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February 4, 2004

What happened. Clay Shirky writes:
Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Generations of zealots have tacked these words up on various walls, never noticing that the two systems that run the modern world—markets and democracies—are working right precisely when they defeat these attempted hijackings by small groups.

Voting in particular is designed as a repudiation of Mead’s notion. In the line at the polling booth, the guy with the non-ironic trucker hat and nothing other than instinct for who he trusts cancels the vote of the politics junkie who can tell you the name of Joe Lieberman’s Delaware field manager.

In Is Social Software Bad for the Dean Campaign?, I suggested that Dean had accidentally created a movement instead of a campaign. I still believe that, and this is one of the things I think falls out from that. It’s hard to understand, when you sense yourself to be one of Mead’s thoughtful and committed people, that someone who doesn’t even understand the issues can amble on down to the local elementary school and wipe out your vote, and it’s even harder to understand that the system is designed to work that way.

You can ring doorbells and carry signs and donate and stay up til 4 in the morning talking with fellow believers about the sorry state of politics today, and you still only get one vote. If you want more votes than that, you have to do the hardest, most humbling thing in the world. You have to change someone else’s mind.

[10:44 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on What happened.:

Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:30 AM:

If you want more votes than that, you have to do the hardest, most humbling thing in the world. You have to change someone else’s mind.

But that's exactly what the grassroots effort of the Dean campaign is designed to do. The locally appointed "Dean Leaders" -- who are simply people located in the community who identify themselves to the campaign as people not only willing to get out the word, but able to do so in a meaningful manner -- knock on doors, make phone calls, etc. to everyone in their community, divided into munchable regions that the Dean campaign cuts up and sends to said leaders. Elric, for instance, was calling every night, for weeks at a time, to talk to every damn person -- Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Raving Loony Party, whatever -- in our area and talk to them about Dean and why they should think about voting for him.

So, you see, the campaign really is about changing someone's mind. It isn't just about sitting around at the local bar and kvetching to fellow Deaniacs about how all those misguided Others in the world should be voting for their guy.

(Note: It may look that way to someone going to a Meetup for Dean -- that's because a Meetup is for people who are already supporting the campaign, by and large. It's an organizational meeting, not a "let us change your mind" meeting.)

Believe me, Elric and I both did our part to do "the hardest, most humbling thing in the world" -- and it was possibly the most difficult "job" I've ever had in my life. And could be very rewarding for every ten hangups and insults, one person who would say, "Really? I've thought about Dean. Tell me more about him." And then the fun would begin.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:32 AM:

Hindsight is of course easy. I know you and Elric and I know you guys would of course do your level best to reach your neighbors.

Katherine ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:11 AM:

You're absolutely right, of course. But how on earth does one do that? I can think of things not to do, but...what's upsetting about this January is that I don't think volunteering has made much real difference at all, or at any rate it's totally swamped by TV ads and media coverage in the last week.

I can understand why someone doesn't want to listen to a complete stranger's spiel, but where does it leave someone who believes in a candidate? If you live in a state where elections aren't close, only giving money seems to work.

I did canvassing in NH, but I get tongue tied around strangers--and anyway, about 4 people were home on a given day. I did get out the vote, but no one needed a ride to the polls. Maybe the last minute literature drops for people who weren't home helped, but at most I think we're talking 1 or 2 votes for a whole day of volunteering. I wrote some letters to Iowa, carefully composed, but I got no reply and by all accounts those might have been counterproductive. I guess I've been mildly successful about nagging my friends and family to register to vote and show up, but that's all. And by the time they vote Dean will be out of the race--so again, it's just been money. Which is not nothing, but it's not much.

Dave Pentecost ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:24 AM:

I'm sorry, but this is such old news. The paradox of democracy and all that. Your one vote can't win the election so what's the point of voting.

I think Clay is right that it is about changing minds. That is apparently what all the social software failed to do. That, and a few misatakes, and a misapprehension that most people agree that it's time to change the whole system. The network has got to recruit, not just communicate among the believers.

An electable revolutionary? Have we had any since the days of the founding fathers? See Gore Vidal's 'Inventing a Nation' for an interesting tale of their maneuvers and rivalries.

Still, Dean's the only one who's made an effort to change the health system, at least in one state. Should have stuck with that instead of the anti-war horse that died on him. As Bill Maher said on Larry King, he (Maher) is against Bush because he's bad for his health. Corporate pollution, environmental record, health care, jobs - let's make it personal and national instead of "shouldn't have taken out that bad man Saddam."

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:43 AM:

You can ring doorbells and volunteer and give money and talk to people until you're blue in the face. (Which, given winter temps in Iowa and NH probably happened.) But the media and pundits have annointed Kerry as front runner and are touting his electability, and all too many people believe what the evening news and the morning paper tell them. Ask youself whom the media serve. (The RNC as far as I can tell.) Ask yourself when was the last time a sitting senator was elected. (1960) Ask yourself what was the most common office successful presidential candiates have held since then. (Governor) And ask youself just why the media and pundits want us to believe Dean is unelectible.


Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:50 AM:

Y'know, a lot of us geeks need lessons in rhetoric.

I don't think the US Presidential electoral system is designed to work, period, in the sense of getting people presidents who represent them. It has been repeatedly transformed in any number of unexpected ways over the years. The first transformation was the rise of the electoral college to prominance; the Framers expected Presidential elections would usually end up in the House. Now the US political system seems to be undergoing Yet Another Transformation; I think we are looking at the emergence of European-style political parties within the US system. First the right-wingers, now Dean's people.

And, Kerry, my god. To me his popularity seems pretty plain--he's the best-spoken of the Democratic "moderates" and he's a vet. But this afternoon I spent a few minutes with Project Vote Smart, research his positions and votes. Guy's almost as slippery as a Bush Supreme Court nominee--he refuses to fill out their position questionaire and seems to have spent most of the past five years avoiding voting on anything that might define his position. My (slightly cognitively disabled) mother commented, more-or-less, "at first I liked him, and then I realized he wasn't really saying anything." Policy geeks, hell! Are we sure we won't be electing Bush-prime? Why aren't the other Dems holding his feet to the fire, getting him to define himself? The next moderate president is going to face terrible challenges--they will have to either raise taxes or cut SS/Medicare, they will have to face down the big corps, they may have to reinstate a draft. And this doesn't even touch the enormous foreign policy, economic, and environmental issues facing the world. And--someone who won't take positions is probably not going to do the job.

Clay Shirky ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 07:59 AM:

A couple of points about the reactions above:

"But that's exactly what the grassroots effort of the Dean campaign is designed to do."

It might well have been designed to do that, but it didn't work. There's no point in speaking about this in some projective fashion -- we know the results. Dean is 0-9, third place or worse in every state except NH, where he blew a 20+ point lead to end up in second, double digits behind Kerry.

"But the media and pundits have annointed Kerry as front runner and are touting his electability, and all too many people believe what the evening news and the morning paper tell them."

Evidently not, as they anointed Dean the frontrunner before the early primaries, and people didn't believe the evening news then.

Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 08:58 AM:

If you want more votes than that, you have to do the hardest, most humbling thing in the world. You have to change someone else’s mind.

So basically Bush's war chest of (what is it? $180M?) is worthless, because no matter how he spends it, he himself only gets one vote?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 09:35 AM:

Dave Pentecost, who in this discussion said "what's the point of voting"? That's the reddest of red herrings.

Speaking of excluded middles: "So basically Bush's war chest of (what is it? $180M?) is worthless, because no matter how he spends it, he himself only gets one vote?"

Bush's $180 million certainly isn't "worthless," but many are the campaigns that have showed the limitations of money. Don't believe me? Ask Senator Michael Huffington.

Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 09:36 AM:

I put some time in on the Dean campaign as well. I didn't go to New Hampshire or Iowa with the true Deaniacs, but I wrote letters and spent a lot of time at local events handing out flyers and answering people's in depth questions of "Who is this Dean guy and why should I vote for him?" I have no way of knowing whether I actually changed any minds, but I think it's wrongheaded of Clay to assume that that's not what Dean's campaign (or any presidential campaign) is trying to do in the first place.

However, Clay is right in saying that it didn't accomplish its intended purpose. I could come up with a detailed analysis of why the campaign failed to catch the mood of the voters, or how the echo-chamber mentality kept us from noticing that, or what Dean and the campaigners should have done differently. But most of that has already been said by the pundits of the world, who get paid more than I do for the work of typing it.

And as much as we Americans like to bad-mouth the media, it's not their say-so that made Dean the front-runner before January, or that makes Kerry the front-runner now. They just reported the poll results before Iowa, and the voting results afterward. Which ultimately encourages me in knowing that the people are making a decision, even if it's not the decision that I had hoped for.

Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 09:38 AM:

Nancy, Katherine: When you tried to convince people to vote for Dean, and they gave reasons why they would be more comfortable voting for someone else, did that information get collected and used by the higher levels of the Dean campaign ... e.g., in deciding what message to focus on in the next round of TV ads?

BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 10:39 AM:

How, exactly, is Kerry's record obfuscated? A "No" vote on DOMA, an announced plan to shift tax burden from payroll taxes, a an otherwise staunch liberal record (high ratings fromHRC, LCV, and choice activists) would indicate otherwise.

Don't think for one second that because Kerry is trying to be palatable and diplomatic, he's not a Lib. I like fire, too, and I wish Kerry had some of what Dean's got in his gut -- but he's not assailable on the record, modulo the Iraq vote, which concerns me, but given his history before and since, is far from a dealbreaker, at least for me.

