I wrote this on December 10 2003 on the official Edwards campaign blog. See also whar I wrote here http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/08/deanomania.html and here http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/08/smoke-signals-blogs-and-future-of.html.
One of the first posts I made on this blog in its early days, still as anonymous, was something to the tune of: where the hell have you been so far? While the media voiced surprise at Dean's "masterful use" of the Internet, my surprise was that the other eight candidates did not use Internet - such an OBVIOUS tool.
About 51% of US households own a computer, about 49% have internet access at home. Many more have access at work. I know, I know...the digital divide exists and the people who do not have the access are somewhat more likely to be poor, or minorities, or in rural areas. These same people also may not have TV or radio or telephone, and are also less likely to buy newspapers. Such people have to be reached by old-fashioned methods - knock on the door! But, more than half of the country can be reached via Internet and it is SOOOOO much cheaper than TV ads.
I guess the campaign managers have learned their trade in the last century and did not have the understanding of the power of internet, or did not have courage to change the strategies that won them elections in the past. I can't wait to see Chris Winn run someone's campaign in 2006 or 2008 (Chris, I'll work for you)! It's a new world, new times, new ways of doing things. But, one has to be careful with new things.
While I applaud Dean's guts to be the first to test the utility of the Web, particularly the blog, I do not think it worked well for him. As he was the only one in those early days, he attracted ALL those people who live and breathe the Web. Those are also the same people who took part in anti-war demonstrations, anti-WTO demonstrations etc. They discovered a candidate with a blog and....what happenned? Instead of Dean stating his positions and his supporters deciding if they'll stick around or not, these guys took over the campaign. They told Dean what they wanted his positions to be. And, excitable and inexperienced as he is, he bit the bait and started changing his positions on everything in order to appease his supporters. This is no different than having a poll-driven campaign.
Now, I personally think that Howard is a smart and decent person who really wants to do good for his country. There are many smart, decent, good-willing people around, but not everyone is capable of being the President of the USA. What Dean did wrong, and what will be the reason for his ultimate downfall, is to let his bloggers define and run his campaign. We all make judgments on Dean, but those are really judgments on the image formed by his followers, a personality cult in which the actual personality is not important. His supporters do not know what he thinks and plans to do because they all project their wishes and plans onto him. It is an example of a campaign gone wild and out of control at the hands of a bunch of most extreme liberals in this country. Neither Dean nor Trippy can control this campaign any more - it has a life of its own.
I am glad that other candidates, JRE included, have incorporated Internet into the campaign strategy, even if it is a little belatedly. Yet, they all learned a lesson from the Dean campaign and are NOT allowing anyone but the candidate to set the policy. If you don't like what one candidate proposes, go to someone else. We have (myself included) made lots of proposals to the campaign on this blog, and a few of those were good and were taken up by the campaign. Others may sounded good at the time, but looking back, oh boy, am I happy that JRE did not take them....
As a result of those differences in approach to the role of the Web and the blog in the primaries, there is now a difference in the tone and atmosphere between blogs. While Dean's blog is a bulletin board for a bunch of fanatics, we have a feel of a community, almost a family. The result is a much nicer tone here, much more intelligent discussions, and less cheerleading. That is why trolls feel so disruptive. If a loudmouth drunk enters a bar, nobody notices, but if he enters your home, he disrupts your peace and privacy. Some troll posts are fine as they provoke intelligent and often funny responses. Others, like the drunk, need to be kicked out of our house and given a restraining order. This is our house, after all, not an outdoors rally. I wish we were even stricter about this than we are. Our blog is actually the MOST liberal of all the blogs regarding the policies of who can read and post here. Even the personal blogs, initially kept invisible for unlogged users, are now accessible to everyone. Our blog is THE friendliest and most open blog of all candidates' blogs and that is why we have to be the most vigilant, as we are the most vulnerable to disruptions by trolls.