Saturday, February 14, 2004

The Dean Diaspora

Mathew Gross, chief blogger for the Dean campaign, has started his own blog.

First Joe, now Mathew, could Zephyr be far behind?

A wish for the future

Here's what I would like to see in the wake of a (potential) Dean withdrawal: Kerry should immediately invite Dean to stand with him and laud him publicly for all the great things he has done for the party. He should then say that, even more than Dean, the people who supported Dean should be proud of what they accomplished. His comments should be carefully geared NOT to sound condescending (this must not be a pat-on-the head for the little Deaniacs). He should then conclude with a promise that Deanizens will NOT be taken for granted, will not be ostracized and that any attempt to do so will meet with his swift disapproval.

Kerry has to make it clear that Dean and his supporters are NOT to be treated as enemies of the party. If he doesn't do this ASAP after Dean's withdrawal then the lingering pains of this campaign will grow into a festering boil. Things like that New Republic article about some Dean backers facing retribution should be setting off alarm bells in all Democratic circles.

I think there is a lot of bad blood between Kerry and Dean on a personal level. But if Kerry really wants to be the standard bearer of the WHOLE party then he has to be willing to put that aside and embrace the Dean forces. Anything less would be politically foolish.

This is the end?

Political Wire has a report that Dean has NO planned events for next week after Wisconsin.

Take from that what you will.

P2P Politics

There is a must read article by Jay Rosen over at his PressThink blog. It is an insightful analysis of the speech Joe Trippi gave on Feb. 9th to the O'Reilly Digital Democracy Teach-In. I'd also recommend reading the transcript of Joe's speech.

Joe's analysis of both "broadcast politics" verses the "point-to-point politics" (my term) developed by the Dean campaign, as well as the his comments on the point at which the latter failed to comprehend the impact of the former, are fascinating. "Broadcast politics" is defined by Trippi as the traditional one-to-many organizational style of political campaigns and the few-to-many organizational style of broadcast media in the reporting of political events. The two combine to produce a hierarchical system that gives inordinate power to a select few (campaign managers, party leaders and media pundits) at the expense of the people the political system is supposed to be helping, the everyday voters.

"Point-to-point" or P2P politics offers an alternative organizational system in which both campaign activism and political information are distributed between the leaves of the tree without having to go through the central authority in the trees trunk. This allows for a more rapid dispersion of organizational efforts (meetup) as well as a broader net with which to bring in interested volunteers and raise money. Anyone who is familiar with the benefits of networking technology will see the power of this model.

Where the deficiency lies is in the nexus between traditional broadcast politics and P2P politics. Translating the needs and methods of one realm into the other proved to be much more difficult than Trippi had foreseen. This was never more evident then in the final weeks of the campaign as the broadcast media increased attention on the campaign (see my Google News Poll postings that showed a 2-3 fold increase in news coverage of the campaign in the 6 weeks leading up to Iowa). It was at this point that a critical communication breakdown occurred between those who understood that the broadcast system was hurting the campaign while the P2P system was off in its little fantasy world in which Dean was still the clear front-runner.

This ties in with some analysis I have read that suggests that the Dean campaign was never as strong as it was advertised (and thus its failure was not as big as it appears to have been). It suffered from the same self-delusion that lead some early net pioneers to think that it had completely supplanted the old way of doing things. The reality was that it merely caught the old system off guard and, in that moment of confusion, took on the temporary illusion of dominance.

There has been some confusing reporting on Joe's speech, including reports that Joe "blamed" Dean's decline on the endorsement of Al Gore. That is a simplistic reading of his comments. Joe's point appears to be more that the traditional "broadcast politics" system did not awaken from its stupor until Gore's endorsement. But, once it did, it marshaled its considerable resources to confront and overwhelm the P2P operations of the Dean campaign. Where the Dean campaign failed was in getting the message out to its P2P resources that this was happening without giving weight to the typical "campaign in disarray" stories that the broadcast media loves to report.

In other words, the failure was not in P2P politics but in the Dean campaign's incorrect use of it at the most critical moment in the campaign. I suspect Joe's feelings are probably still to raw for him to fully own up to his own failure in this regard, but I think this speech was his first attempt at acknowledging it. (Note: I'm not singling out Joe in this regard. Most of us Dean supporters made the same mistake.)