Dave Pentecost ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:02 AM:

Sorry, Patrick, If you took my "what's the point of voting" comment the wrong way. I agree with you. You say red herring, I say old news.

David W. ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:09 AM:

All I know is that people change their own minds, and that the law of diminishing returns has a particularly steep curve when it comes to politics. In other words, True Believers can turn off those who aren't, even if they don't mean to. That's why politcians are a cautious lot as a rule.

BTW, on Kerry not filling out some posistion questionnaire, he's probably found from experience that they are loaded things that may go off without warning... ;-)

Katherine ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:12 AM:

argh. I just lost a long post. Brief summary:
1) canvassing, when I did it, focused on finding 1s (Dean supporters) and 2s (Dean leaners) and talking to 3s (undecideds.) 4s (lean towards another candidate) got less priority, and 5s (firm supporters of another candidate) got a "well, he'd certainly be better than Bush, thanks for your time." (That's an exaggeration, but we didn't start focus grouping them on exactly why they supported the other candidate.) The number one concern among undecideds, by far, was always "I just don't know if he can get elected" and the campaign had to know that was a problem. There were some notes about each contact but they were brief and I doubt they filtered all the way back to the ad agency. I don't know the extent to which the field directors consulted with the ad people.

2) Don't assume the New Hampshire organization was the same as the Iowa organization, and definitely don't assume either was the same as the weblog. The NH grassroots operation was the best I've ever seen, easily. I don't have such extensive experience, of course, but I have a bit. It focused very heavily on state residents talking to their own neighbors in meetings at their houses, though it was supplemented by out of staters' canvassing and phone calls and the more traditional stranger-to-stranger activity. Karen Hicks knew what she was doing. If we'd had two weeks, we might have pulled it out. If he'd made his NH concession speech after the Iowa caucuses, we might have pulled it out. (If both, we would have pulled it out.)

3) One of the main problems with the weblog is that a lot of people had the impression that it WAS the campaign, and you could understand the mind of the Dean supporter by trolling through the comments. Not true, and a bizarre conclusion for anyone the least bit familiar with online discussions--but the campaign allowed and even encouraged the perception, so it's partly our own damn fault. Still, it's extremely frustrating and unfair to a lot of serious, sane Dean supporters.

4) I disagree completely on Kerry, I was planning to volunteer for him last November--after the war vote, note--and now he's my fourth choice and not close to the others. I don't know if there's any point in going into why. You can make a lot of arguments why Dean deserved to lose, but by those criteria it's Edwards who deserves to win. (Or maybe Clark.) Kerry ran a negative, ineffectual campaign--the worst I'd ever seen, in terms of reducing my respect for a politician I'd once admired--until mid December/early January, and it doesn't seem to matter at all. That contributes a lot to my defeated, "why did I even bother" feeling--the clock just suddenly rewound to February 2003, as if intervening year did nothing. To some extent I just need to get over myself, of course, but this is a very widespread feeling among Dean supporters.

Oops. Brief summary indeed. Sorry, normally I'm not so long-winded (and I definitely was not when speaking to NH voters!).

Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:36 AM:

I hardly watch TV, so the only Dean ad I remember seeing is one that blogforamerica.com linked to shortly after NH. The ad made a big deal about Dean's courage in being anti-Bush before being anti-Bush was cool. I agree that this is a major, major point in Dean's favor, but it doesn't really address the "electable" question.

Yesterday afternoon, the blog posted excerpts from what it described as "a defining speech in Seattle", which goes for something like 20 paragraphs slamming the other Democrats before saying anything about Dean's record, which is the best answer to the "electable" question.

I really really like Dean -- especially in comparison to Kerry -- I assume some people in Massachusetts actually like Kerry, but I've never met one of them -- but I'm concerned that the Dean campaign, which was one step ahead of its critics last year (just a bunch of weenies on the Internet? look at how much money we raised! outside the Democratic mainstream? look at all these endorsements!), has gotten into a rut w.r.t. its message.

Katherine ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:47 AM:

I don't think Dean saying why he's electable has any chance of working now. You know what they say to writers about "show me, don't tell me"? I think that's the main issue, and the campaign has decided that in the short run they simply cannot win the votes of people who are voting based on perceived electability. But I think "show me, don't tell me" is also the rule you ought to follow when you want to prove your political courage.

I want him to use reasonable, reassuring tones and plain language--he can be so good at using clear language without talking down to voters--to make brave, substantive critiques about Bush rather than rattling off the popular one liners. And run on his record without seeming to brag about it.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:02 PM:

Just to reiterate:

* Nothing's easier than hindsight.

* All political campaigns are shot through with failure; the winner is generally the person who either screwed up the least or who had the good luck to be least affected by his or her screwups.

* The Dean campaign is interesting and worth discussing because it did things differently and surprised us, both in its successes and failures. So of course many people want to talk about it. It's new data and we're all trying to learn from it.

