It's too early to say for certain, but Howard Dean may turn out to be the Napster of presidential politics: the force that enables the Internet to upend an entire industry, threatens to transform the way it collects money, and opens the eyes of the average person to yet another way to use the Net. But if Dean is a political Napster, it will probably mean more for politics in general than it means for Howard Dean. After all, two years after Napster went dark, people are still logging on to the Internet to swap music files. Ultimately, Napster empowered music users more than it empowered itself. Something analogous will probably be true with Internet politics. That's good news for political junkies, but it could be bad news for Howard Dean.
It's peer-to-peer politics—voters connecting to other voters without the middleman of official campaign sanction.
But by encouraging so much spontaneous organization, Dean has—knowingly or unknowingly—ceded a lot of control to these unofficial groups. It's a gamble that may pay off, but it's still a gamble.
Small, unofficial, decentralized campaign offices (like the ones on the left on this page) could narrow-cast the Dean message, doing to the Dean campaign what fan fiction does to Harry Potter: They could create their own narratives and highlight their own issues and points of emphasis. It's possible that this approach would be wildly successful, allowing Dean's campaign to target a broad variety of voters with distinct messages.
But the decentralized approach could also allow unofficial groups to hijack the Dean campaign, dilute Dean's message, and lead to strange arguments over who controls the "authentic" Dean message—the candidate, or the spontaneously organized groups that so far have been invaluable to his campaign? Part of the Bush campaign's success in 2000 was based on its obnoxious message discipline, and it's hard to see the Dean campaign replicating that.
While Iraq was certainly the issue that first won Dean a lot of support on the left, that development had more to do with the tone of Dean's opposition to the war than the substance. (That's not to say Dean would have won support on the left had he been angry and in favor of the war. Just that he wouldn't have attracted those supporters had he been subdued and opposed.) Which means that it's entirely possible that Dean will be able to moderate the substance of even his foreign policy to appeal to moderates down the road. You can imagine, for example, Dean attacking Bush from the right on homeland security (which he's already begun to do) and the war on terror (the failure to catch Osama bin Laden, the administration's softness on the Saudis). As long as he does it with his trademark bluntness, it's tough to imagine him losing much support on the left.
[A]s improbable as it would have seemed three months ago, some Capitol Hill political realists have now accepted — even embraced — the notion that Dean will end up as the Democratic nominee.
"I want to beat Bush and I think Dean is the best guy to do that," said a senior Senate Democratic staffer, who spoke to MSNBC.com on condition that he not be named. "I'm convinced he’s going to win the nomination. He has won 'the inspiration primary' and he won the fund-raising primary," leading all Democratic contenders with $7.5 million raised in the second quarter.
Best New Blog finalist - 2003 Koufax Awards
A non-violent, counter-dominant, left-liberal, possibly charismatic, quasi anarcho-libertarian Quaker's take on politics, volleyball, and other esoterica.
Lo alecha ha-m'lacha ligmor, v'lo atah ben chorin l'hibateyl mimenah.