More about the Dean campaign

More about the Dean campaign

From David Weinberger, who’s been advising them. He writes:


[Disclosure: I am Senior Internet Advisor to the Dean campaign, a title that sounds more important than it is. No money changes hands, well, at least not from them to me.]

At BloggerCon, a blogging conference, the people who run the various campaign weblogs were beaten up because the comments on the comment boards do not shape the candidates’ policies. That’s wrong (in my opinion) for an uninteresting reason and for a more interesting one.

Uninteresting: Presidential candidates are not representatives. They try to attract supporters by holding positions. Especially at this stage in the campaign, they should not be shifting too much to suit their supporters.

More interesting: The Dean campaign in particular has figured out how to crack the nut of mass-ness. How do you connect a single candidate to several million supporters in a meaningful way? You don’t. You enable the supporters to connect to one another. And that’s exactly what the Dean campaign has been doing brilliantly. They provide a site where people can initiate their own local projects and find other local supporters. They’ve created open source software to enable groups to form, complete with RSS feeds…all completely decentralized. They provide a facility where you can print up Dean posters with your own message, not theirs. They don’t censor the comment boards on the campaign blog; the commenters feel that those boards are their own blog. Even the idea of having identifiable, enthusiastic staffers writing the blog rather than the candidate feels like us getting in touch with us.

Some stats: Over 60,000 people have planned or attended over 6,000 local events, all without any central coordination or control. About 13,000 people belong to DeanLink, social software that lets local people find one another. There are over 500 independent Dean Web sites and blogs. Over 105,000 posters have been designed by individuals using the Dean site’s facility. Over 140,000 comments have been published on the Dean blog since commenting began in June. They get over 1,000 comments a day and over 2,000 on a good day. Of those 140,000+ comments, about 5 have been removed. Over 120,000 people have signed up for Dean MeetUps (real world get-togethers), where in the past two meetings over 60,000 letters were hand-written to undecided voters in New Hampshire and Iowa; the following week there were significant jumps in support for Dean in those states.

The Dean campaign hasn’t merely inverted the broadcast pyramid so now the bottom is “messaging” to the top. It’s done away with it to a large extent, relentlessly focusing on giving up control of its message in favor of enabling supporters to organize themselves.


I traveled with the Dean campaign on the first leg of its four-day “Sleepless Summer” Tour. I went to a rally in DC, traveled on the plane with the Governor, the staff and the national press, and went to another rally in Milwaukee. Pretty damn exciting. (I am, I believe, the first weblogger to travel as a blogger on a presidential campaign bus or plane. Someone call Guinness!)

I got about three minutes alone with Gov. Dean to talk with him about weblogging. Not a lot of time, granted.

Here’s what Howard Dean didn’t do: Grip my hand in a manly fashion, look me in the eye, and say “Hey, it’s great to meet you! So glad you could travel with us as we campaign to take our country back.” Instead, after saying hello, the first thing he said was that he was unhappy with his blogging on the Larry Lessig site. He wasn’t expecting the sort of technical questions that readers brought up.

So, here’s a presidential candidate who is capable of talking like a human being, engaging on an actual issue. More telling, from my point of view, the very first words out of his mouth pointed to a weakness of his. And then the conversation proceeded. He listened, not in the patronizing “Listening Tour” sense but the way someone with actual curiosity does.

I have to say I really liked the person I met for three minutes.

Could I be wrong? Of course. Dean may have a shady past as a porn star, he may be wanted in Nevada for kidnapping, and his campaign organization may turn out to be a front for the Russian Mafia. Hey, it’s American politics and we can never be certain that things are as they seem. But to me he seemed like a real person able to connect with others.”