An immediately obvious problem with discussing the failings of the Dean campaign is that the people who are most liable to feel wounded by those discussions are often the people least responsible for those failings. For instance, I suspect that some of Dean's problems in Iowa were caused by cultural tone-deafness on the part of out-of-state volunteers. But if I were running a campaign in the Iowa caucuses, Mary Kay Kare would be exactly the kind of out-of-state volunteer I'd want--intelligent, good-humored, and capable of making cheerful conversation with a rock.

That said, I do think Clay's point back to her is correct: "media anointing" isn't the whole story, any more than money is. If it were, Dean would still be the frontrunner.

Obviously our national media are in many ways stupid and corrupt, but the notion that this determines everything is a counsel of despair. These people and organizations are self-interested; new events do, observably, change their calculus of self-interest.

Zizka ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:15 PM:

I just read the cite and the comments and didn't go to the link.

At a more general level -- Margaret Mead was right about the long term. An extreme example would be anti-slavery advocates who saw no progress in their lifetimes, but who were vindicated a century or two later. It isn't always as fast as that, but it's not quick --in terms of major change, in either a market system or a public-opinion or voting system, major change in a ten-year span (e.g. IT changes) basically counts as instantaneous.

In terms of politics, that's a big weakness of the Dems compared to the Republicans. Dems seem to end up with a string of one-year campaigns with little party-building between elections and little thought for the long term.

Katherine ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:19 PM:

This is a good point: what happens after election day? We need a contingency strategy for if we lose, and probably a strategy for getting anything done with the (comic book guy voice) Worst House of Representatatives Ever (/comic book guy voice) if we win. This will mainly be decided by the presidential nominee and Congressional leadership, of course, but is there any way to influence it for the better?

Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:04 PM:

that someone who doesn’t even understand the issues can amble on down to the local elementary school and wipe out your vote, and it’s even harder to understand that the system is designed to work that way.

It really is next to impossible to find any way of talking about this as a flaw that doesn't get one flamed into a small pile of cinders, but that doesn't mean that it might not actually be a flaw.

As an Irish citizen I have the same vote every other Irish citizen has, for the Dail and for Presidential elections; as a Trinity College graduate I also have a Senate vote. I use these accordingly, and it does not seem to have crashed the country yet.

debco ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:09 PM:

I hesitate to point this out because it usually gets roundly ignored, but I (from Iowa--went to the caucuses) haven't talked to one person who found the Dean door-to-door people offensive (other than people who think we might have been offended, but who weren't actually here).

Caucus season is filled with people coming to Iowa who otherwise ignore its very existance. It's winter; it's cold; it makes life more interesting. Sincerity is admired around here (as it is in a lot of places); plus Iowans are pretty dang polite, and sincere people going out in the cold don't usually make us close the door and say--man, the last thing I'm doing is voting for that guy.

So, why didn't Dean do well in Iowa? Kerry and Edwards had a huge advantage in not getting nearly as much negative attention from the press right before the caucuses and I think it made a big difference. Dean got absolutely blasted by Gephardt (daily mailings for one thing) and while it hurt Gephardt a fair amount, it still ended up hurting Dean a lot.

Also, the caucuses are more often attended by people 35 and older and Kerry and Edwards support here (in Iowa) seemed to be very strongly 35 to 50 year olds.

People I know who didn't go for Dean either didn't because he said one thing (or the papers said he said one thing) that they didn't like or they were more comfortable with someone else (Kerry is just like me; Edwards said this thing I liked).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:29 PM:

Emmet, is it that you're a Trinity College graduate, or does any Irish college graduate get a Senate vote?

Teresa says she seems to recall that as an alumnus of Trinity you are also forbidden to duel. If so, I trust that you bear this onus in mind.

Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:40 PM:

Emmet, is it that you're a Trinity College graduate, or does any Irish college graduate get a Senate vote?

This situation's somewhat in flux over the past couple of years, for reasons to do with regional technical colleges changing status to universities which are a bit murky to me; I believe it is currently all holders of degrees from any universities in Ireland who have a Senate vote. At the time that system was set up Trinity was the only degree-granting institution in the Republic. It's a relic of various proposals for voting reform that were floating about during the period when all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. It would probably be interesting to analyse the various evolutions of the partial snapshots of British government taken in the establishment of systems of government in the US, Canada, and Ireland on their various acquisitions of independence.

Teresa says she seems to recall that as an alumnus of Trinity you are also forbidden to duel. If so, I trust that you bear this onus in mind.

Trinity graduates are indeed forbidden to duel; this is all the fault of Stephen Maturin and contemporaries being too used to duelling as the default way to settle an argument, and therefore altogether too good at it. As with Guinness and lousy weather, it's one of these cosmic measures for keeping the Irish in check.

the talking dog ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 03:54 PM:

Amen to Zizka.

