Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Does the Internet matter in politics?

Just got interviewed by Farhad Manjoo at Salon.com, who I’ve spoken with in the past and who wanted to know whether I felt that Dean’s defeat in Iowa meant that the Internet “lost” Iowa, or whether the Internet’s ability to make a difference was overblown.

No on both counts. The Internet proved you could mobilize over 3,000 individuals from around the country to stand up for what they believed in. Trust me — getting anyone to go to Iowa in January is a task (no offense Iowa, but it’s a bit chillier in Iowa than it is in, say, Texas). That the campaign did this — and gave the volunteers something to do, gave them a voice, gave them a feeling of being involved — is a testament to how the Internet can drive participation in the process.

As I said to Farhad, if we’d won, we’d all be crowing about the fact that the Internet made the difference. But we didn’t, so there you go.

Will the Internet make a difference? It already has. Dean’s organization, coupled with his money lead, mean that he’s in the race through the primary season. He’s no longer the front-runner (only Kerry can claim that mantle now) and can take a breather and regroup. But the Internet is what made the organization and fundraising possible, so for what that’s worth, we already have our impact.

If Iowa teaches us anything, it’s that organization matters if (and only if) you stay in control of your message.


  1. I disagree. The Internet plays only a minimal, small, effect on politics. The ugly truth is that there are lots of elderly and older generation people who still don't even have a computer or internet connection.

    What have you guys done anyhow? Send letters? Make Phone Calls? Do stuff that was possible long before the Internet was invented? Big woop de doo. I did it myself in Michigan to help out multiple candidates. But guess what? I didn't use the Internet and the vast majority of candidates I helped were elected. Michigan is far more 'Republican' than it has ever been:-)

    The Internet is over-rated because not enough Americans own it. And the ones that do own it spend more time watching Pornography than paying attention to some political candidate's fan base.

    And I heard a story that the 'king of the Internet' isn't Howard Dean. It is in fact George W. Bush. I'll have to dig up the URL later...

    P.S. I still believe Hillary Clinton will run for president 2004.

  2. As some of you might know, I have been following the Dean campaign very closely for sometime. And, I must confess, that I have been involved in traditional political campaigning for the last 25 years.

    My friends this is not a question of Us v. Them -- post broadcast v. broadcast -- Internet v. traditional. We are in the early stages of a new synergy that is going to create a moment in American politics that is certain to surpass the parts that created it.

    Over the last few weeks I have been following Iowa through the eyes and ears of a friend (and his friends) who have been involved in Iowa politics for the last three decades. It might surprise you to know that there was no resentment or suspicion on the part of many Iowans for the Dean campaign. The words I heard from my friends were: admiration, respect, amazement for the work the Dean people were doing and they way they were doing it (i.e. the Internet technology).

    But here is the kicker, they also told me that the Dean folks were so busy executing their programs they forgot to sit down and really get to know the people of Iowa in the time consuming, old fashioned way many people involved in midwestern politics are used to. One quote I remember is, "they were so excited and polite and nice, but they were so busy with their campaign -- somehow they missed who we were."

    What the Internet has brought to political campaigning is just as remarkable a metamorphosis as was broadcast television in the early 60s -- probably more so because it is so conversational.

    The problem is that it is so easy to become consumed in the magic and wizardry of the Internet that one forgets that politics done right is the personal exchange of people's stories. Listening to the concerns and ambitions of the people whose support you are seeking to win.

    In my opinion, as astounding a tool as the Internet is, it lacks the truly personal quality one picks up sitting in a diner or walking in a field listening. Blogs are a wonderful way to exchange information at all hours of the day and night, but they just do not replace personal contact, and old fashioned political organizing.

    What we are beginning to see is the consolidation of the old and the new. Trust me traditional political organizers recognize the astonishing possibilities the Dean campaign and its spinoffs have brought to the field. They just want their art respected as well. Many of the folks who organized for Kerry and Edwards used post broadcast tools in concert with beautifully executed traditional political organizing.

    When John Kerry was asked by the Wall Street Journal how he used the Internet and how often? he said, " When not running for President, every day — for shopping, email, finding directions. When running for President, I should've used it much more."

    When the anger and frustration, that many Dean people must surely be feeling after yesterday -- subsides -- I hope they will look for ways to incorporate their tools and their vision into a political system that needs their innovation and their energy.

    Please remember, however, that both sides can learn from each other.

  3. When I think of Gov. Dean's vision, flinty integrity and determination, I think of the bulldog, whose nose "has been slanted backward so that he can breathe without letting go." Which, of course, leads ineluctably to the many apposite words of Winston Churchill:

    "I like a man who grins when he fights."

    "Never flinch, never weary, never despair."

    "Facts are better than dreams."

    "There is no greater mistake than to suppose that platitudes, smooth words, and timid policies offer a path to safety."

    "Victory will never be found by taking the line of least resistance."

    "National unity does not mean national unanimity."

    "We must not forget what votes are. Votes are the means by which the poorest people in the country and all the people in the country can make sure that they get their vital needs attended to."

    "There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies and that is fighting without them."

    "The short road to ruin is to emulate...the methods of your adversary."

    "It is the people who control the Government--not the Government the people."

