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Talk Amongst Yourselves


It’s probably the O’Reilly conference that starts Monday but the blogosphere – the political Geek blogosphere – lit up yesterday with Dean re-thinks.
Many of them, Dave Winer, Doc Searls and Jeff Jarvis relate to what I’ve said here and almost all refer to Clay Shirky’s Dean obit from earlier in the week.
It pains me to say this but almost of these folks writing about politics are clueless – sorry, Doc, Clay – in the same way. Politics is about people, those breathing things. It’s very hard to game. It’s constantly changing. It’s unbelievably dynamic. Anyone can be undone at any time by things outside their control. And most stuff really is outside your control.
Still exorcizing its Internet Bubble hang-over, Big Media had it in for Dean, on that we all agree and I will remain incensed about the Judy Steinberg Dean take-downs for a good long time. But the campaign’s contempt for the national press and its fundamental belief, nurtured by a campaign consultant clearly looking to expand his own business, was a sign of a deeper distrust of outsiders. Reporters, not really understanding the mechanics of campaigns, tried to get at this with ‘mood’ pieces. Like the non-tech press in Silicon Valley during the bubble, these writers got excited about the gizmos and the personalities, not about the execution and the organization. The gizmos were eye-catching and cool. The execution, well, let’s just say it was sloppy.
And while I’m all up for a little Big Media bashing, let’s just take a few second to acknowledge that professional journalists exist. Ever listen to David Broder,one political journalist who gets blogs and whose reporting is almost always about voters, not candidates? Professional like Broder, Joe Klein and Al Hunt aren’t going away. They are part of politics. And, oh, yeah, at least one of them should have been invited to the O’Reilly conference which in that long-established high-tech tradition, is heavy on Geek experts who know each other and a touch light on those from the outside with political experience who might have opinions based on different experience.
The best politicians – Clinton was a master at this – don’t have the best press relations or the biggest fund-raising machines. They have the best reactions. They know what to do when circumstances change and they do it. Quickly. The Dean campaign did not and does not know how to do this. Demo? This week’s complete silence on the Bush Administration’s tacit admissions about their failure to find any sort of Iraqi weapons cache. Still silent in Deanland. Why? Because they don’t know what to say. They can’t find a way to react. And that tells me all I need to know. This guy wants to be president and he can’t find a way to reinforce the most salient point of his campaign? Next!
At its most basic level, the Dean campaign’s on-line effort was as much a spill over from MoveOn’s anti-war organizing as anything else. But Dean never found a way to talk past the capture of Saddam Hussein to keep his candidacy alive. Once things changed and the Bush Administration could say, “Look, we got the bad guy,” it didn’t matter what was stance the candidates took on the war. That capture assuaged the concerns of those who a little worried about the war’s purpose but weren’t convinced it was justified or necessary. Off line, folks moved on, in the literal sense.
In contrast, take the Kerry campaign. They didn’t quit. They didn’t look up in December and decide the ROI wasn’t going to work out, time to cut and run. No, they kept at it, making a tune-up here, a change there, a refinement over there. Eventually, they got lucky in almost the same way that Dean was unlucky. This week, via Feedster and a la Doonsbury, Kerry will hit the web and hit it hard.
It’ll be a good effort. It may work. But my bet is that hard-core Dean supporters won’t move to Kerry. His politics aren’t pure enough. His relationships inside Washington will be seen as a slightly more palatable version of “politics as usual.” Geeks — who are, to a man, Progressive Libertarians — emphasize policy over politics. It’s part of their high-minded but mistaken conviction that politics is somehow corrupt. The importance they place on somewhat obscure hot button issues (copyright, privacy) makes them see Kerry as bankrupt, not part of the reform movement they thought Dean embodied. They’re right. This nation’s politics are in dire need of change. And I’m far from convinced Kerry is the man for that job or that he can beat George Bush. But quitting while you’re not ahead ain’t getting anyone anywheres near the noble netizen goal of remaking democracy.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:52 AM | Permalink

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