Letters

The Internet strikes back! Readers critique Farhad Manjoo's "Dean's Fatal System Error."


Salon Staff
January 23, 2004 1:30AM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

Does Howard Dean's Iowa downfall mean the Internet has no role in politics, or at least that rumors of its ascendance are greatly exaggerated? Farhad Manjoo and a host of other commentators seem to think so, but they're ignoring some pretty important realities. As Dean himself pointed out, a year ago nobody would have expected him to finish as high as third in Iowa -- without the Internet, the loose-cannon former governor of a marginal state would likely have finished in the vicinity of Dennis Kucinich, not Dick Gephardt. Win or lose, Dean is still a force to be reckoned with, and it was the Internet that made it all possible.

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What's more, when Dean started his campaign, the Web wasn't on his opponents' radar screen -- today, every remaining candidate with a reasonable chance of winning has an extensive online operation, some with features even Dean doesn't have. John Edwards' newly impressive site, featuring a wide-ranging blog network, is easily the most improved of the Democrats' in recent weeks. There are many reasons for his meteoric rise in Iowa, but I wouldn't discount that as one of them. Even George W. Bush, not exactly the Great Communicator, now sports a blog on his official reelection site. Dean may never get to go mano a mano with Dubya, but maybe getting the president -- and everyone else -- to play on his turf will be his real legacy.

And by the way: The only major candidate without a blog going into the Iowa caucuses? Dick Gephardt. Dean may be reeling, but it seems to me that ignoring the Internet doesn't get you too far, either.

-- Stephen Tiszenkel

For what it's worth, there are many of us out here in the hinterlands who support Dean, not through the Internet and not because of the Internet, but in old-fashioned ways and for old-fashioned reasons. My wife and I have been too busy making phone calls, arranging for coverage of polling places, setting up rides to the polls, etc., to have much time to blog or to read blogs. We want to defeat Bush in November because he is a lousy president in pursuit of awful policies.

The "Dean/Internet phenomenon" is as much the creation of the media as it is of the Dean campaign itself. Having birthed the phenomenon, the media now wonder if the infant will be viable. May I suggest that in this matter -- as in Dean's supposed "front-runner" status of a few weeks ago -- that media people (including Salon in this case) take themselves and their fertile imaginations all too seriously. Yes, Dean supporters have used the Internet effectively, especially to maintain enthusiasm and raise money. But Dean's support comes largely from people who, like me, have longed for a Democrat willing to stand up to Bush and the Republicans -- and who have found the other candidates either seriously flawed (e.g., Lieberman for his support of the war), compromised (Kerry for his vote for the war resolution), of questionable Democratic pedigree (Clark), or too far out to be electable (Kucinich).

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I haven't walked the streets for a presidential candidate since McGovern in 1972, and before that, for Kennedy in 1960. But I'll do it for Dean -- or for whatever Democrat gets the nomination. And if I do it for anyone besides Dean, it will be largely because of Dean's candidacy, which brought hope when there was none to be found.

Whether Dean can win the nomination, I don't know. He has made some mistakes. But please get off the damned Internet story. Especially from Salon I expect something better than the usual flock of journalistic birds who perch on one story and then move en masse to another.

-- John P. Hewitt

Would someone please point out to Farhad Manjoo that there has been exactly one lousy caucus thus far, so he can just drop the "It's all over" tone. On to New Hampshire, Arizona, South Carolina, etc., etc. Where voters can make up their own minds about their states.

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-- Penny Clifton

The reason Dean's Internet-based strategy didn't work is simple. He never understood how self-referential and self-involved "Internet nation" really is. For the bloggers and e-mailers, the Dean campaign was never about Dean. It was about them. It was simply another chance to blog, link, and check up on how many times their name/site/blog was hit and then tell the Net how many hits they got. To actually get off their collective asses and go to Iowa to work or even to vote in New Hampshire or elsewhere would be so, well, nonvirtual and so not about them.

So we should remember that for the majority of Americans, life still exists somewhere other than in front of a laptop.

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-- Bob Kozak

While Dean did indeed not meet expectations in Iowa, history -- and common sense -- tell us that his candidacy is far from over.

I spoke yesterday night with a caucus observer pledged to Dean, fresh off the plane. His points:

  • Dean did indeed succeed in bringing new people out to vote -- a record turnout.
  • Dean supporters were often "frozen out" of the process by not understanding its intricacies, such as having to show up between 6:30 and 7:00 (many were turned away at 7:01) and having to sign one list that says they showed up, and yet another that said they intended to vote.
  • The old guard political machine -- largely Kerry supporters -- did everything they could to shut out, outmaneuver, and just plain drown out the newbies.
  • None of this would account for all of the lost votes, and Dean and Gephardt essentially took each other out in the last few weeks with negative ads.

