Faithful reader, Bill S, tipped me off to a NYTimes piece on the Politics of the Web
. An interesting read about how the Net has enabled a lot of "preaching to the choir" and so forth. Nothing earthshattering, but then I came to this graf and started musing:
[E]ven some Dean supporters, the pioneers of politics on the Internet, have begun to worry that their insularity contributed to their candidate's poor showing in the Iowa caucuses. "It's all well and good to cheer each other on,'' wrote one supporter last week. "But clearly that's not enough.''
There were myriad factors, including the concerted attacks on Dean, a renewed Kerry focus, the media filter, inexperienced caucus-goers, Howies gaffes and "gaffes", his apparently poor organization in the state, etc. Did the Dean grassroots' insularity contribute to Dean's lackluster performance in Iowa? I don't think so.
It did not stop us from contributing in many ways to his campaign and potential success. We gave money, we gave time, many supporters went to Iowa to canvass for him, etc. I still see the Dean campaign as superior in not only its Internet presence, but also its efforts to synthesize online and offline channels. What our preaching to the choir did was perhaps convince us that all of this assured our candidate's victory, which is of course silly.
Dean's campaign is on the leading edge of clicks-and-mortar e-campaigning, just like REI was an early leader in the e-commerce space. It ain't an easy thing to do, and the first ones out of the gate are likely to stumble as they try to get the balance right. One lesson the Dean campaign clearly did learn from the e-commerce boom/bust is that the Internet lowers the cost of entry into a market, but eventually you need a physical presence to grow your share. They've done that, and done it pretty damn well.
The fact of the matter is that Dean has to work really hard to overcome some of his weaknesses as a candidate. As an insurgent, he also has a lot of forces naturally aligned against him, which only amplifies his warts (to borrow a term from the Diane Sawyer interview). Quite frankly, I'm amazed at how well he has done in the current political climate, and I still am very optimistic that he will prevail in the end.
But let's face it: the Internet isn't changing politics; it's only changing one aspect of how politics is waged. Politics, like shopping, is a social endeavor, and the Internet only alters the speed of the cycle and eliminates the impact of distance. In the end, voters and shoppers are still going to cling to their old tendencies. So if Dean isn't the right candidate for the electorate, a blog isn't going to change that, and the people who read the blog aren't responsible for his ultimate success or failure.
There's probably an argument centered on Fisher-Pry, early adopters and Beta vs. VHS (or Mac vs. Windows), but I'm too tired to pull it all together right now.