  4. I agree with the thoughtful post about the need to sit down with the voters and LISTEN to them, along with the organizational advantages the technology brings. Hopefully when it's time for Internet-driven Presidential Politics 2.0 we will have a better handle on that.

    In the meantime, though, in case you didn't see it, comes this (what I think is amazing) blog post from Karen Hicks, Dean's NH director. Just shows ta go ya that the Internet IS good at pulling people out of the woodwork.

    Pray tonight. Peace.

    from www.blogforamerica.com:

    The 2004 People-Powered Convergence in New Hampshire

    We have blown past our volunteer goals here in New Hampshire! Every day more and more of you come here to throw your support behind Howard. And we are full. We physically don't have room for all the people who are arriving.

    There is one thing we need from all of you now more than ever: Show your support for Howard Dean to the people of New Hampshire. Start by converging at the WMUR Debate Rally in Manchester! We will meet starting at four pm at St. Anslem's College and rally until the debate begins at 8pm. Then: Disperse.

    For a year, on this Blog, you've sent us suggestions of every kind for advertisements, slogans, and media-spin. Now we want you to put them to use. Every good idea you've ever had about spreading the word for Howard Dean, now is the time to act on it.

    Travel to anywhere in New Hampshire any way you can. Travel alone or with fellow supporters. Spread the word any way you can. From Pittsburg in the north, Nashua in the south, Claremont in the west, and Somersworth in the east, disperse, travel, and spread the word. Make signs, make costumes, make chants, make performance. Make your own Dean flyers telling your story, or with pictures or poetry- photocopy them and hand them to anyone you can, post them everywhere you can that is respectful and legal. Talk to people, talk to everyone you meet. Spread the word in every possible way that is respectful, sensitive and legal. Come to Dean's scheduled events, or call others to join your own events in the Commons, or simply show up on a busy intersection and begin waving signs.

    This movement is so much bigger than can be organized from the top-down; we at headquarters can't support additional people. Please, don't come to Dean For America offices. Instead, travel into New Hampshire and spread the word where it is needed.

    In the next four days, don't sleep. Organize. Make the Granite State take notice. Show the world that a movement powered by people can change an establishment powered by media. Use this comments-thread to share ideas and suggestions. The power is in your hands.

    Karen Hicks
    State Director
    Dean for New Hampshire

  5. It's like a lot of new media and the political process. It took time but people figured how to use radio to an advantage then TV. The same is going to be true for the net. What the Dean folks are doing is a step, a first step but a step.

    Look at what database technology has done to direct mail in the last 10 years even the last 5 years.

    Heck in 2 years people would be saying, why in the heck did they do that when we know this way of using e-mail is so much better.

    It is a tool, it is evolving, it will continue to do so.

    I suspect that the real value of the internet is going to be the ability for activists to use distributed data to contact voters in a much more focused way. I think the future isn't meet-up. It is the guy at the county, ward and pct. level using a dashboard tool to manage voter expectations and provide inputs to a larger group that will be used to focus resources in a much more exact and effective way.

    Off the subject
    Jeff, I actually think Hillary may end up getting in the mix to, man that would be entertaining.

  6. I concur with Rick that the Internet, in general, is having a major impact on politics and campaigning. And actually, I understand the current administration, and President are garnering more traffic to web properties related to their agenda than all of the Demo's efforts combined.

    But I digress; I believe the real point is contained in Rick's last sentence: "If Iowa teaches us anything, it's that organization matters if (and only if) you stay in control of your message.

    I'm focusing there, because as a business executive and venture catalyst I'm deeply troubled by how this campaign has somehow spent the vast majority of its ~$45M war chest (raised in major part through the Internet) on everything BUT getting the message out. That's simply bad business management. And that's definitely being out of control of the message (delivery) (even presuming the mesaage itself was right).

    If I'm were a major campaign contributor to Dean's efforts (and I've considered it), I would have to take pause. Asking your staff to hold their checks this early in the campaign? Spending exactly the opposite ratio on OPEX (operating expenses) to message delivery (e.g., media buy)? These are not the management decisions of a candidate who wants to demonstrate professional management capability or good business judgement. In fact, put in a position to make a decision where to take my dollars and which campaign "venture" to invest, these factors would weigh heavily against further investment in a Dean campaign. This suggests Dean needs to get in front of this and contain it quickly, or the wheels are going to come off, and not because Dean can't control his emotions in a public setting.

    And unfortunately, at this juncture those Democrats such as myself, who are centrists and very frustrated that with all the mud slinging back and forth between left and right, the votes that matter the most -- those of us in the moderate zone -- are forgotten. And I am compelled to seek a candidate who understands how important it is to reach to the middle, to stop the divide growing in this country, and the bring about a coming together as one nation, not a nation increasingly divided with a growing civil unrest between two parties. This happened before, it resulted in Confederates and Yankees.

    I'm going to put my money and my support behind a candidate who understand how important it is to avoid repeating history, to stop this 'us' v. 'them' mentality, who focuses on those of us in the middle, and who knows how to manage and administrate a campaign with professional maturity.

    I'm left to wonder if the ticket really is what I mumbled a year ago: "Kerry/Edwards in '04," and not the "Dean phenomena" I had just begun to believe in.