Exiting Deanspace
February 5, 2004 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Exiting Deanspace: As one who has watched with growing nausea as the Howard Dean campaign has smacked up against primary reality and disintegrated, this lengthy article offers some useful truths. While the post mortem is far from over, this cogent analysis by Clay Shirky from "Many 2 Many" points out how so many of us could have been so blinded by the process . . . while still having reason for hope.
posted by mooncrow (18 comments total)
See also Losing My Religion at Salon.
posted by alms at 10:57 AM on February 5, 2004

Pretty good analysis, better than anything in the mainstream press, from the heart. I particularly liked the comparison of primary voters to lurkers -- they get the final say even though they are not shouting the loudest and being most visible in the debate. The Deaniacs whipped themselves into a frenzy, and, remarkably, convinced a lot of the chattering classes to go along, all the while out of touch with the actual people who would be doing the deciding. Dean excited people from a distance by attacking Bush, but after getting a closer look, the average voter didn't want to join the cult.
posted by Slagman at 11:33 AM on February 5, 2004

Seeing as Dean was the darling of the Blogshere shouldn't that read "post modem?"
posted by Pollomacho at 11:34 AM on February 5, 2004

I think I may be Deaned out. but this point struck a cord:

Money Isn’t Votes

This is the big one. Dean’s internet strategy was a curiosity until there was money involved, and when it got involved, it got involved in a big way. We mustn’t forget how enormous a change this was – an upstart politician blew past all the favorites and even exited the public funding system because he got enough money soliciting donations from the internet, a few bucks at a time.

If none of the rest of it, the MeetUps and weblogs, had ever happened, but Dean’s campaign had still done this, its place in political history would be assured.

It also proved you don't have to kiss corporate ass to fund a campaign. I hope he sticks around at least through super tuesday. The website has raised almost 400K since this morning toward the Wisconsin race.
posted by whatnot at 11:43 AM on February 5, 2004

We'll see. I'm still keeping the faith enough to canvass my neighborhood this Saturday.

But I hope he bumps Terry MacAullife's ineffective ass out of the DNC chairmanship. Fundraising mojo + fire to attack GOP = whoop ass.
posted by RakDaddy at 12:18 PM on February 5, 2004

I hope whoever gets the nomination copies the fund raising scheme.
posted by Slagman at 12:19 PM on February 5, 2004

McAullife, while I personally don't like the schmuck, has only been chair for one election, that hardly makes him "ineffective" as of yet. We'll see how he does on round two and then its out with him if he can't pull it together!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:59 PM on February 5, 2004

Another case of bloggers believing their own bullshit?
I think so. ;-P
posted by mischief at 1:30 PM on February 5, 2004

I hope he sticks around at least through super tuesday.

I heard on NPR this morning that Dean said in a letter to staffers that if he didn't win Wisconsin he'd drop out.
posted by chuq at 2:41 PM on February 5, 2004

I dislike Clay Shirky's writing. It annoys me.

"The most salient fact of the Dean Campaign was Dean himself." - I don't even want to get into this. It would be a waste of time.

But, oh well :


Everything you need to know about Dean

Before touched by the whims of fate, Dean was drab - a competent, fiscally conservative but socially liberal moderate Democrat. Then, suddenly, he was a giant striding through the political landscape with the momentum of fate. In some eyes.

Howard Dean played Warren Beatty playing Bullworth, rapping that "Net hip Cash Blogosphere Iraq Was idiotic everything Bush says is a lie" rap while yapping media heads and DNC undertakers looked on, dumbfounded, thinking Who the hell is this ? and he also did a great cover of that angry, slightly crazed anchorman in Network as he exhorted a million Democrats and progressives to throw open their windows and scream at the top of their lungs :

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more !"

Questioned about his incredible energy during the campaign, Dean admitted that it came as he noticed swelling crowds of young people at his rallies, feeding him energy and enthusiasm. He said that it was a type of feedback phenomenon. The crowds swelled, he puffed. The crowds grew even larger and Howard inflated yet more.

This would happen to most in his shoes.

But Dean's juice didn't really turn on until he touched the live wires of Internet fundraising and organizing, the sudden passions of "young people" previously unengaged in politics, and - with his no holds barred attacks on Bushdom - a tightly held core of Democratic anger on a slow boil since the 2000 election.

He started very, very early. Keep that in mind. Dean did his homework and laid his plans well in advance of any contenders. His was, at first until the campaign caught fire, the slow, methodical and plodding work of Aesop's ant which toils away with a gaze towards the future, accumulating seeds one by one and laying a foundation : not the flashy stuff of which legends are spun.

But one fine day somebody in the Dean campaign, Trippi perhaps, made the startling mental leap of actually putting the Internet to political and fundraising use. This set the stage and, further, the respect his campaign paid to blogdom - and, for that matter, the fact that his campaign even bothered with the net - gave him instant street credibility among many and helped to build up an enthusiastic and loyal supporter base from ranks of those previously alienated from politics.

