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January 20, 2004

Learning to make the sale. I don’t really intend for Electrolite to become an all-election all-the-time blog (there are already several of those, some quite good), but anyone trying to make sense of the Iowa results could probably do worse than to read this post by reporter Tom Schaller over at the Daily Kos, and this response by Nathan Newman. In essence, Schaller argues that Dean’s caucus precinct captains included far too many political greenhorns who didn’t know how to argue convincingly when it came time to convince supporters of the trailing candidates to come over to Dean, and who didn’t make much of an effort to conceal their sense of superiority to the other candidates’ supporters. Newman thinks Schaller’s analysis of Iowa is probably correct, but that this sort of thing is likely to be less of a problem in upcoming primaries and caucuses that don’t share the Iowa caucuses’ procedural peculiarities.

Schaller’s take surely isn’t the whole story, but speaking as a typical hyperverbal octoroon-Aspergers’ case who often strikes people as a standoffish git, I find his picture alarmingly believable. A lot of people are passionately convinced of the need to defeat Bush, and are ready to join any plausible crusade to do so. But effective politics often entails more than simply crushing the opposition with the splendidness of your rectitude. Despite his rather unfair rep as The Angry Guy (thank you, SCLM), Howard Dean is actually a fairly subtle and effective practitioner of interpersonal politics. A lot of his fired-up volunteers, on the other hand, seem to be a little bit hazy about this business of extending yourself toward people with whom you may have differences, in the hope of finding some basis for agreement. This has been intermittently evident on some of the Dean chat boards (I’m still shaking my head over the guy who condemned Joshua Micah Marshall and Matthew Yglesias as “heathers”) and it seems to have been a problem with at least some of Dean’s Iowa precinct captains as well. Fortunately, part of the package called “flawed human being” is a module called “capacity for learning,” which at least some of Kos’s Dean supporters posting in response to Schaller are demonstrating the use of. Even Democrats who support other candidates should hope they do, because whomever the party ultimately nominates is going to need help from a lot of these folks, and the sooner everyone has their important learning experiences, the better.

UPDATE: Garance Franke-Ruta of Tapped has more.

Many of the Perfect Stormers seemed out of place in Iowa, and the neighbor-to-neighbor strategies employed to get out the vote for Edwards and Kerry seemed to work better than the flood of outsiders brought in by Dean and Gephardt. The Deanies I ran into at the Kentucky Fried Chicken outside Newton had attitudes that suggested they might not have been the best advertisement for their candidate. “I feel like I’m in a foreign country,” said one Perfect Stomer wearing a lilac windbreaker. “I’m off the net. I’m not watching television. I can’t find the New York Times. When I’m at my desk, I read 40 papers a day, all the political pundit sites…Now I’m doing something different. I’m talking to real people who have real lives raising kids.” She looked around the KFC at the families eating extra-crispy chicken like they were a novelty, instead of her countrymen.
Hoo boy. That sort of thing isn’t good.

Also not good: too much argument-by-selective-anecdote. I’m sure the other candidates all have campaign workers who say stupid things in unguarded moments. And it’s easy to pick on an operation that’s just suffered a body blow. But the Dean campaign definitely needs to move fast to get outside the narrative now being written for it, in which it’s entirely a phenomenon of the wired bicoastal elite. They’re smart enough, and Dean himself certainly didn’t get re-elected governor of Vermont five times just by playing to Vermont’s population of latte-drinking body-pierced Belle and Sebastian fans. But can they do it fast enough? Well, they’ve surprised us before. [01:41 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Learning to make the sale.:

Heath ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 01:57 PM:

I agree with the basics of your comment. Whomever wins the nomination, if not Dean, is going to need Dean as the perfect stump "hammer" (thus deflecting any "pessimist" charge) as well as his network of supporters and contributors (me being one of these).

The novice who has never dealt with a political debate format ala the Iowa caucuses really is out of their element if they don't understand the subtlety of making a point without the condescension (sp?). This could explain the large margin between Kerry/Edwards and Dean, as well.

Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 02:31 PM:

but speaking as a typical hyperverbal octoroon-Aspergers' case who often strikes people as a standoffish git

I had to look at that a few times (and from a few different perspectives) and do a little googling. Which led to this description of Aspergers. This excerpt made me wonder if I was being conned:

[Affected individuals] usually have a circumscribed area of interest.... Some examples are cars, trains, French Literature, door knobs, hinges, cappucino, meteorology, astronomy or history.

Why only French literature? Why not key holes? Why not coffee in general? Very strange. Every thing else is broad enough, but those four specific things made me do a double-take. I hope I'm not coming off as callous towards anyone's disorders, I just found that description to be strange.

Glen Engel-Cox ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 02:36 PM:

Dean didn't help himself last night by taking up "The Angry Guy" mantle in his rallying speech to the troops as they moved the theater of operations to New Hampshire.

He, and his supporters, need to step back, take a deep breath, and realize that the next contest is an actual vote and continue to make the direct connections one-on-one that they were doing so well with the letter-writing campaign and not so well last night face-to-face in the caucus.

Greg Greene ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 02:37 PM:

Just for the record, I prefer white chocolate skim mochas and have no body piercings. And, to my chagrin, I've never lived within less than three hours of a coast in my life. [Unless Lake Michigan counts.] I plead guilty on the Belle and Sebastian, though.

Seriously, the near-religious fervor of some Dean supporters made it kind of hard for me to fully identify with the campaign, as much as I admired it. [Look at me, speaking in the past tense ...] Will lhe hard-core activists realize that playing up fire-and-brimstone rhetoric about the "Republican wing of the Democratic Party," and taking other sundry potshots at moderates, puts a hard cap on their support? We're going to find out, and soon.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 03:03 PM:

I should hasten to explain that I don't actually have Aspergers, autism, or any other known disorder along that spectrum. I was making a flip reference to something commonly observed in the science fiction world, that many of us have personality profiles that could be described as extremely mild forms of these disorders--we bore easily, we have frighteningly long attention spans when our interest is actually engaged, we're hopeless at small talk.

It's wry self-recognition; it's not an attempt to co-opt the kind of real sympathy that people struggling with actual severe disorders merit from the rest of us.

(I do agree that the quoted description of Aspergers' is kind of strange.)

Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 03:30 PM:

Ah, a nerdy way of saying you're a nerd. Gotcha. :)

debco ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 04:04 PM:

I have to say that I was quite taken with the Perfect Storm people who came to my door. There was a teenaged boy and his mother from Oklahoma and a couple of middle-aged business men from Texas who had never been involved in politics before. They were sincere and low-key and I thought a lot of them for coming to Iowa in the dead of winter.

My small-scale view of the caucuses (my local caucus) is that Kerry and Edwards were both getting the 40/50 year old crowd which is a big turnout for caucuses. Dean and Kuchinch had most of the younger voters with Dean's group having a broad range of people from 18 to 85.

I might also mention that although they allow people to change their registration at the door, it would not be all that easy to send a bunch o' Republican's to skew the results. First, no one knows what the numbers are until everyone's there--how many supporters you need depends on who's there, not the population of your precinct. Second, it's a neighborhood enterprise; you know the people who are there and while it's easy to look a voting machine in the face and swear you really, really mean to be a Democrat, it's a lot harder to do that to your next door neighbor.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 07:20 PM:

f latte-drinking body-pierced Belle and Sebastian fans.

For the record: I hate coffee, only my ears are pierced, and I have no idea who Belle and Sebastian are.

I just spent a week in Iowa as part of the Perfect Storm. I am aware that one on one chat is not one of my skills. Plus my knees don't work and I'm under doctor's order to avoid doing anything that hurts them, so I couldn't/didn/t canvass. I can't tell you how disappointed I was in the results. That many of the Dean people were inexperienced at caucusing is entirely plausible. His campaign seems to have been excellent at drawing out people who have never participated in the process. Like me, for instance (well, except for voting). We did in fact have people available at most of the caucuses as support for the new folks, but I have no idea what sort of training, if any, they got. I did see a couple of them carrying around big notebooks though. We knew we were pulling a lot of new people in, but I have no idea how much thought was actually given to the implications of that.

