Comments: Howard Dean Is (Was) a Bubble IPO

That's weird... I just today heard someone describe going to Iowa to help the Dean campaign exactly in the terms of your title.

Posted by joe at January 22, 2004 12:14 AM

"None of this means Dean is going to win, and none of it can make him win on its own -- message, tone, and external factors are critical..", nov. 18, 2003

"Dean is a big deal whether he or not he prevails in the end. This scrambles the brains of the press in the degree that the press believes its own story-- that winning the race is not only the point of a presidential campaign, but also the departure point for reporting on it, the base line for the political story, the thing that's really real."

It's been interesting to report on the technology and organization used by Dean, to say that they are new and different and powerful, but not on their own the end of politics as we've known it, and then to read again and again that you are preaching some millennial horseshit.

it's not an either/or thing.

Posted by ed cone at January 22, 2004 09:09 AM

More precisely: like a startup with a fundamentally not-bad business model that received an extremely large infusion of cash and spent it on things that made the employees feel good about themselves, but didn't bring in customers. (ArsDigita comes to mind.) Dean should have changed his on-camera style from "insurgent against the Washington Establishment" to "front-runner with a positive message for America" as soon as the Gore endorsement came in.

I'm afraid if Dean drops out, Kerry or Clark will get the same slime treatment that Dean got, and I'm not confident that they will do any better than Dean at deflecting it. So I'm hoping Dean can get a respectable second place in NH, but I admit it's starting to look grim.

Posted by Seth Gordon at January 22, 2004 11:18 AM

joe: Last week, I would have been flamed as being on the lunatic fringe. This week, it's conventional wisdom :-)

ed cone: I was only mentioning your article as one relevant post-mortem. No other commentary on your reporting in particular was meant, or any criticism of you personally. But I think you'll have to admit that, *in general*, without singling anyone out, there has been a great deal of bubble-blowing around the Dean/Internet/Blogs topics.

Seth Gordon: Good analogy, but I was thinking more like the market was way overestimated. There were plenty of start-ups which were OK for a few people (Governor of Virginia), but just not adapted to national scale (Presidential campaign). That is, Dean didn't connect with people outside his core followers, which is a standard political failure-mode, but he was sold as the Next Big Thing.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at January 22, 2004 05:04 PM

seth, no offense taken, i'm just trying to show that some of the conversation that led to the hype was trying to keep things in proportion all along -- and now we'll have hype in the other direction, that it's business as usual now that internet fad has passed.

btw, the second quote i use (forgot attribution in my first comment) is from jay rosen's pressthink blog in november.

Posted by ed cone at January 22, 2004 05:17 PM

If Howard Dean is a bubble IPO, then the proper analogy will be Napster. The innovations brought to political grass-roots organizing and fund raising by Dean's campaign are crucial to the future of our democracy, much as the direct mail and dirty tricks talents of Rove has been central to the rise of scum Republicanism.

[Scum as in bottom feeders like Frist, Hastert, DeLay, Bush, etc. It was amazing to see a crew like this play moral superiority over Trent Lott.]

The four credible Democratic candidates are all good men. I believe they would each be a fine president. Of course, considering the criminals and insidious partisans employed by the Bush Administration, much of the country would cast their vote for a dead man before reelecting Bush.

As wingnuts don't happen to be your "base", perhaps you are interested in who the nominee will eventually be... It's a tough call right now, but after witnessing the destruction of Gore's reputation, it's pretty clear what *might* happen during the general election. Clark is not likely to rise above the eventual smear of his military career. Kerry has a history in Washington that will be easy to distort. Bush's accomplishments in Texas were largely vapor, but somehow the ouroboros of the press has yet to choke on any of Bush's lies. The subtleties of Kerry's public service and leadership will be easily discounted against the triumphs of our President.

Edwards would be stymied by a lack of experience, and restrictions placed on any debates with Bush (if Rove doesn't think of a way to completely avoid a risky face off). And then there's Dean. The Angry, Pessimistic Governer of a small state filled with independent-minded, Starbucks-addicted hippies who might even have gone to college on the East Coast. Godless all. You probably don't get this, but Dean would do well against the Bush smears and dirty tricks because his base has already been inoculated against the bullshit.

The Dean Machine has made some mistakes. If Dean doesn't grow from these campaign glitches, that will be a shame. He will probably be an asset to the Democratic party, and our country, in any case.


Some of your concerns are curious, though. If you truly have an audience of one hundred, why would you need a defense? If an intellectually talented writer and activist (such as you) makes an observation on our political culture, one that might be controversial, how do we determine a "win"? Is "being contrarian" what you strive to be? Sometimes it seems so.

Here's a tip: avoid critical thinking about the Bush Administration, and you should be okay.

Posted by sean broderick at January 22, 2004 08:28 PM

"If you truly have an audience of one hundred, why would you need a defense?"

The problem is the losing proposition of possibly *10,000* people (or more) seeing an attack on me, and around 100 seeing my reply. It's just not worth it under those circumstances.

