Television killed Howard Dean
Joe Trippi – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Trippi was the campaign manager of Howard Dean, a Democratic candidate for the American presidency from the beginning of 2003 untill january 2004. In his book he writes about the campaign and the use of the internet, according to him the best instrument to make politics more democratic.
Trippi’s text is truly American. Now you may say that such a thing is logical because it is a truly American subject and I agree, however, what I am getting at is the emotional and patriotic way Trippi talks to his fellow Americans.
The Dean campaign was meant for all Americans but the way he talks about the Republicans can be called everything but tactful and objective. They are Trippi’s scapecoat about which he sometimes talks in negative one-liners.
In my opinion the political part of this book has been written by three different personalities of Trippi. The first wants to give an objective story about the campaign he was running. His second personality wants the Democrats to win the race of the presidential elections* and besides that to gain at least a moderatly positive view of the Democratic Party. the third person of Trippi, and least ‘in control’ of them all, I encountered while reading this book, was the one who tried to burn down all Republican thoughts. At times I detected a manner of political banter to match that of Micheal Moore in the way he tries to bring down the opposite party.
More important in the context of this blog however, is the way Trippi sees the future of politics and democracy. For him, the answer lies in the internet; the Dean For America campaign was for him the living proof of that.
Trippi describes how he has always been interested in both politics and technology. Long before the campaign he predicted that this new media was going to build a new kind of politics. An interactive kind with which people could think along, be informed an communicate with the politicians: a more democratic kind of politics.
He made his own prediction come true by ‘building’ a presidential candidate from scratch. Howard Dean was the governor of Vermont at the time he decided to run for president. Vermont, however is a very small state, and some would call it insignificant on a national political level. This meant other governors of bigger states had a headstart. Also his decision to run was made very late, little more than a year before the Iowa caucuses, which would be an important milestone in the election. Others had been preparing for several years for this and Dean had just decided to join the race
Trippi boarded an exceptionally small team but because of the internet and a lot of luck they managed to grow extremely fast and attract young, creative and inventive people. some of those where physically part of the campaign team, most of them however where helpful using the internet from behind their desks, or their own homes.
Many great ideas to help the campaign were theirs and an incredible amount of people became part of this on-line Dean community. Not only where they rooting for Dean and helping to build him a name, they also contributed financially. Most donations to the Dean for America were smaller than 100$. a vast contrast with the less than 70.000 contributions to G.W. Bush meanwhile made more than 2 million$.
The money for the Dean campaign came from the lower middle-class Americans, instead of the big Multinationals buying influence from the Republicans. This alone is a great example of how the Dean campaign made politics more democratic.
The way the internet was used in the Dean campaign very much in contrast with how the last ‘new media’ : television functions. Other than internet, tv is a one way medium in which the viewers and in this case, the electorate are passive. All they do is sit in front of the tv and be told what to think, who to vote for.
According to Trippi tv was what made Dean lose in the end. as the election was coming closer they had to join the ‘normal’ way of playing the politics game. Next to that, Dean was suddenly becoming a threat to other serious candidates, which became clear when he was endorsed by Al Gore. They started playing dirty politics with him the old-fashioned way: anti-commercials on tv. this ended his rise in popularity and he came in third at the beginning of the election in Iowa.
This was a heavy loss but Dean and his team did not consider giving up. At the end of that election day he gave a positive speech about his ambitions but it did not come off right on tv. The next two days after that speech it could be viewed on the news constantly. It speech became known as the ‘I have a scream’ speech. in the following links there are two versions of the speech. One is contra Dean, the other pro Dean.
The author believes this film, which was played over and over on tv, was one of the major blows that stopped ‘the perfect storm’, as he called the Dean movement. Trippi quit the team shortly after ‘the scream’ and a few weeks later Dean stepped out of the race. The damage was done: television killed the Dean campaign in the end.
Trippi ends his book by saying that internet is the future. Despite the loss of Dean he believes more than ever in the power of the net. According to him the campaign was a succes in that it showed that a lot could be accomplished by giving the people more power through this new media. He gives us the advice we better all get on board before we miss the train.
This book is a joy to read, at least if you sympathise with the ideals of the Democrats. as I mentioned before he sometimes uses propagandic sentences which is understandable for a campaign manager of the Democratic Party but it also makes him less trustworthy in my opinion. I reckon it should be possible for him to criticize the Republican government on a higher level without throwing around accusations about how dumb George Bush is.
Despite this one point of criticism it’s a great book. He writes with such enthousiasm about the internet, it’s possibilities and what it could mean for mankind that it’s impossible not to join him in this train of thought. It is great to read that the campaign led by Trippi has accomplished to create a more active eloctorate and through that more democracy.
*Kerry was still running for president against Bush at the time Trippi wrote and published the book.