency, could this machine take its open source
aspirations to Washington and keep them up and running? This seems
implausible, but then again, Dean was an "asterisk" in both local and
national polls only several months ago and now he seems to be pulling away
from the field in key states (he's up by 30 points in NH and appears leading
in recent Iowa polls). He's tapped into widespread anxiety, anger, and a
sense that BushCo must be stopped by any means necessary, and has channeled
these into a web-based organization that's now merging with traditional
grassroots organizations.

Among the questions Nettime folks might consider: where will the radical
left come in, or down, on all this?

Jon McKenzie

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