Dean's campaign paid attention and respect to those who felt ignored, unwanted, or unserved by the mainstream political institutions : many in the small army of Dean campaign workers were drawn from the ranks of young adults who had never previously participated in the political process. Dean was probably the first politician some of his supporters had actually listened or paid any attention to whatsoever and, with him, they felt empowered and turned on. Dean was their man, and they were asserting some measure of control, for once, in politics : no longer in the ranks of the apathetic merely buffeted by political fate.

That early start was crucial, as well, for it gave Dean an uncontested megaphone - until the start of the real campaign. Standing alone, he was noticed. And - for his hard hitting critiques of the Bush Administration but far more for his campaign's unprecedented use of the Internet, he became a media celebrity : A novelty at first, and then a politician surfing at the cutting edge of political history.

Dean reawakened, for many, some of that early magic of the Net and the tech boom by harnessing this technology and expressing it's greater potential as a force for change, and so it was somehow fitting that his campaign should implode - as did the actual internet boom - when it's overhyped and unstable bubble ran smack into reality, spelled out in the considered judgements of caucusing Iowans and New Hampshire primary voters .

As an unexpected political phenomenon, the Dean Campaign helped to bust the enervated DNC out of it's petrified paralysis and - in his vitriolic fire and brimstone attacks, Dean strode the landscape like an Old Testament prophet come to restore the balls of the Democratic Party.

Even more crucially, Dean's hard hitting attacks on the Bush Administration had a powerful therapeutic and cathartic effect on on that hard core of the Democratic Party base which was deeply angered by the Bush Administration and by the 2000 election. The mass media sure as hell was not calling the White House to task - on a wide range of questionable behaviors and extreme policies. Dean gave these appalled voters who had been suffering largely in silence, wringing their hands and bemoaning an America on the fast track to hell, a chance to feel as if they were doing something. To adapt David Bowie (on Bob Dylan) to Howard Dean : "You sat behind a million pairs of eyes, and told them what they saw...." Dean became the voice, the hub, the strange attractor, the lightning rod.....

He unlocked all of that anger and outrage and allowed those feelings to unfreeze, unclench and unconstrict so they released and expressed themselves - as is healthy - in constructive political action. And he tapped the frustrations and reawakened the hopes of a wide spectrum of Democrats and Progressives - for some real, systemic change and for a candidate who could stand up to Bush and Republican Party bullying, corporate sleaze, reckless military adventurism.....the whole damn mess. Dean supporters could finally do something to combat Bush bullcrap......by donating money to the Dean Campaign ! : and firing up that computer and sending some e-cash to Dean had cachet. It was sexy, for the fact that those who gave money to Dean knew that they were participating in something historic, a chance for the little people to rise up, send their ten or twenty dollars or maybe more, and - through the massed firepower of tens or hundreds of thousands of these little payments, bring down the corporate Goliath dominating the American political process.

Since Dean was deriving most of his money from small donors on the Net, he was not beholden to the corrupt powers and interests that be. He became the White Knight hope. It was a nice fantasy, and the masses - wielding small donations - can still bring the beast to it's knees. Only not through Dean.

It ended with a whimper.....or a wet blatttt, as from a soggy deflation.

The caucus goers of Iowa sized up the Democratic contenders with a sober, judicious eye and, looking as much at who the candidates were as at what they talked about, they made their assessment of Dean : 1) Northeast liberal - big minus. 2) Governor ? - neutral. 3) Liberal on social issues ? - probably neutral as well. 4) History of fiscal conservatism ? - A plus. 5) Talks all the time about how stupid it was for America to invade Iraq, and how much the Bush Administration lied to get us there ? - A minus. Most Americans don't care so much about Iraq (at least not yet). 6) A firebrand who gets red in the face sometimes while delivering vitriolic attacks ? - A minus. Presidents need to remain calm. 7) Young People seem to like him ? - A plus. 8) He's shorter than most of the other candidates - Big minus. The tallest candidate usually wins.

And there it was - Too many negatives. The Iowans finished up, made their picks, and went home.

Everything else remaining the same, if Dean had been a war hero or had come from the South.......he'd be in the catbird seat now.

But he's not a war hero, and he's not from the South.
posted by troutfishing at 2:57 PM on February 5, 2004

Trout, they say it's easier to write long than write short (and therefore there's merit in brevity), and they're right, but this one of yours was worth the length. Well done, if not precisely bang-on, from my perspective.

On topic : screw Howard Dean. I didn't like him then, and I don't particularly care for him now. Not shadenfreude; more confirmation of some of the things I have come to believe about weblogs and politics in America. What amuses me the most is to watch some big-name asskissing (power-)whorebloggers backing and filling now after their fantasy candidate imploded and their dreams of having their hobby-sites actually mean something other than public masturbation (I was part of the movement, man! Deanspace!) have been shattered. I realize this is ungracious, but I fuckin' hate joiners sometimes, and I'm cranky today.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2004

5) Talks all the time about how stupid it was for America to invade Iraq, and how much the Bush Administration lied to get us there ? - A minus. Most Americans don't care so much about Iraq (at least not yet).

