Book Reviews: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Joe Trippi: Rated A. History Of The Howard Dean Campaign For President.
Trippi Sees The Internet As The Key To A True Jeffersonian Democracy.
This book is a history of the Dean Campaign for president and how the Internet, notably Meetup.com and the Dean website and blog supplied the funds and expertise (along with Joe Trippi of course) to drive his candidacy. Mr. Trippi notes that they initially set out to raise funds over the Internet and organize rallies in cities through out the country. Dean’s candidacy with his disarming honesty and his first stand against the War in Iraq brought him some early media coverage. This started an Internet fire when Meetup.org coupled with the Dean web page with its feedback and fund raising aspects. The campaign grew exponentially with bottom up as well as top down feedback and leadership.
The Dean Campaign Was Self-Driven.
Joe Trippi tells how they would post a campaign poster, slogan or some other idea and ask for comments and thousands of people with experience in communications, graphics and other areas would volunteer their advice and vote on it. If he wanted to have a rally in a city like Austin volunteers though Meetup.com would put out the word arrange for the hall and fund the event. No need for political advance men or to consult local political operatives to raise an audience unless they were already on Dean’s team. Thus through the Internet the campaign took on a life of it’s own. Dean and Trippi raised about forty-to-fifty million dollars through the Internet. Then one day it all stopped.
The Political Professionals and The Media Attack.
Mr. Trippi blames Richard Gephardt and Wesley Clark’s television attack ads for destroying the Dean candidacy in Iowa and New Hampshire. He downplays the importance of the Dean concession speech in Iowa as the key to the Dean downfall although he concedes that the mainstream media who at first overlooked the power and importance of the
Dean Campaign were all too happy to seize on this one event to vindicate their earlier failure to treat Dean as a serious candidate. The media played loops of the speech, for approximately forty-eight hours nationally, over and over to the detriment of Howard Dean and his campaign.
Trippi The Jeffersonian Idealist.
Trippi, a Jeffersonian purist, foresees that the Internet will help Americans take back the government from the hands of lobbyists and other large donors by returning political power to individuals who give $20 to $100 dollars to the candidate of their choice. One wonders if political power ever resided with these people in the first place or if this is just another piece of nostalgic exuberance on the part of Joe Trippi. He exhorts the reader to embrace his vision like a football coach at half time. If he weren’t in politics he would be in sports driving his team home.
The Power Of Small Motivated Numbers.
Trippi states that Dean’s 600,000 Internet supporters made a difference for a while. Why? Despite the fact that almost 115 million people voted in this election Dean’s cadre were activists willing to go to rallies and donate time and money for a candidate they believed in. Most voters were passive observers only committing themselves in the voting both. These passives are hardly Jeffersonian democrats actively participating in the political process. In the end these passives decided the election not on The Iraqi War issue that Dean framed or the populist economic values that he endorsed but on the alleged moral values espoused by Pat Roberson, Jerry Farwell, Rush Limbaugh and others of the same ilk. So maybe Trippi’s enthusiasm for a new Internet democracy is a little early. The Internet and other emerging electronic communication devices have possibilities that may change politics. Whether or not they will become the dominant force remains to be seen because unless the majority of American voters become more actively involved an organized minority will always be in control.
Who Is The Most Jeffersonian?
The interesting thing about this book is that Dean happened and then was so easily toppled by the political pros. Trippi doesn’t mention it but the reality is the entrenched political establishment in both parties are well funded by large donors, lobbyists, businesses, trade groups, professional associations and unions and presently hold political power. Does he think they are going to cede power to a “pure” candidates funded and empowered by the Internet? Remember Kerry also raised about eighty million through the Internet for the 2004 general election. However he funded his primary campaign privately by mortgaging his house. Kerry used about half his personal wealth for the primary something Howard Dean did not do. So who is the most Jeffersonian?
Big Donors Still Dominate The Candidates.
