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February 16, 2004

Jay Rosen on Dean

Jay Rosen is one of my very favorite media critics and theorists of democracy. Still, I'm slightly surprised by his retrospective enthusiasm for the Dean campaign. Those who were closely involved with the campaign feel they lived through something important and noble, and their feelings can be contagious. Nevertheless, I don't buy that the "distributed" methods pioneered by Joe Trippi will do anything to improve our democracy.

Jay writes: "The miracle is that an alternative to campaigns-as-usual had finally become visible with the Internet's semi-maturation as political tool. ... This alternative had proven itself in the one way that counts on everyone's scorecard: raising money. That Dean had raised it in small amounts, in distributed fashion, aided by a social movement which began to gather online and kept gathering, along with the blogs and the spirit of active participation-- all of that motion meant something."

Dean's cash may have been raised in a "distributed" way, but like most campaign money, it came from rich people. Thomas B. Edsall and Sarah Cohen analyzed Dean donors statistically and described them in the Washington Post: "They are young. They propel urban gentrification. They shop at Banana Republic, read Vanity Fair, like Audi A4s and watch reruns of 'Friends.' The $54,117 median family income of these well-educated, Internet-savvy professionals is relatively low in part because so many are single and live alone." The smallest contributions in American politics come through non-"distributed" channels: unions and other political action committees that collect dues from many members and make large contributions that are bundled in one way or another. I have always opposed both "soft money" and PACs, but Internet-based fundraising strikes me as a recipe for rule by yuppies.

Besides, George W. Bush has raised more than twice as much money through the Internet as Howard Dean. This suggests to me that online fundraising will soon be part of the standard arsenal of an "establishment" candidate.

Jay's essay refers seven times to the "establishment" that brought down Dean. I am always suspicious of this abstraction, especially in those cases when it describes me. (I'm one of those who thought that the Good Doctor would be a disastous nominee.) In any case, I don't believe that the Establishment was against Dean. Just for example, in New Hampshire, Kerry did best among high school students and Dean did best among those with postgraduate study. I read Dr. Dean as a representative of upper-income, socially libertarian, well-educated, North-Easterners. If we are going to call anyone the Establishment, why not them?

I'm going to come out and admit that I sent $50 to Dick Gephardt. I think we need candidates who are accountable to mass, democratic organizations like labor unions--groups that also engage in civic education and help raise ordinary people to have political identities. I recognize that Gephardt was yesterday's candidate; but if Dean is tomorrow's, I don't like where we're headed.

Posted by peterlevine at 8:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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