The Republicans continue to show admirable party discipline, amidst a group governing in its name that really should be anathema to every Republican worthy of that name from Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt on up to Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush: irresponsible deficit spending ("tax and spend liberals" replaced by "borrow and spend" so-called Republicans), warmongering (remember how Democrats were "the war party?"), governmental meddling in every nook and cranny of your life ("faith based initiatives", "partial birth" abortions, "the sanctity of marriage, etc.) Really, these are not Republicans as I grew up with that word. I don't know what to call them.

But they have TRULY shown that Mead was wrong: a large, self-interested group can get together, and use a democratic system for its own ends-- far more effectively than any fringe group of lunatics-- ESPECIALLY when the large group is LED BY FRINGE LUNATICS. (I'd love to violate Godwin's Law right about here, but I'll stop dead right there).

And yet, this group of sociopathic maniacs has-- successfully-- relied on and received ABSOLUTE PARTY LOYALTY. Like any good criminal organization, the GOP mafia has made it clear that supporting it will be rewarded-- by tax breaks for corporate interests, if not outright subsidies (think sugar farming, for example, or preserving our forests by handing away contracts to log in them.)

But its more than that; their defenders no longer believe in what they are doing, but root for the home team anyway! It would be unthinkable to go to "the other side", even if it is the only hope for fiscal restraint.

Meanwhile, Democrats continue to argue amongst ourselves about ideological purity; instead of railing against Bush's insane spending, we scream that he's not SPENDING ENOUGH. OUR pressure and pander groups AREN'T GETTING A BIG ENOUGH PIECE OF THE SPOILS. Etc., etc., etc. Their message is simple and straightforward-- join our crew, and get your cut. Our message (beyond "abortion on demand") is blurred and complicated-- hell, I have no idea what the party in which I am registered stands for.

In that sense, maybe Meade was right too: WE could use a group of zealous, committed maniacs to get us to show some damned discipline for a change.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 04:00 PM:

We need a few Zizkas to be our Grover Norquists.

Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 04:23 PM:

As to the question regarding information gathered while cold-calling or cold-visiting in NH -- yes, reasons why they thought Kerry or Edwards or Clark or their neighbor's dog made a better presidential candidate were duly logged in the made-for-NH database we had running in the Manchester field HQ, which was then accessed by the state HQ which just happened to be the adjoining office in the mill building we occupied.

So, yes, the info was gathered, passed on, and used to tweak the NH campaign.

As a NH resident, I have to say that all of the other "Dean Leaders" I knew in this area were doing their part to speak to everyone, not just other Dean "1s" or even "2s." We were all tasked to speak to everyone on our call/walk list as a local resident -- this differed greatly from the cold-calling and canvassing done by volunteers from both in and out of state. Dean Leaders were there as locals, speaking with our neighbors. The areas were divided up by the local staff, and each Leader had an area that corresponded to where they lived, so we were -- if not talking to people we actually knew -- talking to people who were in our locale and we could therefore connect with on a local hi-I-live-in-your-town level.

I worked in the offices on other levels, too, helping with the canvassing maps, entering data from the volunteers into the database, and being interviewed by the media a whole damn lot (I was identified as someone to use as such).

And the media, by that point, wanted only fodder to paint Dean in a negative light. What that meant, we all know, but I have more to say on it....

I think the real problem was not that the media killed the Dean campaign in NH, but that the Dean campaign failed to do what it needed to do when the media turned on him. Instead of ramping up ads (hell, improving the ads would have been good, too), instead of toning down the "let's tear down corporate media giants" speeches, instead of doing what one does when attacked by the media -- no, instead the Dean campaign took the high moral road and kept its mouth shut and acted like nothing was happening and just kept on doing what it had been doing all along.

That was its tragic mistake, IMHO. The campaign acted like it was working on a higher plain of morality than the media and the other campaigns -- big mistake. It made the media tear them down even more.

But then, that's just my opinion, having been on the inside in NH at a field & mid level.

Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 04:23 PM:

Well, I think this is an interesting discussion. I just want to mention two things:

1. I continually find it amusing, as a life-long midwesterner, how the East Coast folks consider us a different culture. Yes, it's true that a friend of mine's boss once accused her of communism because she was vegetarian, but...Iowa isn't that different from New York, and neither is Missouri. We like health care, beef, jobs, basic liberties, good schools, and people with executive experience. There's nothing all that shocking about Dean to me, or to any of the folks I know here in this snow-bound hinterland. We even have Starbucks now. How different can we be?

2. Dean was lambasted by the press, and the politicos, and the other candidates waaaay more than the others were. At least where I live. Nobody really campaigned "For" Missouri (it was assumed to be Gephardt country) but they sure did campaign AGAINST Dean.

If Dean had gotten the kind of money-trouble Kerry's in now, it'd be on the cover of People. I have to wonder why Kerry isn't, with some huge headline, like Bribery In The Senate.

