The Last Internet Campaign?

Clay’s coda for the Dean campaign hits the nail on the head:

“We are seeing the last internet campaign. The advantage of having the
Dean story play so big is that everyone was watching. None of this was
lost on Karl Rove, or on Terry McAuliffe. Given what Dean was able to
do with internet tools, they will become a key part of the fall
campaign, and so completely integral by by 2008 that they wonÂ’t rate
more than a mention, much less a cover story in the NY Times magazine.”

The interesting question, though, is what a successful Internet
campaign would look like.  Dean showed how the Net can take an
obscure candidate and vault him to the head of the pack.  What
would a real Internet campaign by an establishment figure like John
Kerry — or George W. Bush — look like?  We’ll see beta versions
this fall, but they will almost certainly be copies of Dean’s
techniques rather than real innovations.

I have a hunch that the first Internet campaign to truly mobilize
voters on a mass scale (as opposed to fundraising and core supporters)
won’t start around a candidate.  One of the key, and
under-appreciated, elements of Dean’s early success was MoveOn.org
MoveOn never actually endorsed Dean, but its tactics and worldview were
aligned with the Dean campaign. Its early online poll was the first
demonstration of Dean’s “front-runner” status.  MoveOn, thanks to
help from friends like George Soros, will be significant player in the
Fall campaign.  Yet MoveOn wasn’t started to elect a President; it
was started to defend a President (Clinton) against impeachment efforts.

What mot people really support are causes, not candidates.  The
cause many Dean supporters were passionate about was defeating
President Bush, and that ultimately came back to haunt Howard Dean in
the form of “electability.”  The power of the Net in politics, as
Clay and others have eloquently written, is its ability to lower
coordination barriers among large numbers of people.  Thus, it’s
most effective where people already support a cause. 

It’s hard to remember now, but back in the late 1980s and early 1990s,
there were two such causes: health care reform and deficit
reduction.  The health care debate was co-opted by the traditional
players, but on the deficit side, the Concord Coalition did an amazing
job of mobilizing popular anger, largely among young people, about the
ruinous course of our fiscal policies.  And they did it without
any of the Internet-based tools groups like MoveOn are exploiting
today. 

So yes, we’ve seen the last Internet campaign, but not the first
Internet President.  That will have to wait for a movement that
starts outside the existing political boxes, and a candidate able to
make the most of it.