Week 8- Howard Dean

This week’s readings focused on the campaign of Howard Dean, who was a democratic candidate for president in 2004. The perennial subject of Dean’s candidacy was his use of the Internet to form his campaign. He is widely recognized as the first candidate to run an extremely viral campaign that used the Internet to function. There were three readings this week: one from his campaign manager, Joe Trippi, social theorist Clay Shirky, and political theorist Matthew Hindman. Together, these three make for a very interesting subject. After reading the essays, I argue that regardless of the unsuccessful result of Howard Dean’s candidacy, he changed the way political campaigns work and should be recognized for his efforts.

Joe Trippi’s essay attempts to explain the “behind-the-scenes” of the Dean campaign, and to get a more human feel for the viral movement. Trippi found that the internet could double the size of a campaign in a matter of days, but also was prone to various obstacles. For example, Dean’s blogosphere welcomed any and all opinions, which occasionally backfired on the campaign with “trolls” who attempted to sabotage the blog. Also, Trippi introduces us to MeetUp and GetLocal, two ideas that allowed Dean supporters to communicate with each other and set up meetings. What Lippi learned from being so closely involved in this was that Howard Dean was doing more than running for President- he was creating a political movement. Although he didn’t explain much about how the movement could have actually HURT his campaign, Clay Shirky jumped on the opportunity.

In his essay, Shirky explains that Dean’s campaign tricked people into believing he was in the lead, but not the actual voters. Shirky feels that although it seemed it, Dean’s campaign was never actually successful. Moreover, he explains that the campaign was highly vulnerable due to its dependency on the Internet. The one thing that Shirky admits Dean had going for him was the novelty of his campaign- no one had ever used the Internet to drive their run. He then concludes that Dean’s online donations created a false sense of strength in the campaign, and that it should not have ever been a surprise that he lost.

I found Matthew Hindman’s point particularly interesting: Howard Dean’s donations were typically small, and although his campaign raised a lot of money, the small donations explained that he may not have had as strong of support as the other candidates. Even with this in mind, I think it is important to appreciate what Dean’s innovative campaign did to politics.

From these readings, I do have two questions that arise. First, what will the next step in viral campaigning be in politics? We know President Obama used Facebook and Twitter, but what will follow? Second, if liberals tend to use the Internet for political information so much more than conservatives, how will this affect the 2012 Republican campaigns?

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