Dvd Avins ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 04:37 PM:

BSD, I wish the Iraq vote were as isolated as you make it seem. The Patriot Act vote is also quite troubling. I don't doubt that, given his druthers, Kerry is a lib. And I'll strongly support him, assuming he wins the nomination. But I see plenty of signs that he is as much inside a Washington bubble as many Deaniacs were inside an activist bubble.

Dvd Avins ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 04:43 PM:

And I should also point out, that the nature of the desperate Dean attacks over the last couple of weeks seems calculated to undermine ABB fervor in those supporting Dean. It is possible to attack Kerry without calling him a Republican. That charge is not only very incorrect, it works against whoever is the nominee, even Dean. I would have expected such from Nader or Sharpton. From Dean I expected better.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 05:03 PM:

I agree with Clay overall, at any rate. I'm not sure how much the Deaniacs fairly can be held guilty of failing to try "the hardest thing in the world". From where I sit, it seems a fair cop.

What I like about Clay's emphasis on changing minds is his reminder that it is not only hard but humbling. Yes. It involves coming inside the other guy's frame of mind, inside his logic, and accepting those things--not just trying to speak his language as a kind of con-man trick, but really accepting and understanding premises and evidence and ideas that are not your own, without surrendering a reasonable belief that you have a better idea or more favorable choice.

That is hard. It is humbling. And let me say that you get a lot of shit from a lot of people when you do it. I get pretty tired of that sometimes.

Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 05:40 PM:

Amen, Timothy, to your last statement.

I should add for the record that I never considered myself a "Deaniac" nor have I ever been an activist. My background is having grown up in D.C. and gone to school with the major politicos daughters: Kara Kenndy, Kim Agnew, Alice & Ann Albright ... you get the idea. I was "done" with politics by the end of the 80s. I'd seen it all, done it all -- mostly from a conservative democratic angle, I might add -- and had it up to there with it all.

Dean was the first person in politics who peaked my interested again in the process. And given that the agenda in my daybook is Get Bush the Hell Out of the White House -- I backed a horse I hoped could make a good run. Well, he did make a good run while he could, but unfortunately he isn't the horse that's going to win. Whoever does win the Dem ticket, I'll back, because -- frankly -- I'd rather have a rabid fisher cat in the White House than Bush Jr. I'd trust the fisher cat more.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 07:37 PM:

Elizabeth, for what it's worth, this particular "East Coast" person was born in the Midwest, and spent significant parts of his life there. I'm pretty clear on the concept that water is wet in Iowa, just like in New York City.

(I even lived in Iowa, from age 4 to age 8, believe it or not.)

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 07:40 PM:

Seems to me that many people don't trust direct persuasion by supporters of a particular candidate; they'd rather hear from the candidate themselves. These days people mostly hear from a candidate on television and they respond very much to the candidate's appearance and rhetoric on television, and perhaps on the stump. This has been so since JFK, at least. So I think that's how Dean failed; his supporters, reached through the net, could not counteract his weakness in appearance and rhetoric.

The question comes up whether picking the most handsome and fair-spoken candidate is the best way to select a President.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 09:40 PM:

Hmm, Elizabeth, have you lived on the East Coast? I grew up in Michigan, with parents who were from Chicago, and have now lived in Metropolitan New York City for 22 years.

I experienced culture shock when I got to New York. The signals are all different. In Michigan loudly pronouncing the famous spondee beginning with F is enough to make some people immediately come to blows; at least they'll be angry. In New York it's not necessarily even hostile; it can mean "good line at my expense!"

But there are a million little things like that. I almost got in trouble several times because what it means when another guy looks me straight in the eye, and keeps on doing so, differs in NYC and Michigan -- and differs AGAIN among the many cultures that make up New York's "glorious mosaic."

New Yorkers stand too close to me. I stand way too close, now, to Midwesterners.

A friend from the Midwest married a New Yorker. When he took her for a visit back to Minnesota, someone accidentally bumped her in the grocery store. She ignored it completely, and went about her shopping, until she realized the woman who had bumped her was following her around trying to apologize. I'm sure the Minnesotan thought she was being cold and unforgiving, but the truth was she hadn't noticed at all.

And linguistically, the differences are vast and subtle. New Yorkers talk fast and "interrupt" each other, what Tannen calls a "high-involvement" style. Midwesterners tend to speak a "high-consideratenes" (I think) style, where one waits for others to finish speaking before beginning, or forever if talking to a New Yorker, who may be "filling in" until the Midwesterner is ready to start. Result: New Yorkers think Midwesterners are shy and quiet, or even cold and uncommunicative, while Midwesterners think New Yorkers are rude and arrogant.

None of these is universal in any given area, of course. They're just cultural tendencies (and I think the woman in MN is probably extreme even for there). But they all profoundly effect how a candidate or campaign worker is perceived, and keeping track of all of them when you're doing 5 states in 3 days is difficult to say the least.