P2P politics is still a viable alternative to the broadcast politics that dominates our system today. After all, consider that, even in its nascent stage, Dean's P2P campaign managed to energize a base of supporters much larger than any campaign has ever achieved at that early a date and to bring in campaign cash in numbers that still dumb-founds the establishment. If a campaign that was as weak as Dean's now appears to have been could still beat the big boys when it comes to garnering money and volunteers than just imagine what a stronger campaign could do with the same methodologies!

Consider this in terms of other analogies: the video game industry makes considerably more money today than it did before the Atari crash of the early 80s and the online business market continues to grow despite the dot-com bust of 2000. Which is just another way of saying that the innovators are not always the ones who ultimately benefit from the power of their innovations.

P2P politics will continue to grow in influence because some smart cookies in the traditional broadcast politics arena will realize that it is a powerful way of organizing a campaign. But they will learn from the mistakes of the Dean campaign, figure out the secret of integrating the two systems and blow the rest of the field out of the water (until they figure it out as well).

I just hope that it's the right guys who figure this out.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Google News Democratic Primary Poll for 2/13/2004

  This Week (2/13) Last Week (2/6)
1 John Kerry 26000 33.3% +9.4 2 21500 23.9%
2 Howard Dean 20300 26.0% +0.7 1 22800 25.3%
3 John Edwards 18000 23.1% +4.0 3 17200 19.1%
4 Dennis Kucinich 6940 8.9% +1.0 6 7070 7.8%
5 Al Sharpton 6850 8.8% +0.3 5 7630 8.5%

Two big changes this week: Wesley Clark is out and Dean finally loses his top ranking. In fact, I think this week marks the week in which the media finally loses its interest in Dean. As such, it becomes that much harder for him to turn it around. After New Hampshire I assessed his chances as "slim to none". They are even smaller now.

Will he drop out after Wisconsin (assuming he loses)? The pressure will be intense for him to do so (I understand Tom Harkin has already called on him to do so). I would prefer him to stick around at least until Super Tuesday, but only if he can return to a positive message and leave the questioning of motives behind him. If all he is going to do is criticize then I'm really not that interested in listening any more.

The following is a chart of the Google News Media Share over the last few months:

(Methodology: All numbers are taken from the hit counts when searching on the Google News Service for news stories containing each candidate's name. Click on each name to rerun the search. You will get different results as the numbers are constantly changing. I make absolutely no claim that these numbers have any real meaning.)

More on motives

I've done some more thinking about my previous post and I'm even more convinced that Dean's primary problem started with his questioning the motives of his opponents. His original "What I Want To Know" attack was not based on the premise that the Democratic leadership was deliberately selling out Democratic principals but instead that they were engaging in a naive political strategy that was demonstrably not working (at least, that's how I interpreted it). It was an attack that resonated strongly with the Democratic base who were equally suspicious of their leaders political acumen. However, as the campaign went along, and especially when Wesley Clark got into the race, Dean started directly questioning the motivations of Democrats who took different positions from his own. By calling Clark and then Kerry "Republicans", he was implying that their positions were not based simply on misguided politics but instead of ulterior intentions to deceive Democrats while actually pushing Republican ideas.

I know that there is a significant minority of the Democratic base who buys into this notion (i.e., that the DLC is nothing more then a collection of warmed-over Republicans). I am not one of those. I just think the leadership is dominated by political strategists who have lost sight of what made Democratic policies popular in the first place.

By attacking his opponents motives, Dean put much of the Democratic party on the defensive, even those who were initially receptive to his message. When that happened they started rejecting him in droves.

I have always tried to avoid questioning motivation. First of all, you can never really be sure what people's real motives are. Even close family and friends will remain a mystery to you as long as you. Attempts to discern motives can often lead to the manifestation of latent prejudices that are not necessarily connected with reality. Many of the most paranoid conspiracies have their genesis in the attempt to figure out why people do what they do.

Second, questioning people's motivations can prove extremely counter-productive. As in the Dean example, it can turn people off who might otherwise want to be on your side. The same is also true with Bush. Some people may not like his policies but they still like him personally. They will react negatively to the suggestion that his policies are based on a deliberate strategy to screw people. Which is why I advise people to attack Bush's competence, not his motivation.