Joe Trippi published his book before election, but these facts are helpful in evaluating his thesis.
Kerry’s general election campaign received 74.6 million in government matching funds as did the Bush campaign.
Overall Kerry spent 318 million dollars to Bush’s nearly 361 million. Thirty-five percent of Kerry’s money came from donations of $2000 or more and Bush’s $2000 or more donors constituted fort-nine percent of his overall total. By contrast Deans percentage of two thousand or more donors was eleven percent. Opensecrets.org.
Television Is The Persuader of Choice.
The other interesting thing Trippi mentions is that Deans Funds were mostly spent on television ads. So it looks like television with its sound bite ads, attack ads and last minute falsehood ads is still the dominant persuader in statewide and national elections. Therefore the book’s title is somewhat misleading in this respect. If there is a revolution in political funding it will still be spent in the form of television ads like the ones described. Trippi hates the influence of television, which he sees as costly and corruptive because the candidates have no choice but to raise the funds, by any means necessary, to advance their campaigns on television. Trippi doesn’t mention that while television has its shortcomings especially in the advertising department those who were willing to read the articles by the print media especially newspapers like the N.Y. Times, The Washington Post, the L.A. Times and magazines like Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and The New Yorker to name but a few got excellent coverage. However just as the Dean/Trippi campaign focused on the Iraqi war and domestic economic issues these organizations were also not focused on the importance of value issues to the election. It appears neither the mainline media nor the democratic candidate had their ear to the ground in the Heartland where the election was decided. In fact Kerry looked phoney and foolish in his duck hunting publicity events in Ohio. The people he thought he was fooling were alienated by his talking down to them in this way. Joe Trippi could have helped here.
However to be accurate the revolution Trippi is talking about is the way funds are raised and the use of the Internet as a political organizing tool with bottom up participation.
Dean Never Gave Trippi Overall Authority As Campaign Manager
Mr. Trippi states that Howard Dean never gave him financial control over the campaign and this prevented him from hiring an experienced political staff.
According to Mr. Trippi the reason Dean faded from the scene is that his campaign lacked an adequate staff of seasoned political organizers at a critical time in Iowa. Apparently he means people with savvy enough to get Dean off the stage in Iowa or at least write a concession speech that would have been made him more attractive as a candidate. That it seems was his Achilles heel, when he was tired and suffering from a defeat there was no one to protect him. Thus he was counted out in a small state like Iowa with influence greatly in excess of its political weight because of the media coverage of its early primary. The media and his adversaries exploited this moment to drain off his charisma. After the Iowa campaign Internet funds dried up as quickly as they appeared.
Yet it was Dean’s spontaneity, and honesty that caught his supporter’s attention in the first place. His early position on the War in Iraq bought him mainstream media coverage and that triggered the Internet support. However this spontaneity and honesty looked foolish and naive in Iowa on the night of the election.
Trippi indicates that he left the campaign without being fully paid. He also says Dean undercut him by never giving him full authority over the campaign that he infused with life by the Internet. That is the risk of working for a babe in the woods.
So what do we know from this book:
1. The Internet can be a significant source of funds.
2. Television ads are still the dominant means of reaching the electorate in state and national elections.
3. Internet donors don’t seem interested in backing a third party candidate at least up to now.
4. Mainstream media can still make or break a candidacy.
5. Dean was easily toppled by the entrenched political establishment when the going got rough as was the John McCain campaign.
6. The internet and other electronic communicating devices other than television are still evolving and their ultimate impact on politics remains to be seen.
7. Lobbyists and other major fundraisers are not going to give up their death grip on politics easily.
8. The majority of American voters are not actively involved in the political process beyond voting and many times they do not even do that.
9. An active minority will always have disproportionate power.
This was a stimulating book to read, told by a man actually in the trenches and not some armchair prognosticator. One cannot help but be impressed Mr. Trippi’s ideas, enthusiasm, optimism, love of political life and most of all the American people.