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:34 PM:

I'm baffled by Mr. Dog's claim that Democrats are complaining that the Bushistas are not spending enough money. I thought we were complaining that they are spending WAY too much money, and putting it all in the wrong places.

Yes, we're complaining about some cuts in expenditure, but they are cuts in programs that cost comparatively little, and those cuts will cost us more in the long run. Meanwhile, money is being shovelled by the truckload to do things no one particularly wants done.

The Republicans are pinching pennies where they are needed so that they can claim to be cutting costs that supposedly make up for spending billions on rubbish we don't want or need. There's no savings there at all, of course, and they just plain want to cut those social programs, and they also want to steal our tax money to give it to Haliburton et al.

One nice thing about real liberal programs: in the long run, they cost less. Yes, you have to spend some money first; that's called an investment. But if spending a hundred bucks now saves you forty-five grand later (as, for example, WIC does), you can't honestly say you are "spending less money" by cutting WIC.

But that's the kind of "cost-cutting" the Republicans do. And then they spend a whole lot more on something like SDI. They out-source programs that used to be efficient and pay much, much more for a grossly inefficient privatized replacement program - like the one that's feeding our soliders in Iraq. Or they import expensive American companies to rebuild Iraqi bridges when the native companies could do it just as well (better, really) for a tenth of the price.

We're not asking the government to spend more money; we're asking them to spend it intelligently.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:53 PM:

Clay (and Patrick a little); The media did not annoint Dean the frontrunner. They reported the polls with amazement and wonder and vocally doubted Dean's electability. As soon as Kerry won the Iowa caucuses, he became the favored front runner, more electible than, yada yada yada. It isn't the reporting of the news, it's how the news is reported. Most media reports of Dean's popularity were doubtful and dubious. And then there were the reports of his temper, his famous 'faux pas' and so on. Where's that stuff for Kerry? Yes, I've seen a little of it since Iowa, but only a little and they're *still* ragging on Dean. Sigh.

Oh, and Patrick, thanks, I like you too. (Make cheerful conversation with a rock? Really? I always though I was bad at small talk.)


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 12:26 AM:

Mary Kay, I like you too, but you're committing a cardinal political sin: whining. The evil Media are always stacked against Truth and Justice and Virtue. Ho hum. T, J, and V have just got to deal with it. It'll never be fair.

FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 12:49 AM:

Mary -

Have you considered the possibility that Kerry is getting coverage as "the frontrunner" and "electable" because he has, you know, actually won several primary elections and is leading in the delegate count? Maybe Dean's camapaign is being described as foundering because he has won exactly zero states (even Clark and Edwards have at least one), and was so short of cash that he delayed everyone's paychecks by two weeks?

Elections are about getting votes, not fundraising or meetups or web hits or blogs. The Dean campaign - in a spectacular display of the limits of movements staffed by enthusiastic amateurs - proved wholly incapable of converting the latter into the former. Joe Trippi was a genius guerilla political promoter and fundraiser, but showed himself to be absolutely terrible at running statewide campaigns.

The Media didn't make Dean spend $40M on just two primaries, with a clear strategy of delivering an early knockout blow. The Media didn't make publically beg his party chief to make other candidates stop picking on him. The Media didn't make Dean vow to repeal *all* of the Bush tax cuts, instead of leaving the miniscule middle-class cuts in place, so that the Reps could truthfully claim that Dean was going to raise everybody's taxes. The Media didn't force Dean to choose a ground strategy based around armies of unseasoned volunteers, expensively shipped in from other states. The Media didn't force Dean to run tens of millions of dollars worth of terrible TV ads in Iowa.

Deanie-boppers who complain about people unfairly given the frontrunner nod and/or being written off never cease to amuse. Dean built his reputation by attacking other Democrats as being too accomodating, too soft, too timorous in opposition to the Bush agenda. Taking shots at other nominees about their unelectability compared to himself became his campaign's raison d'etre. But when Dean started drawing fire from the targets of his derision, his first reaction was to run crying to Terry McAullife, begging him to stop the attacks, on the grounds that he was the sacred annointed frontrunner (before a single vote had been cast, mind) and the party could not bear to have his saint's rainment soiled or torn.

Three months ago, the Kerry campaign was given up for dead - single digit poll numbers, a rotating door at the top, the candidate having to borrow against his own home to keep going. His media coverage was derisive, when it wasn't nonexistent. But Kerry didn't go crying to the media, or beg his party's chief for help, or moan about the unfairness of it all. He put his head down, reorganized his efforts, and kept campaigning.

The reaction of the Dean and Kerry campaigns to misfortune is instructive, and may explain their relative standings in the polls.

Katherine ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 02:08 AM:

I think Dean has gotten worse press coverage than Kerry--certainly more harmful press coverage--but it has to do more with luck and timing than anything else. Maybe Dean is worse at schmoozing, too.

