Horses for courses…

First up, a disclaimer. I know very little about US politics – I leave that to people like Joshua Marshall, Jay Rosen and Jim Moore. This is just some random notes that came up for me tonight on the way home.

I have to admit that I didn’t quite get what Dave Winer was on about with regards to election 2004. I thought Why is Dave attacking the Dean campaign when it has been so much about the net, and weblogs in particular. I was like, dude, you know, they have to run a TV campaign at some stage to win.

Tonight I think I got his message.

It started with reading this article in Wired which included these important words:

“Dean has been reluctant to take a position on core Net issues like copyright law and peer-to-peer file-sharing. …”

This is I think what Dave means about giving back to the internet, to the community that is doing so much for him. At the time I thought, It’s bigger than that, the net isn’t everything in this campaign. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder Why isn’t Dean stating a clear position? What’s he holding back for?

Secondly I saw Dave’s response at the bottom of this post by Jay Rosen. This is where my head has been at for the past two weeks – it all seems to be turning into just another race (perhaps this is the mainstream media influence, I don’t know). For all the rhetoric about the internet giving a voice to the people in this campaign, I think the reality risks being very different. By the time the deals are done to garner the requisite support in the Democrats and, later (I hope), in Congress (which of course is presently majority Republican), the people will rapidly see how much their voice is worth.

Much is being made of the internet’s ability to give people a voice, and how it is being used, somewhat uniquely in the Dean campaign, for “real world” organisation. I have been struggling to see how this participation is going to scale into a useful process for national governance, after the election.

In this article, linked to (and commented on) by Jay Rosen, Frank Rich notes:

“Much as thousands of connected techies perfected the Linux operating system’s code through open collaboration, so Dean online followers collaborate on organizing and perfecting the campaign, their ideas trickling up from the bottom rather than being superimposed from national headquarters. (Or at least their campaign ideas trickle up; policy is still concentrated at the top.)”

(Emphasis mine)

The current model might work well for local rallies and meetings, which of course a valuable and long overdue process in and of itself that will hopefully outlast the election, but I can’t see that same, decentralised model working once Dean is in power and influencing policy, or much less on the road to power.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the internet audience is a small percentage of the total citizenship of the US and the world (although it seems it is rapidly increasing its reach, more on that later). Netroots, as Jim Moore likes to call them (I love Jim’s writing BTW, I’m not having a go), is a small interest group that does not reflect adequately, imho anyway, the broader electorate. So it would in fact be dangerous I think to base policy decision on the ideals of such a group

I do hope that Bush is ousted, and I can think of a lot worse than Dean, but I fear as Dave does that we are about to see a shift in gear to politics as usual in too many respects for this to be the breakthrough election we are all hoping for. But it is definitely promising, it is early days, it is exciting and interesting, and will change the shape of many things. I just hope that Dean team are able to make a real difference to politics as usual in the longer term, and not let this turn into the horse race we are bracing for.

  • Dean has created a new power base. If he is not responsive to it, he will pay, even if he becomes President. For that reason, policy will be subjected to popular political pressures, even if the people who write it are ‘at the top’.

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