Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Another media myth

I've been thinking over the last two days that the establishment media, while it is finally acknowledging that Dean is here to stay, still doesn't get it. Many of the stories about the campaigns extraordinary fundraising success this past week have focused on the gee-whiz technological aspects, with the underlying suggestion that Dean has done as well as he has because he was the first to figure out how to use the internet for campaigning. In other words, many of the establishment media seem to be under the impression that any of the Dem candidates could have had similar success if they had just gotten there before Dean. This is yet another media myth. It is a myth that refuses to acknowledge that the main reason Dean is successful is the man himself. The punditerati are casting around for some explanation for the Dean phenomena and the only they can settle on is, "Gee, he's got a really good internet operation." The idea that Dean might be appealing in and of himself and that the internet stuff is just the foot-in-the-door for this campaign just doesn't seem to occur to them. With exceptions. One notable one being Garance Franke-Ruta, a writer for the American Prospect who did the unusual thing of actually reading the comments that people posted yesterday at the Dean blog as the meter rose throughout the day. Doing so allowed Mr. Franke-Ruta to realize that it really was the message that was selling this campaign, not the technology.
But reading the threads on the message boards at BlogforAmerica.com -- the official Web log of the Dean campaign, where donors discuss their reasons for giving and for backing Dean -- it quickly becomes obvious that the single most important factor in Dean's stunning fundraising numbers is the most old-fashioned weapon in any campaign's arsenal: message. Dean has been able to build a following and raise the bar on per-quarter fundraising not by working his friendships with wealthy trial lawyers, relying on decades of contacts with the rich and powerful, or building the best Internet-based campaign American politics has yet seen. He's done it by steadfastly promoting a pugnacious, optimistic, forward-looking message and by coupling it with a campaign organization smart enough to let his supporters help him. In the post-McCain-Feingold world, the Democratic Party has struggled to figure out how to attract small-sum donors: In the last election cycle, 64 percent of donations less than $200 went to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while Democrats grew fat and sick on big money from those who gave more than $1 million. Dean has cracked the nut and done what six months ago looked to be impossible: He has figured out how to compete based on donations the size of the fat cats' monthly Starbucks expenditures. Welcome to Dean's world. We all will live in it.

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