Is Dean the Internet's Candidate?
Tuesday, January 27, 2004 by Dave Winer.
Now that I live in the east I still go for my afternoon walk. But instead of walking around the rainy hills outside Silicon Valley, I walk in a frozen western suburb of Boston. I still bring my walkman, but now it's an all solid-state device that can play MP3s. It's an FM radio, and can record speech through a built-in microphone. It's a marvel of technology, a product one could only dream about a few years back. And a few years from now it will seem utterly baroque, having been replaced by something that speaks 802.11b, and connects up to the worldwide network and plays music and commentary that I chose on my laptop back home, which could be a mile or ten thousand miles away.
Today I brought two great teachers with me on my walk: Larry Lessig, law professor at Stanford, and Jay Rosen, chairman of the journalism department at NYU. I listened to Lessig first. He was interviewed by Chris Lydon in December, just after Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean. He talked about weblogs and the campaign of 2004. Then I listened to Rosen talk about the power of amateur journalism; he was also interviewed by Lydon, in October, as the Dean campaign was ascending. Both interviews are highly recommended if you want to understand the transformation that was taking place in politics, journalism and culture.
At the same time, this afternoon, we're in a unique little space in the political-journalism-culture spectrum. The campaign for New Hampshire is over, the voting is happening right now, we're waiting for the returns, which will come in just a few more hours. It's an easy but uneasy day. After the shakeup of Iowa, we're trying to prepare for another shakeup, and if one should happen, we don't know what it is yet.
But then I realized that there's nothing to wait for. Something big had already happened, and in all the excitement of one of the first great elections in several decades (I'm sure many more are coming), we missed something important had already happened. It's just these moments that this column is here for. A thought in time, a thought that won't wait, something exciting and interesting.
Zoom back to December 8, 2003. Huge hoopla of the day: Al Gore endorses Howard Dean.
The Internet has arrived, many proclaim. Now even a major artifact of the old system acknowledges it. All Hail The Internet, Al Gore Hath Embraced Thee.
Now I was a contrarian about this, instead of seeing it as a buy signal, I said sell. Clearly Dean didn't understand the power of the medium he had tapped into. The press proclaimed Gore's shrewdness. He wants the Internet money-raising machine to work for him in 2008, after Bush beats Dean in 2004. Surely Clinton will be next, answering the Gore move by endorsing Clark. (Clinton didn't blink.)
December 8 was a bottom. Like the cover of Business Week that proclaims an infinite bull market, this was the moment to sell. It was a bottom. Nowhere but up from there. How did I know? See the headline of this USA Today story for a clue: "Gore's early endorsement drowns out voters' voices." The story goes on to say that in the new politics, with more happening behind the scenes every cycle, the poor voter has almost no say in who runs the country. How neat this must have seemed to the professional journalists.
Now the bloggers, and Lessig and Rosen, have a different philosophy. The power of the voter is ascending, because the new network is pro-creative, a term that Lessig uses to describe the difference between centralized media and distributed media. The least important thing about the Internet as a political medium is its power to raise money, because over time it obviates the need to raise money. The cost of circulating ideas is dropping steadily and aggressively. Television is the least efficient way to do it, and as Iowa proved, it's not even effective. Dean outspent everyone and came in third. As citizen bloggers analyze the positions of various candidates -- why guess what they stand for, insist on knowing.
In the new election cycle, we have more power than ever before, even though there are so many of us. It's wishful thinking on the part of the professional journalists to think that an endorsement from a leader from the old political model could factor out the power of the electorate. And I'm happy to report that few pundits could tell you right now, at 2:51PM Eastern, what the political campaign of 2004 will look like. But tune in a few hours from now, after the voters of New Hampshire have made their decision, and all of a sudden, they will have lots to say.
So don't believe it when they say the vote doesn't matter. Only if there's been an overthrow of the US Constitution could that possibly be. And of course keep your eyes open for exactly that, because when it becomes clear that they're losing, there will be desperate measures taken by the media conglomerates, and the politicians they control.
And isn't it ironic that in the last week Dean truly has become the Internet's candidate. I've watched him in interviews with CNN reporters explain how their business really works. Dean blinked between his ascendence and Iowa, he thought he had to join up with the established system in order to win. Of course they kicked his ass, and that was the biggest favor they could do for us. Now we truly have a candidate, and even if we lose this election, the process is inexorable, the US political system is ours.