TCS Daily


The Present and Future of Blogitics

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - January 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Howard Dean has been widely considered to be this year's Internet candidate, and his blog and Web presence helped propel him to one of the major candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. But his failure to win in Iowa followed by his speech-cum-shriek, and his potential failure to win in New Hampshire after leading there for many months (at the writing of this article, John Kerry is ahead in the polls) has prompted some to muse that blogs and the Internet are less important to the process than many thought. Humor blogger Scott Ott wrote this recent parody post speculating hilariously that the Internet and blogs were "hardest hit" by the Dean loss. All humor aside, it is worth asking how Dean's loss might affect the power of blogs and the Internet to influence presidential politics.

Obviously, the use of the Internet and blogs is no cure-all for basic campaign mistakes. From his statement that he didn't care where Osama bin Laden would be tried if captured, to his comment that Saddam Hussein's capture failed to make America any safer, Dean succeeded in turning off many of his campaign supporters. Some may have felt that Dean was un-presidential, while others may have agreed with his views, but felt that he would be the weakest candidate against President Bush in the general election. But in any event, some of Dean's wounds were self-inflicted and quite apart from his reliance on the Web to help carry forth his message.

But if Dean's mistakes were not Internet-inflicted, the next question is whether the Internet augmented the seriousness of those mistakes. Over at the Dean blog, some commenters argued that the blog only served to insulate the campaign from having to do anything more than preach to the choir, and forget about actually trying to get votes on the ground, or appeal to undecided voters. However, Farhad Manjoo properly responds by noting that while the Internet may have reinforced some flawed thinking, in the end, Dean was his own worst enemy, and that the major lesson to take out of Iowa was not that the use of the Internet and blogs should be abandoned, but that Dean should change his campaign message, ditch the angry tone, and concentrate more on a positive message and explanation of his record for the voters.

Additionally, merely because Dean was not helped in Iowa by the Internet -- and even if Dean completely fails to win the nomination -- this does not mean that the Internet is not helpful as a whole. First of all, it may simply be that the Internet candidate in this election is not Howard Dean. As these exit polls point out, a plurality of those who rely on the Internet for their news and information decided to vote for John Kerry in the caucuses. Perhaps the issue isn't so much whether the Internet is an effective campaign tool, as it is whether candidates other than Dean are simply able to use the Internet better.

Indeed, as blogger Ed Cone argues:

Like the stock bubble, this deflation could obscure the value of the technology beneath the hype. That would be a mistake. The Internet is a critical means of communication and organization for campaigns, cheap and ubiquitous. It took Dean from zero to third place, made him a contender from nothing, and that's incredible.

The worst thing that could happen to Kerry and Edwards is that they discount the Internet in Iowa's wake. A visitor to this blog joked last night that maybe Channel Dean had been cancelled. But the fact is that other campaigns would be wise to put a similar news aggregation service into use as soon as possible.

The best thing that could happen to the Democrats is for Karl Rove to breathe easy and say, forget this Internet stuff, it failed Dean, we'll stick with what we know. I doubt that will happen. He's too smart.

Remember: In the 1992 campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination, former California Governor Jerry Brown revolutionized the process with the introduction of a campaign 800 number. In 2000, John McCain furthered the technological advances behind presidential campaigns with a simple, non-blog website that helped register hundreds of thousands of voters, and raised over $6 million. Now, blogs and the Internet are poised to make another unique contribution to politics and the way candidates campaign for President. It may not be the kind of contribution that we expected at the beginning of this process, but the political landscape will be irreversibly transformed as a result of the newest advances in communications technology. We may not know exactly how, but finding out will be part of the fun.


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