As I noted in my blog reports I spent Friday and Saturday working with Judy Hall from San Antonio on training canvassers. We worked very hard at demonstrating techniques to them which would allow them to empathize with the people they were talking to and successfully convey their message. But, we could only get a portion of the people coming through for training, and the training they were getting otherwise was, well, let's say it emphasized information over technique. To be very kind.

I ran into Judy in the Des Moines aiport this morning and she told me she had talked at length with Senator Harkin that very morning (the wait to get through security at the Des Moines airport this morning was well over 45 minutes) about the need for better training. We also think we need better tv ads and they're working on that too. Harkin is really involved with the campaign and I think he'll be a big help.

More on my blog later (where later may mean tomorrow). Tired now.


Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 07:26 PM:

Oh, and as for Dean being angry. When did constructive anger become a bad thing? We need to be deeply angry and scared at what is happening to our country, and take that anger and fear and use it as energy to propel change. Dammit, his passion, his outspokeness, his bluntness, his willingness to stand up for what he thinks is right are among the things that attracted me to Dean. I would not like to see him become a carefully scripted, focus group driven, opinion poll intimidated clone of all too many other candiates.

And many of the Democratic caucuses began with rousing chants of, "Anybody but Bush" so I'm not sure the much touted electability should be all that much of an issue.



CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 07:51 PM:

My first reaction on reading Schaller's description was that this is exactly what cliche would lead us to expect of a campaign built on the Internet. I'm especially appalled at the thought of somebody who can't live without net contact (as quoted) being sent out on the most personal part of the presidential race. I hope they can pick their public faces better in New Hampshire, which is small enough that it can also be swung by one-on-one contacts.

It's interesting to contrast this with the recent posting about how Dean workers don't pal around with workers from the other campaigns. Every slam of that article made sense to me -- but I've never won so much as a class office without external aid, so I'm not in a position to judge; I wonder whether the extra effort Dean's people are putting in is actually pointed in the right direction.

I'm fascinated by the idea that Kerry can beat Bush. I'd love to believe it, but which do you think the voters will choose when asked to choose between an aristocrat saying "I'll protect you!" and an aristocrat saying "You don't need protection."? Maybe, just maybe, somebody can hammer on Bush's draft dodging (I've never forgiven Bentsen for not adding a clause about military service to "you're no Jack Kennedy" putdown of Quayle) -- but I'll believe that when it happens.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 09:41 PM:

Mary Kay, it's of course fascinating to hear from somebody one actually knows who's been in the middle of a Big News Event. Don't hesitate to wade in with more.

As to the "anger" issue, of course I agree that a capacity for anger is an important part of a complete emotional life. This business about how Dean always looks angry is an entirely predictable media put-up job, just like the endless discussions of how Al Gore is stiff. I saw Gore work a crowd to a frenzy in the 1992 election and he was anything but stiff. And I saw Dean speak a couple of months ago, and he was funny and friendly and relaxed. Frankly, I think that if the RNC fax machines starting spitting out notices that John Edwards is just too damned polka-dotted, the issue of Edwards' polka-dottedness would promptly be gravely debated by all the TV talking heads, and dozens of bloggers and pundits would be talking knowledgeably about how obvious the polka dots are and what a problem they're going to pose the Edwards campaign.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 10:15 PM:


Yes, thank you, I will.

While I was strategizing with Judy this morning I pointed out that new ads and new directions were all very well, but given a press corps who are happy to publish RNC press releases, verbatim, as 'news', I'm not sure just how much they'll help. Also in the airport this morning I eavesdropped on an Iowa woman explain how she'd been very definitely a Dean fan, "...until the last couple of weeks, when he seemed to lose his luster." Yeah and what happened a couple, three weeks ago? Why the other candidates and the press really dropped the hammer on him. Their apparent ability to do this to anyone of their choosing without letting a little thing like truth get in their way makes me wonder if discussion of electability is of any relevance. Maybe nobody is. At least, nobody on our side.