Thanks for nice words. I don't strive to be contrarian per se - I strive to be right. But these leads to a problem - what's right cannot always be what's popular, they're two different things. So if what I think is right, isn't popular, either I'm silenced or I endure the attacks. I've gotten very tired of being devastatingly underpowered and overmatched.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at January 22, 2004 11:45 PM

Groovy as the Dean Machine's internet effort has been you hit it right on the head Seth: hype, bubble, vapourware. Watching the Dean scream made it very clear this was not a product you wanted to install for a mission critical application. At best Dean was a bit flakey; but now we have seen "at worst" and I don't want it anywhere near a nuclear football.

The net will allow hype to propogate very quickly; but it will also dig in to see what is real and what is not. The run at General Clark is just gearing up.

And, lest we think this is a vast right wing conspiracy, the billionaire financed folks at and the loonies at Indymedia and Democratic Underground have had three full years of Bush/Hitlering. St. Michael of Flint, aka the Fat Bastard, has been pasting W every chance he gets and the traffic to his site - reputed to be in the millions - dwarfs the combined traffic of the A-list right wing bloggers by an order of magnitude.

the way voters are getting information is shifting and the net is part of it; but I don't think anyone really has a clue how this is working in practice.

Posted by Jay Currie at January 23, 2004 05:41 AM

The Internet will revolutionize politics - chatter, *buzz*, HYPE! AND HYPE HYPE HYPE again for good measure.

Oops - The Internet DID NOT revolutionize politics - what went wrong??? - repeat, chatter, *buzz*, TOLD YOU SO, HAH!

Double Oops - If anything it's The Internet did not revolutionize caucus VOTING, Seth.

To generalize further from that is... hype. It's joining in BUZZ. The hype begins with the claim you put in the dock in "Trial by Iowa." The claim is this: Dean had so revolutionized politics that victory in Iowa was inevitable, and will come, for the powers of Dean are the powers of the Internet, and this we know to be triumphant in the world, after all it dominates ours.

This has that Leninist ring, so the entertainment buzz when the claim crashes is definitely there. You tapped into that, Seth, and rightly so. But whose proposition--I mean, whose serious proposition--was that? Who wrote of certain victory, other than journalists?

So... Was it an empirical claim that crashed, a blockheaded hope, a piece of vanity, a political illusion? Or something else?

Posted by Jay Rosen at January 24, 2004 11:46 AM

Sorry, Seth, I don't buy your argument. You have to let go of the past to a measure, and participate (as you have done in Lessig's forum).

In many forums, your rebuttal could be seen along with others discussing the "attack". Of course, there are two problems. One: the discussion may be skipped by many readers, or your rebuttal would have no way to stand out in a long, flat thread. But the ratio would not be 10000-to-100. Two: some forums (ahem, freeperville), will delete your rebuttal, not being interested in discussion or debate.

Also, many forum moderators (bloggers) are also interested in what is "right", and will actually post a correction if they misread your words.

As to being blasted by Deaniacs, well, I believe that if you just showed up and clarified your observations were about political and internet culture, as an *intellectual* exercise, as opposed to a slam on Dean or a proclamation the campaign was doomed... I suspect you would avoid a lot of vitriol and misdirected anger.

In the past, most attacks on you were directly linked to your activism (and the threat of financial ruin). Anyone who posts on the net without the veil of anonymity risks flame-mail.

Being point-person in the fight against unaccountable censorship (where the opposition has a financial incentive to destroy you), and being a hyper-rational critic making observations about culture seem two different roles. Dread about "attacks" just doesn't seem warranted.

You must receive tons of hate mail for your thoughts on Libertarianism. If attacks are so tiresome, why continue promoting such criticism?

Does being rational and right mean abandoning hope? If you maintain your principles, might not people come to recognize this integrity over time, if you *persist*.

(You seem to persevere, but with lots of grumbling.)

Posted by sean broderick at January 24, 2004 02:49 PM

Jay: "If anything it's The Internet did not revolutionize caucus VOTING, Seth."

If we can't generalize from actual votes, then how could any valid statement be made before any votes were even cast?

Take a look at this part of the recent Frank Rich article:

"But the big innovation is to empower passionate supporters to leave
their computer screens entirely to hunt down unwired supporters as
well, and to gather together in real time at face-to-face meetings
they organize on their own with no help from (or cost to) the campaign
hierarchy., the for-profit Web site that the Dean campaign
contracted to facilitate these meetings, didn't even exist until last
year. From Trippi's perspective, ``The Internet puts back into the
campaign what TV took out -- people.''"

It would seem that the results show this is completely wrong. When it came down to *people* where it mattered, Dean had no magic, and did very poorly.

"Was it an empirical claim that crashed, a blockheaded hope, a piece of vanity, a political illusion?"

All of the above (except it's sometimes hard to pin down empirical claims - but certainly there were many prognostications of Dean's strength in Iowa!)

Sean: It's well-known that the number of people who read any comments is a small fraction of the total readership. One-tenth? And then they have to read the particular comment. Comments from the person who run Slashdot are that the ratio is around 100-1, that is, if 250,000 people see a story, 2,500 people may see a (high-rated) comment. My own statistical analyses on links giving me readership is consistent with it.

It's not encouraging. But those are the numbers.

