Saturday, February 21, 2004

The shape of things to come

Kos has some interesting comments about how McCain-Feingold, far from hurting the Democrats because of its restrictions on soft-money, may actually help the Dems in the long run. I agree. Why? Because it will force them to actually start paying attention to the concerns of the small donors whose money they so desperately need and when they start paying attention to those concerns they will win more of their votes.

What a concept?

Kos goes on to question the credit Dean is getting for the innovations in small-donor fundraising:

I firmly believe that Dean is getting too much credit for this. The blogosphere existed, and was healthy, before Dean came along. And it's healthy and still existing post Dean. What Trippi did was simply recognize the value of the blogosphere and harnessed it for his campaign. He didn't create it. In exchange for $20 million raised online the Dean campaign gave the blogosphere political legitimacy.

I think I understand his point here. Dean and Trippi didn't so much innovate as they simply were the first to tap into a potential that was there all along but which, before McCain-Feingold, just wasn't needed. In a similar way it could be said that many of the great discoveries in history were more a matter of the inevitable events of the times. If Einstein hadn't lived would relativity never been codified? Of course not.

But, while Dean and Trippi can't be called the creators of small-donor fundraising, the significance of their discovery should not be discounted. They, along with Chandler, proved that Dems can be competitive with Republicans in raising money without having to go to the same well as the Republicans to get their money. The liberating impact of this discovery has a huge potential to reshape American politics. We have only seen the first glimmers of that potential.

Update: On further thought, and after reading some of the comments to Kos post, I think Kos is wrong to discount Dean's importance. Yes, Dean and Trippi did not invent internet based fund raising. But as many commentors to his post have pointed out, just setting up a web site and a blog didn't bring the money into Dean's campaign. It was also the message.

It was the melding of message to fundraising apparatus that made the difference. If all the Dems learn from Dean (and Chandler) is that they can just put up a bat and wait for the money to roll in then they will be sadly disappointed. If they want that money they will have to give those small donors something worthwhile to donate to. That is what could be so revolutionary about this new kind of politics. 21st century, big-time politicians may just have to start paying attention to the concerns of the little guy.

And isn't that what McCain-Feingold was supposed to be about?


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