Tuesday, July 08, 2003

E.J. Dionne has written an excellent piece about the financial genius behind Dean's internet focus: it makes fundraising easy.

Dean's astonishing success at pulling in such a large haul of online contributions so early in the campaign is revolutionary. It gives Democrats an alternative to their addiction to raising big money from rich people and rich interests. Most of that fundraising will be against the law if the Supreme Court upholds the Campaign Reform Act passed last year. So the Dems had better figure out something.

In the old soft money system, the most efficient way to raise $100 million was through a small number of very rich people. One hundred people giving $100,000 each quickly gets you to $10 million.

But Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager and an evangelist for the gospel of online politics, describes the alternative: You can raise $100 million if a million people contribute an average of $100 each. If Democrats can't find a few million people willing to part with a couple of bucks a week, they're in trouble.

...Those caveats don't change the fact that what Dean has set in motion will long survive this campaign. Even if he loses, Dean will be seen as a political innovator, as John F. Kennedy was in understanding the power of television and both Barry Goldwater and George McGovern were in using direct mail fundraising. "Whatever hyperbolic language you use about this, it's true," says Simon Rosenberg, president of the centrist New Democrat Network, who doesn't have a dog in this fight -- he is neutral in the presidential race -- and has raised scads of business money for his party.
I'm personally undecided about the actual Dean candidacy, although I'm somewhat worried that online liberals and Democrats will connect themselves too deeply with a single candidate (Dean) and lose their energy and drive if Dean should not become the candidate. Still, even if this particular instance of online Democratic organization is candidate-driven, Dionne is entirely right in highlighting the importance of the model itself.

What really pleases me, though, is the associated situation that Dionne brings up:

Ah, but won't this benefit Democrats on the "extremes" by empowering the frequenters of Web sites that drip with contempt for President Bush? The Internet has certainly provided a powerful outlet for Bush's opponents. Mark Karlin, the editor and publisher of BuzzFlash.com, a liberal Web site, sees it as becoming "the progressive or Democratic alternative to right-wing radio," a place where activists can congregate and exchange views.

Given how much Rush Limbaugh and his imitators have done for the right and the Republicans, it's hard to see how progressives or Democrats will be hurt by having an outlet of their own. But Karlin, Rosenberg and Wes Boyd of MoveOn question the assumption that left-wing ideology is the sole motivator on the progressive Internet.

Karlin describes his constituency as "energetic" rather than ideological. Boyd sees the Internet as rewarding "insurgents" willing "to say something different from what's being said inside the Beltway." Rosenberg thinks the Web helps any candidate of any ideology who demonstrates "the passion, the cause and the commitment." This description applies quite well to Sen. John McCain, who took the first steps in making effective use of Internet fundraising.
Let's be clear- this isn't all (or even mostly) liberal bloggers or Blogovia itself. There are a lot of people out there who are involved in Democratic politics that don't read or write blogs. Still, what's astounding is the turnaround. Less than a year ago, bloggers and blogging was still an enormously conservative/libertarian affair, with liberalism being sidelined if not ignored. That's the reason I started this website in the first place. Now, however, there's absolutely no shortage of liberal bloggers out there, and the Dean campaign is doing a bang-up job of connecting them to on-the-ground electoral politics in a way that I never would have expected. On one level, it's somewhat disconcerting to be "yet another voice in the crowd" nowadays (especially considering that my site has been around longer than much, much, much better known sites), but the fact that this society exists is immensely gratifying.

(It does, however, mean that I probably need to change the subtitle of the blog. Suggestions?)

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