I got slammed hard over John Gilmore / "Suspected Terrorist", and I just don't want to repeat the experience these days, there's no point. And if the reply is I shouldn't have talked about millionaire's version of trolling there, I can just see how that translates to saying "Bubble IPO" morally allows me to be pounded here.

Regarding Libertarians, I already "took the beating" over it, things can't get any worse 1/2 :-).

"If you maintain your principles, might not people come to recognize this integrity over time, if you *persist*."

Err, I persisted for many years, at great cost both literal and metaphorical. And if I didn't get recognized (Institutional position? Grant? A-list?) by now, it's not going to happen.

"(You seem to persevere, but with lots of grumbling.)"

As I viewed it, my options were to quit quietly or quit noisily. I've tended to the latter. But I have abandoned many things which in a different world I would have be able to do.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at January 25, 2004 01:45 AM

Seth: I agree that Iowa was a test of a certain thesis that had floated around. Rich mentions it. If you want to say the thesis took a big hit, and needs to be re-thought, this too would sound reasonable to me. But why would you want to take "a" test, and turn it into THE test, as if some sort of verdict were in for the entire proposition of a potentially profound shift in campaign politics? I truly don't get that.

Can you generalize at all from Iowa? Sure... to other caucus states might be a good start. What you can say for certain is that Dean's fortunes will be deeply affected by his campaign's failures in Iowa. You can say the Internet did not prove itself potent in getting more votes for Dean in Iowa, that it was a bust, and may be a bust on that count elsewhere. Or even: sorry, no revolution yet.

Ed Cone might be one you'd associate with the "change politics" thesis. He has written extensively on the innovations Dean has allegedly made. Here is what he said at my weblog on Nov. 18.

"To the degree that local organizing capabilities matter in the caucus system, Iowa is a great test. But its also a limited one, because most states send voters to the polls so in that sense, New Hampshire and other early states will be more relevant, because they will measure the ability of the Dean campaign to translate the preliminary real-world activities we know it can generate into the ultimate offline activity for any campaign voting."

"None of this means Dean is going to win," Cone said back then at his weblog. "And none of it can make him win on its own -- message, tone, and external factors are critical -- but it's a huge part of his success so far."

And here is what I wrote then: "I agree with that note of caution. But I bet it won't stop people from arguing against a claim he does not make: that the Internet campaign will certainly spell the difference next year."

Click on my name for the post and links. Cheers.

Posted by Jay Rosen at January 25, 2004 06:02 AM

Well, let me end with a whimper (and not an inspiring Dean-yelp).

I have been watching the candidates, especially Dean and Edwards, and I am reminded in some ways of MLK and JFK. That may sound ridiculous, but slam away.

It's not over yet. Both men have a moral center. Dean seems more pragmatic and has policy strength, Edwards projects an almost incredible idealism. Any thinking person could find fault with either candidate, but to discount the internet at this point seems absurd. It was the money gained by Dean on a national level that allowed him to survive the mud fight with Gephardt. And I believe he did so with some grace. Call me blind.

"And if the reply is I shouldn't have"... No, that would not be my reply. I thought your "dissent" was clear enough, if bitter. Without understanding how troubling the flood of attention may have been, I just cannot abandon the notion that your role can be *different* now. Everyone needs a break. You made sacrifices for freedom and the evolution of culture, but you "quit" to fight another day. Or to coach. Or whatever.

Anyway, aside from the wayward gale which reminds you of days spent fighting merciless seas, I just hope that this noisy quitting grows to suit you and that you can *enjoy* it.

(Even if it seems A-List bloggers have stolen the spotlight, it would seem your contributions put you in the company of Barlow, Stallman, Lessig, and so many more... I think it's tough to list such names without some feeling of silliness, but while you see yourself as excluded, realize that others may see you as belonging to a community of internet pioneers.)

Posted by sean broderick at January 25, 2004 09:56 PM

"But why would you want to take "a" test, and turn it into THE test,
as if some sort of verdict were in for the entire proposition of a
potentially profound shift in campaign politics?"

Well, the proposition has always struck me as dubious from the start - there's much which argues against it, and there have been many castles in the sky built from (hot) air. When the first real-world test brings it down to earth, I'm inclined to view it with that much increased skepticism.

Fundamentally, I'm examining this as would a scientist - how do you know you're right? what would indicate you're wrong? what counts as counter-example? This looks to me like the canonical beautiful theory slain by an ugly fact. It fits a political pattern, the candidate with a passionate but limited base of supporters, and doesn't seem to require much stretching of conventional theory in terms of revolution (yes, Dean did raise a lot of money, but that's been done before too when there were similar advances in fundraising). So I'm saying as far as I see, there's no profound shift.

Remember, I've seen this sort of bubble-blowing for *years*. So I tend to assume that what looks like a popped bubble, is a popped bubble, not a cocoon with a butterfly struggling to emerge.

Sean: "realize that others may see you as belonging to a community of internet pioneers."

Thank you. But it's the *number* (of others) which concerns me, compared to the *number* which sees me negatively. I have a saying - I treasure my EFF Pioneer Award, but I can neither eat it, wear it, nor sleep in it.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at January 27, 2004 12:42 AM