Finally, why someone is doing something ultimately doesn't factor into the question of whether what they are doing is the right thing to do. Even if you are correct in your belief that Republicans derive enjoyment from screwing people, your correctness does not alter the impact that that behavior has on the world. They are still screwing people over.

If some guys is about to kill you, questioning his motives is a waste of the precious time left to you. Time that would be better spent trying to figure out how to stop him.

With regard to Dean, my wife had a good point: he is a physician, not a psychiatrist. He is good at diagnosing what Democrats are doing wrong. But he's wasted precious time on questioning why they were doing the things they were doing. He will never get that time back.

Criticizing Dean

Hoffman of Hoffmania has decided to "Dial Down the Deanamania" by taking down the Dean banner he had on his blog. Why? Because he doesn't like the tack Dean is taking in making direct comparisons of John Kerry to George W. Bush.

I agree with him to a certain extent. Dean has scored a lot of points by pointing out the obvious flaws in the "Bush-Lite" strategy that Democrats have adopted in recent years. But there is a fine line between pointing out that this is a bad political strategy (which it is) and outright claiming that those who follow it are doing so because they themselves are Republican in spirit.

Dean used much the same line of attack against Wesley Clark when he got in the race and I didn't like it any more then. Not just because I think it is an illegitimate criticism but because I think it is counter-productive. I was listening to a program on NPR yesterday that discussed appearances by Dean and Edwards in Wisconsin. They both brought out big crowds who cheered a lot, but the comments from the audience afterward were markedly different. Edwards had the people feeling good and positive about the future while Dean just seemed to irk a lot of people with his constant harping on Kerry.

I think a better strategy for Dean would have been to simply compliment Kerry and the others for finally coming around to his way of thinking and then asserting that it is Dean who is the Real "Real Deal". This would still be critical of Kerry and the party, but not in the pejorative sense that comes from calling them Republican-come-latelies. Dean's biggest flaw may be that he makes a better critic than he does a positive leader. We needed the former in 2003 but we need the latter even more in 2004.

(Though, I must admit, I like the fact that Dean is putting out the idea that calling someone a "Republican" can be considered an insult.)

I still support Dean and won't be taking down any links in protest (I have cleaned things up lately though by removing some old stuff that I'm not sure even works anymore). But I can certainly understand Hoffman's point of view on this.

I guess George really is the CEO of American, Inc.

As Paul Krugman points out, he has now turned the published federal budget into a glossy annual report.

Krugman goes on to point out the obvious with regard to Bush's character: it has become nothing more than a prop used to blunt criticism of his policies:

But when administration officials are challenged about the blatant deceptions in their budgets or, for that matter, about the use of prewar intelligence their response, almost always, is to fall back on the president's character. How dare you question Mr. Bush's honesty, they ask, when he is a man of such unimpeachable integrity? And that leaves critics with no choice: they must point out that the man inside the flight suit bears little resemblance to the official image.

There is, as far as I can tell, no positive evidence that Mr. Bush is a man of exceptional uprightness. When has he even accepted responsibility for something that went wrong? On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that he is willing to cut corners when it's to his personal advantage. His business career was full of questionable deals, and whatever the full truth about his National Guard service, it was certainly not glorious.

I have never been one to engage in personal attacks on Bush's character. Not because I think he doesn't deserve them but more because I know that a lot of people who are on the fence about his performance in office still like the guy personally. Attacking his character risks pushing them back over the fence. Whether Bush is a "nice guy" or not is really not the question. The question is whether he is a "good president." The two are not inextricably linked.

Still, having said that, Krugman is right that the Bushies make Bush's personal character the issue that it has become simply because it is the only defense they have against attacks on his policies. They really might want to think twice about this though, since Bush is no more safe from character attacks than he is policy attacks.

Put more simply: if the Bushies are going to use Bush's personal character as a defense against criticism of his policies then they have no standing to protest when people start to question that character.

Culutral Exchanges

Juan Cole has a fantastic idea (link courtesy Atrios):

I have therefore decided to begin a project to translate important books by great Americans and about America into Arabic, and to subsidize their publication so that they can be bought inexpensively.

