Dean Links

Here are some of the Dean-related links I found most useful and interesting. With one exception, I am not bothering to put the official Dean campaign links here – they are all easily accessible from The Dean Blog. And many of the links have been mentioned earlier. But it seemed useful (perhaps mainly to myself) to gather them all in one place.

This is a list of people advising Dean on Net policy.

Deanspace is a collaborative Web tools development effort. Dave Winer recently criticized this move by the campaign to start building tools. From what I’ve seen, I agree. The Deanspace sites are ugly, and look as if they were built by people who have better things to do than master new tools. A lot of these sites would be better just done in one of the many simple blog environments that are freely available.

Back in July, 2003, Howard Dean made a guest appearance on Lawrence Lessig’s blog, where he did not impress the regular crowd. Dean seemed somewhat chagrined about this when I asked him about it during our interview. “I was in over my head,” he admitted.

While I was writing the story, Dean made an off-hand joke about being a “metrosexual.” It was fairly clear he wasn’t too certain what this recently coined word meant – perhaps something to do with being in touch with your feminine side? It was an utterly insignificant moment in the campaign, but the Denver Post wrote a little story about it, which was heavily linked. For about 24 hours the question of metrosexuality was the most blogged Dean “issue” on the Web. Then it disappeared. A funny incident. The blogosphere definitely circulated the story rapidly and eagerly – but then everybody lost interest. There wasn’t much to it, and everybody quickly figured that out. One blog whose comments page coincidentally contained both “Howard Dean” and “metrosexual” in unrelated contexts reported getting an extraordinary number of hits from Google that day.

A well known political blogger, Aziz Poonawalla, organized a collaborative project to create a list of interview questions for Dean. Dean never answered the questions directly, and continues to deal with policy at his own pace, more or less ignoring the bloggers. But Poonawalla’s project sparked a great deal of discussion among his collaborators. I contacted him expecting to hear that he was disappointed, but he proclaimed himself pleased. This was one of the clues to what became the main point of the story – that the Dean network satisfies its members by creating opportunities for them to converse with each other.

In the middle of the story, I got a call from fellow Wired writer Paul Boutin, who cautioned me against taking the standard blog wisdom too seriously. To what extent are all these people merely talking to one another? Paul pointed me to a brilliant rant about Googlewashing by Andrew Orlowski, in which Orlowski complains that a small number of “A-list” bloggers inflate their own significance by endlessly linking to each other while ignoring social and political contexts. This story strengthened my resolve to use the “axioms” of network organizing as tools to explain the structure of the Dean campaign and not as idealistic slogans in their own right. What I find interesting about, say, “emergent democracy” is not the implicit wish it expresses for a happy future guided by an Invisible Hand, but rather the neat identity it posits between the tactics of a campaign and the campaign’s politics. There is something appealingly old fashioned about the Dean campaign, which believes that its tactics ARE its politics.

That these tactics might have a broad appeal is something that New York magazine columnist Michael Wolff finds laughable. His column on the Dean campaign was a perfect expression of the anti-Dean sentiments among the Democratic party elite. To Wolff, the Internet component of the campaign is merely a clever way to fire up the activist wing of the party and to shake some additional money out of these deluded, overly enthusiastic lefties. Wolff warns that if Dean becomes the nominee, an inevitable electoral debacle will show the folly of overvaluing his fund-raising tricks.

I took at look back at Patrick Buchanan’s 1996 speech following his victory in the New Hampshire primary. It still makes interesting reading. “Do not wait for orders from headquarters,” Buchanan told his followers, “mount up everybody and ride to the sound of the guns.” But Buchanan had no way to manage a massive volunteer movement, even if one had emerged.

Here’s a list of Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi’s consulting clients. He is moderately well connected in Silicon Valley, but if you browse the Web sites of the the client list, you will see some really cheesy stuff.

While not really relevant to what I was working on, I enjoyed this speculative analysis of Dean’s cultural-political antecedents, by Garance Franke-Ruta. In this article, Dean is described as a “Northern evangelist,” which made me think of a passage in Kenneth Rexroth’s autobiography:

“Through this story of my own life runs the thread of the Abolitionist heritage. It is one of the strongest factors in the shaping of my mind. Yet those of my ancestors who were Abolitionists were modest people indeed. They were inconspicuous while they lived and are lost to history. Yet they were no less convinced than John Brown, just as brave, perhaps a little saner. Similarly with those who were suffragists, Socialists, Mutualists, and were sexually, politically, and economically liberated people of the early years of the nation. It was they, most of them common, normal people, who built into our society those structures and relationships which have always redeemed it from the evils Aristotle said were characteristic of democracies.”

(The Rexroth autobiography is online at The Bureau of Public Secrets.)

I found it interesting that American Prospect story fails to mention the most ignominious chapter in this admirable history: prohibition. And if you look back on the cracks the fight over prohibition caused in the Democratic party at the end of the last century, you can see some of the same cultural forces in play that lead the Southern, evangelical wing of the party to turn Republican. It was not all about race; it was also, more broadly, about culture and religion. To talk about this would have been a blatant digression, but there’s lots of interesting material there. For instance: Pat Buchanan’s attack on the neo-conservative movement for misrepresenting, in his view, Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy (which Buchanan, when he worked for Nixon, helped articulate). Also: Jesse Jackson Jr.’s defense of Dean’s bold comment – for which Dean later apologized – that he wants to be the candidate for people who fly the Confederate flag.

Finally, my favorite Web discovery: this old interview with campaign manager Joe Trippi, who used to be a petty stock speculator on one of the most egregious bubble discussion forums on Raging Bull. I discussed this briefly in an earlier entry.

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