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    But, Farhad, equating this campaign with an Internet bubble is pestilent bloviating of the first order. The medium is not the message. The medium is the tool that made this the greatest grassroots campaign in history. The message is that Howard Dean is for real. He makes mistakes, but he delivers the goods. Always has.

    For me, I just sent out another hundred bucks, spent time on a very constructive blog on what to do better, and grabbed another precinct list to start phoning undecideds.

    We'll see if you're still sticking daisies on our campaign after Super Tuesday.

    -- Brad Basler

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    I have to agree with the comments in Farhad Manjoo's piece about the Dean campaign possibly being too fanatical and having that turn people off.

    My background? 27-year-old computer programmer. I went to a Dean breakfast, about three months ago, here in N.H., and I liked what I saw and heard.

    I filled out the response form, because I did want to lend my support -- at least in spirit.

    I also donated to the campaign fund -- something I have never done for any other candidates in any other campaigns.

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    Since then, I have gotten no less than two phone calls a week from Deaniacs trying to get me more involved. "Come, meet the governor." "Come to this Meetup." "Don't miss blah blah blah."

    I've told them repeatedly that while I like the candidate, I don't want to be more involved. (Unlike some, I have a job -- I don't have time during the day to worry about a primary campaign.) This has only served to encourage the Deaniacs.

    I've finally told them that I'm voting for someone else if they call again.

    Edwards is looking nice, after his showing in Iowa.

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    I guess this is the backlash for all of the "hard sell" approach? I don't think Kerry will do well in New Hampshire -- we tend not to be fond of Massachusetts, so his track record means nothing -- but I can't say whether or not Dean will do well.

    We'll see if I get another phone call.

    -- Barrett Nuzum

    In an era when the media stampedes from story to story trying to fit facts on the ground into trite preexisting scripts, I turn to Salon as an oasis of actual analysis and reporting. Mr. Manjoo's article was a jarring disappointment. The Dean campaign has problems, and its myopic focus on a large nationwide group of avid supporters -- made possible by the Internet -- is certainly one of them. The resurrection of the "Internet: Magic Engine of Change or Worthless Gadget?" meme (which was stupid during the dot-com boom) for political coverage is really lazy journalism. Why not write an article examining both the undeniable ways in which the Internet has helped make Dean's campaign strong alongside an analysis of how it has led them into trouble. Manjoo's sources actually do some of this. At times he even seems to want to write that article, but the silly initial question keeps getting in the way. I wasn't sure if I was reading Salon or CNN.

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    -- Jeff Silverman

    The lesson of Iowa and the Dean Internet campaign is this: The most powerful medium is still TV.

    (1) TV -- as well as press -- commentators attacked Dean much more heavily than they did his competitors, as has been documented in Salon and elsewhere.

    (2) Dean's competitors co-opted his message and began to finally get traction. If Edwards were held to the same standards as Joe Biden, he too would have had to drop out of the race due to his direct plagiarism.

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    (3) For all the hoopla, Iowa Democrats didn't pay that much attention until the very end. And in the end, Dean's TV ad campaign and TV strategy were dismal.

    Commentators are still piling on. I was horrified by what I heard about Dean's Monday night speech until I saw it -- what a bunch of baloney the press has been spinning. And Dean's Internet strength has helped him raise considerably more money than the other candidates, in ways that are truly small-d democratic. He's not finished yet and the Internet may well be one of the reasons why.

    -- Barbara Burt

    I don't know if Howard Dean is the person to take on George Bush. But I do know that for a long time he was the one articulating the views that many of us wanted expressed.

    Personally, I had never given money to a candidate before, but I gave Dean some money over the Internet. Whether or not he gets the nomination it was money well spent. It was worth it to me just to hear a candidate who might have a chance actually oppose the war in Iraq. Not just oppose the way it was done, and not to say, "Well, I voted for the war but I was misled," but to oppose the whole thing, pure and simple.

    It is obvious that Dean was defeated by Kerry and Edwards. The flip side is that Kerry and Edwards had to rise to the occasion in order to beat him. If we end up with a better and stronger candidate to take on George Bush because of that, that's fine with me. If so, it will be at least in small part thanks to Howard Dean's candidacy, and to the enthusiasm it generated. My wallet is open now, and inspired by Howard Dean I'm ready to contribute to whoever is best able to send the current occupant of the White House back to Texas.

    -- Jim Holman

    I love irony. So it was wonderful, while reading about "Howard Dean's Fatal System Error" to find that my Day Pass was sponsored by Moveon.org!

    -- Rob Anderson


    Salon Staff

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