The American Prospect says goodbye to Dean
The American Prospect has quickly become one of my favorite non-blog political resources on the Web. The funny thing is that I was drawn to the magazine by its blog, a group project that includes writers like Michael Tomasky, Nick Confessore, Garance Franke-Ruta, Matthew Yglesias and many others. I like to think of the magazine as a slightly less loopy version of The Nation.
And of late, they've been spending some time on Howard Dean's campaign as retrospective--what sort of long-term effect, if any, will he have on the party, and the like. Along those lines comes this article, four different impressions of the campaign by Tomasky, Franks-Ruta, Simon Rosenberg, and Confessore. It's Confessore's that I want to focus on, although I think all four make salient points.
After making the usual noises (Dean wasn't my first choice, but he gave the Democrats a backbone, blah, blah, blah), Confessore writes:
But Dean's most important contribution was to show the Democrats how to organize a political party in the postindustrial age. To use a software analogy, every political campaign has both applications (policy proposals) and an operating system (volunteers, professional staff, fund raising, and ground organization)....
Dean's legacy, in other words, is not an ideological one. But he did give the Democrats a new operating system. Until now, every other campaign, Republican or Democratic, has run on some version of Windows -- the model in which candidates use direct mail and other 1970s-era innovations to raise millions of dollars, largely from wealthy individuals, and hire consultants to communicate with ordinary voters through television ads. Republicans have always been more successful with this model than Democrats. (You could say Democrats ran on Windows 3.1, while GOP candidates had long ago upgraded to XP.)....
Dean's campaign, as I am not the first to note, was the political equivalent of Linux. That's true both literally -- like Linux, Dean's campaign was "open source," allowing ideas and innovations to filter up from grass roots and permeate the entire operation -- but also in the sense that it was a radical departure from the old campaign model. By harnessing existing information technologies to lower the cost of organizing a genuine grass roots and raising small-dollar contributions from them, Dean gave the Democrats a glimpse of how they can rebuild their party infrastructure, reconnect with average Democrat voters in a powerful, organic way, and raise enough money to be competitive again.
And in one important way, he's right--one of the themes of the Dean campaign was to get those people who have given up on politics a reason to get involved again. I heard the story more times than I could count--people who had never contributed money to a campaign before, people who had never been to a political meeting before, people who had never voted in a primary or put a bumper sticker on their cars or even written a letter to the editor before were being inspired to do all these things and more. It was open-source campaigning.
Now we just have to make sure that we don't let the source code to our new Democratic party get subsumed into the old party atmosphere, and smothered before we can grow it into the dominant operating system.