The Dean Bubble

The Dean Bubble

That chewing sound you hear is of me eating my hat. Like many others, I completely misread the significance of Howard Dean’s Internet campaign. There’s been a lot of similarly rueful reflection around on the Net, and here and there some really thoughtful pieces — like this one from Clay Shirky.

“The easy thing to explain is why Dean lost”, writes Clay, “– the voters didn’t like him. The hard thing to explain is why we (and why Dean himself) thought he’d win, and easily at that. The bubble of belief, which collapsed so quickly and so completely, was inflated by tools that made formerly hard things easy, tricking us into thinking that getting votes had become easy as well — we were all in Deanspace for a while there.”

Then there’s this piece by David Weinberger (of Cluetrain Manifesto fame). “I think Clay overstates the role of the Internet in our self-delusion”, he writes. “One big reason I thought Dean was going to win quickly was that the polls said he had a huge lead. So, the question isn’t simply ‘Why did Deaniacs think Dean would win easily?’ but also ‘Why did the electorate favor him on clipboards but not in voting booths?’ The answers to that question are not pleasant for any Dean supporter to contemplate.

And it wasn’t just the polls that led us to believe he was a happenin’ guy. In August, crowds of unprecedented size — 5,000, 10,000 — showed up to hear Dean speak. I traveled on the press bus for one leg of the ‘Sleepless Summer’ tour and heard two well-known, hard-bitten journalists for major media outlets whispering to one another: ‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’ ‘No, and so early in the campaign!’ Those crowds weren’t an Internet phenomenon, but they had a lot to do with convincing me that Dean’s support was wider spread than it has so far turned out to be. (Sure, I was naive, but it wasn’t an Internet naivete.)

So, I find myself agreeing with Clay’s warnings about how a candidate’s Internet campaign can create an unfounded perception of electoral strength, yet also worried that readers will come away with an exaggerated view of the Internet’s role in that perception. It wasn’t just the Internet that led us into false optimism.”

Then there’s Thomas Schaller’s Salon piece on “Dean’s Dizzying Descent” which points out some serious errors made by both Dean and his erstwhile campaign manager, Joe Trippi. What’s nice about these pieces is that they are (i) written by people who were, like me, sympathetic to Dean and (ii) represent honest attempts to explain why their authors got it wrong. The best way to make progress is to learn from one’s mistakes. Wish the Blair government could do it.