Oooof. Maybe I'm too tired to be doing this. I don't want to be so damn pessimistic. Alternatively, I dislike this administration making me feel like a conspiracy theorist too.


Mr Ripley ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 12:01 AM:

I like Dean okay, but I'm just a tad too committed to being pseudonymous to share my piercing condition and caffeination level.

Mary Kay, I think Belle and Sebastian are the newly parenting academic humanists of the site called "Belle and Sebastian Have a Blog." As for pessimism, it's a perfectly reasonable reaction to the way things are until it starts shading into misanthropy or futilitarianism. Patrick's opined that, when our pessimism reaches a certain depth, we're exactly where They want us.

Patrick, that "polka-dottedness" conceit is as good a characterization of the press as anything in Alterman or Berube. No, better. I will be using it shamelessly in conversation.

CH, is your comment meant to characterize Kerry as an aristocrat? He's not the Democratic candidate whom I most associate with that label.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 12:07 AM:

"Mary Kay, I think Belle and Sebastian are the newly parenting academic humanists of the site called 'Belle and Sebastian Have a Blog.'"

Pardon me while I pass an entire pork chop through my nose.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 12:47 AM:

“Pardon me while I pass an entire pork chop through my nose.”

Damn, that Phase 4 of Atkins is tough!

Easter Lemming Liberal News Digest ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 07:24 PM:

He ran a poor campaign the last two weeks while he was being steam-rolled by Gephardt and Kerry and the media. (Kerry was doing more stealth drive-bys.) This is similar to what happened to McCain, he faced a barrage of criticism and when he publicly struck back he was painted as hot-headed.

I like Dean and it is too soon to write him off but I am giving Edwards a lot of second looks. Not that he has great positions on the issues, they are OK, or is a substantial candidate but he is a candidate made for TV which is how the majority of voters get there info.

Dean moved the Democratic candidates in his direction, gave them a backbone, but fundamentally voters want to like a guy and think he looks like he can be President. Dean is great at times one-on-one, Q&A's and rallies but has never done well on TV.

#1 on Google for Liberal News

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 08:08 PM:

What Mary Kay says about Dean.

I think that any of the candidates can beat Bush, with the right campaign and enough support. Many, many people want to see him gone.

I support Dean not simply because we need to elect the most electable candidate (and, er, Heisenberg's observations about the observer affecting the observed seem very appropriate in this context; there's a lot of second-guessing going on right now in the electorate).

No; I support Dean because the battle won't be over once we have a Dem president. It will only just have begun. And at that point, we'll need a leader with a real backbone, good judgment, and strong principles to keep standing his ground again, and again, and again, till the Republican juggernaut is rolled back off the Bill of Rights.


Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2004, 09:36 PM:

The "Aspergers" reference is legitimate.

I worked, as a Manager at Earthlink, for a Director who had Aspergers. He was hyper-focussed on being blazingly competent with object-oriented coding. But he was blind to social subtlety. He was unaware of sexual harassment and age-discrimination being practiced uner his nose. He was helpless against his boss, an actual Hollywood backstabber (formerly executive at Digital Domain). he really thought that being right meant persuading people. His portfolio was loaded with earthLink stock, and lost over $5,000,000. He quit. The backstabber got promted to Executive VP, and was worth (in options) over $100,000,000 -- all of which vanished when the dotcoms crashed. Me, I only lost my life savings of $200,000 when the NASDAQ got real.

At the techie parties at ConJose, the two most common sentences I heard were:

"I've launched my [4th/5th/nth] company, but I don't hope to take over the world this time. It's only a lifestyle play."


"my [son/daughter] has Aspergers. Its an epidemic in Silicon Valley. Is it from inbreeding or pollution?"

This is a real phenomenon. I'm willing to consider that Aspergers and Iowa don't mix well.

Me, I'm obsessive by choice.