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March 10, 2005

what worked for Dean worked better for Bush-Cheney

I didn't share in the enthusiasm for Howard Dean's campaign, and partly that was because I feared that the very methods he pioneered would work much better for the right than for the left. Decentralized networks like Dean's are perfect if you have a constituency that's habitually engaged in politics, rich in connections and network ties, able to make financial contributions, and technically savvy. If, on the other hand, much of your constituency is alienated, demoralized, offline, and without money, then big, disciplined institutions like labor unions, conventional parties, and churches are awfully useful.

Marty Kearns has picked up a telling article by Michael Barrone that describes the Bush-Cheney campaign in the same terms that many leftists used to celebrate Dean. Bush's reelection campaign was, to a large extent, a volunteer-driven, broad-based network. To be sure, Bush raised big bucks--but so did Kerry. The difference may well have been the strength of the decentralized network that supported Republicans.

Some people argue that new network technologies lower the cost of participation, thereby "empowering" ordinary people. That may be true to an extent, and I hope it is. But participation also requires a civic identity: a sense that one is an effective, responsible, committed, important member of a community. A civic identity is much more common, and much easier to develop, among wealthy professionals than among poor and middle-income people, who have good reasons to doubt that they can be effective, valued participants. Networked technologies rarely create civic identities; instead, they amplify the power of the engaged. Thus the decentralized networks that played roles in the 2004 campaign were dominated by relatively affluent volunteers--as shown by the rise of Dean, the victory of Bush, the impact of the "527" groups, and the irrelevance of labor unions.

March 10, 2005 7:55 AM | category: Internet and public issues | Comments


Even if decentralized networks worked better for Bush, it is not a reason to avoid support for Dean. After all, it worked and works for him. Or are we supposed to hide the trick from the enemy? Do you imply that labor unions are irrelevant because their members are not affluent? Their irrelevance is a result of the horrible historical mistake labor leaders made to stick to better off blue collar laborers. See the latest upheaval in the movement.

March 10, 2005 6:30 PM | Comments (4) | posted by Jack Lake

I have nothing against Dean, but I regard his campaign's early success as bad news, because it told us that a Democratic candidate can now easily raise lots of money from upper-middle-class individuals and owe nothing to disciplined organizations that have blue-collar roots. I'll be excited about a candidate who figures out how to empower ordinary people, and I don't think that was Dean. (It wasn't Gephardt or Sharpton, either, by way. They had the right constituencies, but no real plan for empowering them.)

March 10, 2005 8:48 PM | Comments (4) | posted by Peter Levine

Dean got a lot of attention from middle- and lower-middle-class Texans in my area who liked him for his independence, feistiness, toughness. People of a conservative/libertarian bent.

There were also some Dems locally (there are very few of us!) who don't have much money but who made sacrifices to pay into his campaign, attend campaign events, etc. Kids, schoolteachers, retired people.

Labor? I think "labor" as a social group has changed so much in the past twenty years that we'd have to find a new way to describe it, identify it.

March 10, 2005 9:51 PM | Comments (4) | posted by PW

Couldn't agree more. Would add the following: There is not much difference between engineers working 60 hours a week, and paid for 40, and hotel employees. In other words, why isn't UNITE HERE, the hotel employees labor union, joining us all together and then we can support Dean, Sharpton or anyone with sufficient leadership persona.

March 11, 2005 10:17 AM | Comments (4) | posted by Jack lake

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