I agree with your conclusion, but not your reasoning. Iowans did care about Iraq. They just preferred Kerry's "I supported using force against Iraq originally, but I was misled by the president, and it turned out to be a bad idea," because that's the way Iowans themselves felt. Noone was willing to vote for a guy who every day proclaimed, "I was right about the foolishness of the Iraq venture the whole time," because that was just reminding voters that they had been misled and then rubbing it in their face.

what amuses me the most is to watch some big-name asskissing (power-)whorebloggers backing and filling now after their fantasy candidate imploded...

Actually, a large regiment of the blogosphere big-name ass-kissing contigent went for Clark.

You know, I never understood the vitriol directed at Dean. I attended a get-together with some young Democratic party staffers back in June, and their ire for Dean, even back then, was intense (they tended to back Kerry).

What really upset a lot of people was that suddenly there were a bunch of people getting heavily involved in a campaign as staffers, activists, etc., who weren't otherwise involved in politics before, thus flooding the market and displacing the the career-staffers and gypsy-campaign-workers. I can sort of picture an experienced, loyal staff member of a candidate getting involved in a campaign and suddenly having to deal with running into dozens of people who say, "wow! you're involved in Senator so-and-so's campaign? I'm a campaign worker, too! I just joined the Howard Dean campaign! Isn't it great to be involved?" Suddenly, people who've spent their entire professional lives on something are watching a bunch of upstarts and non-professionals steal the limelight.

Interesting, this was the precise objection raised to Howard Dean by the Democratic Leadership Council-- that he was attracting "Democratic party activists," when he believed that campaigns should be left to focus-group-heeding professionals. While a lot of the ire from Dean-supporters about these statements was focused at the DLC, this attitude seems to have permeated a lot of other paid party staffers.

I made some specific comments about the article itself here and here that explain my experiences compared to Clay's observations.
posted by deanc at 3:44 PM on February 5, 2004

What trout said, with deanc's amendments. All better than the original link.
posted by Slagman at 5:51 PM on February 5, 2004

You know, I never understood the vitriol directed at Dean. I attended a get-together with some young Democratic party staffers back in June, and their ire for Dean, even back then, was intense.

I had less disdain for Dean than I have for his supporters. Amateurish, almost always young, full of enthusiasm coupled with supreme niavete. If you've ever read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, you'll see some striking similarities among McGovern's supporters. The one that hits hardest, however, was the almost complete inability to see reality through anything but their own eyes. Which is somewhat understandable. After all, you follow a guy around with a bunch of hoo-rah supporters, and you start to decieve yourself into thinking that the rest of the world feels the same way. Except you're wrong. They don't give a shit. They're all watching American Idol while the Iowa results are coming in.

This isn't just a problem with Dean supporters, it's a problem with all inexperienced campaigners who take their first steps into politics. You never hear what the other guy's point of view is while you're busy banging your war drum. The vast majority of the American population is very, very ignorant. Criminally ignorant. The kind of ignorant that would get you killed on the streets of any 3rd world country. Unfortunately, you can never alude to this if you want to win public office. Dean told America that Iraq was a mistake, yet more than half of the roobs in this country went along with the president. What does that make them, then? Oh, right. Roobs. Idiots. Fools. Morons. Yet these people are also voters, and voters don't like to be told they're a bunch of mindless sheep, particularly the ones who are. Human nature is funny. People will go through some of the most extraordinary mental gymnastics to convince themselves they haven't been made a fool of.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:16 PM on February 5, 2004

I used to leave long posts like that here in MeFi. Yeah. Those were the days, huh? I typed and typed till my knuckles bled and my fingers turned into little nubbins. Then my hands fell off. At the moment I'm typing this post using my nose and my tongue. I'm up to about thirty words a minute. The backspace key can be a real bitch.

Dean? Dean who? He's like a southern baptist in a discoteque. He's dead, but doesn't have the decency to lie down. Of course, if he wins Wisconsin, I'll be eating my words. I'll be happy to eat my words. Unfortunately, I won't be eating my words. Dean's campaign depended on promises which didn't come through, and wishes which didn't come true.

If wishes were horses... Dean who.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:05 PM on February 5, 2004

It's weird, reading all this stuff about Dean and his cadre of young pups and how people seem to be either in the Love camp of the Hate camp.....it just sounds like people discussing The Grateful Dead and their fans. Their music sucks! You have no musical taste! It's not about the music it's about the community! Phish will win in Wisconsin! If you like The Dead, you should really dig jazz, which is where The Dead got their inspiration from!

All a little to culty/zealous for me.
posted by Dagobert at 3:19 AM on February 6, 2004

This American ignorance is also why Al Gore lost. Nobody likes the smartest kid in the class. They voted for the jock over the nerd.
posted by Slagman at 6:42 AM on February 6, 2004

They voted for the jock cheerleader over the nerd.
posted by homunculus at 1:12 PM on February 6, 2004

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