A few months back I posted a comment about how our eventual victory in the Cold War started with a solid foundation of a cultural as well as economic exchange program with Western Europe. There was a real fear at the time that German and France, shattered by the devastation of WWII, would fall to the communists. Part of the incentive for the Marshall plan was to provide economic aide to keep their economies from collapsing any further. But another part of that program was a series of cultural exchange programs that provided a counter-point to the cultural invasion from the Soviet Union. I opined a few months back that a similar program was needed to re-educate the Muslim word about what westerners valued.

Exposing them to the best western literature has to offer would be a great first step. Imagine if the average citizen of the Arab world could spend some time reading Twain, Hawthorne, Whitman and Hemmingway. They might get a better appreciation of our values and maybe realize that we are not so different from them.

Juan talks initially about translating works by Jefferson and books by westerners about the Middle-East. That would be all well and good. But I think starting with the classics of literature aimed at the ordinary citizen might be even more promising.

I wonder what they might think of Stephen King?

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

If anyone besides me things...

... that the repeated calls for Dean supporters to pledge that they will support Kerry if he becomes the nominee is just another attempt to humiliate us by forcing us to say, "I will vote for Kerry" then I have a better response.

Just say, "I will vote for the nominee."

That should just about cover it.

Good Suggestion

The Republicans like to use extreme language to distort the meaning of various public policies and influence decision making in the way they want it to go. A poster over at the DailyKOS suggest Democrats should do the same with respect to the proposed amendment to ban gay marriage:

Opponents of the FMA should immediately start calling it the "Hate Amendment". No compromise. Never refer to it as anything else, ever.

"FMA, what's that? Oh, you mean the Hate Amendment. Well..."

If Republicans can get away with calling an estate tax a "death tax," you might as well adopt the same tactic.

Particularly seeing as, this time, it's true.

Still In The Fight

Joe Trippi has started his own blog called Change For America.

(And hey, I just noticed that I'm in his short bloglist! Hi Joe!)

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Money Money Money

There was some talk a few months back that liberal interest groups might be able to raise enough money to, cumulatively, match the fundraising power of the Republicans in 2004. Pandagon has the scoop from The Hill that suggests that that scenario was a bit rosy.

Now, one positive in John Kerry's favor is that he decided to forego matching funds so he won't be subject to the spending limits those funds impose. However, that only helps him if he can hope to achieve the kind of fundraising success that Howard Dean was having. The Anybody-But-Bush feeling within the Democratic rank-n-file might help him get part of the way there, but Dean's success was not simply a result of his innovative fundraising strategy but also a direct result of his message.

Put another way, I have my doubts that Kerry can inspire Democrats enough to raise $700,000 in a single day from small donors the way Dean did a couple of days back. Let alone the $100-from-two-million plan that Joe Trippi envisioned.

If Kerry can't raise the kind of money to challenge the inevitable smears that are coming down the pike then being able to bypass those spending limits won't mean bupkiss.

Messages From Another Planet

As an addendum to my previous post about the Bigger Than Big Lie technique, read the following post by Nathan Newman:

Under Reagan, folks complained about "rosy scenarios" where the budget office always picked the most optimistic estimates. That's not what's happening in the Bush administration, since even optimists can't buy these numbers. These are psychedelic scenarios, hallucinogenic tabs to distract the population from Bush's miserable failure on economic policy.

I think we could quickly run out of adjectives to describe the audacity of the Bush administration. It's almost as if they think that if they just put out the most absurd shit that people will stop talking about it because everyone knows its crap to begin with.

The United States of Arbusto

Josh asks the question:

Given the president's record as a businessman, and since he's now run the country hopelessly into debt, isn't it about time he sells the country off to some rich friends who will swallow the loss so he can move on to greener pastures?

You mean he isn't doing this already? Who do you think holds the IOU on that debt?

Stop laughing at me!

So, what do you do when people respond with laughter at your projection for 2.6 million new jobs in 2004?

Counter with an even greater prediction of 3.8 million new jobs!

This goes so beyond The Big Lie technique that we probably need a new term for it.

It's madness I tell you!

Angry Bear demonstrates conclusively that George W. Bush is insane.

As a corollary, I would say that this also proves that any journalist who doesn't call him on his insanity is equally insane.