There are some things about the press that hurt Dean particularly though:

1. They take critiques from within your party very, very seriously. Dean got a lot of criticism from within his own party--a lot of it because he was the frontrunner, but it actually started long before that. Some people concluded very early on that the civil unions signing, antiwar governor of Vermont would doom us in 2004, and it went from there.

2. "Would a good candidate allow us to take their words this far out of context", to paraphrase the Daily Show--they're obsessed with "gaffes" that amount to very little, because it is much easier to report that "Candidate X said Y, how embarrassing for him, will his campaign survive?" than it is do dig into candidates' records. Dean has an unfortunate tendency to shoot his mouth off for no good reason, as well as an endearing (to me) tendency to be honest about things in a way that opens him up to "shocked, shocked" press releases. I prefer this by 100x to the bland, scripted, empty platitudes that you hear from many politicians--but it's a real vulnerability given the way the press works.

3. It is more acceptable to give opinions about the horse race than about who would make a better president. Dean has convinced a lot of people that he would make the best president, but he has convinced a larger (sometimes overlapping) group that he cannot beat Bush. It's okay to talk about how many Democrats believe Dean is unelectable, and list the reasons, and imply they're right. It's much less okay to talk about how many Democrats believe Dean will be the best President, and list the reasons, and imply they're right.

Note, though, that the horse race also means the media obsesses over fundraising and exceeding expectations, and this helped Dean for a long time.

Basically, the media as a whole are not very good at their jobs, though some individual reporters are very good indeed. If the people who are supposed to be uncovering the truth are corrupt, or incompetent, or too hemmed in by their editors or worried about access to do their jobs, or what have you--it's going to hurt the Forces of Truth and Good, and reward the dishonest extremists (take a bow Bush, Cheney, DeLay, et al.)

I don't think we should accept a lousy press corps as inevitable--it gives the bad guys (and I am not talking about John Kerry here; our nominee will face what Dean faced and then some) such an unfair advantage. And if we blame everything on the candidate it feels like we're powerless until Mr. Perfect comes along on his white horse, and he never ever will.

But the trick is to see unfair press coverage as an obstacle that we need to either knock down or get around next time, not an excuse for ignoring our own candidate's or party's failings.

(one request: "Deanites" or "Deaniacs", fine--I prefer "Dean supporters" but it's not worth being hyper-sensitive about it. But I draw the line at "Deanyboppers", it just sounds way too patronizing and dismissive. Maybe you don't mean in that way, but humor me.)

Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 02:43 AM:

As far as Dean wasting campaign money goes, I'm sure someone here has the numbers -- and I'm simply posting in the numbness of eluded sleep in the middle of the night -- but didn't the Dean campaign in Iowa spend an ungodly amount of money, especially compared to NH? No rented camps here, no food given to the volunteers, not even free coffee, not even during election day. Someone in the offices gave me the numbers right as the NH field office was closing, but something like 3 to 1 spending is what sticks in my mind. Budgeting too little too late after NH.

And as far as amateurs go, Karen Hicks (NH head) did quite well with what she was given, and no newcomer to political campaigns. Neither was the field coordinator for the state, who just came off of senate campaigns the previous season.

Just to set that part of the record straight.

Were the mid-level workers "amateurs"? I don't know about Iowa -- I didn't work there. Though in NH a large number had at least one or even two senatorial campaigns behind them. At the low field level? Are you kidding? They never do. At that level, you're lucky if they're out of college and know how to iron a shirt. That information, however, shouldn't surprise anyone who's been involved in a campaign.

Eimear Ní Mhéalóid ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 07:19 AM:

Just to be polite ... in Ireland at present only graduates of Trinity College and NUI colleges have Seanad votes. There is a long-standing campaign for reform to give other graduates voting rights and indeed a Constitutional amendment to make this possible was passed back in 1979. The Trinity and NUI constituencies elect three Senators each.

The remainder of the Senate is elected under a peculiar vocational panel system. (Apparently this was partly inspired by a series of papal encyclicals in the 1930s, which Mussolini also claimed to be implementing in the fascist/corporatist system.) The elections take place just after every general election with the electorate being the outgoing TDs, Senators and sitting county councillors. The Taoiseach also gets to nominate 11 members. Sometimes this mechanism is used to nominate a notable person from NI (e.g. Gordon Wilson) but usually it's a consolation prize for party politicians who failed to get a Dail seat.

Irish Senators love going on junkets to the US where they are treated as persons of much greater importance than they are at home.

Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 10:25 AM:

I'm glad you know that water is wet, here, too. You're the one who said that Dean's failure could in part be attributed to campaigners who didn't get my "culture".

As a midwesterner who voted for Dean, I was just surprised that you thought cultural divide had anything to do with my voting choices (and I decided to be amused rather than offended; now I think I'm just sad).

Unlike Xopher, you didn't mention exactly what the heck you thought caused this cultural divide. This isn't that latte-swilling, NY times reading thing again, is it?

Xopher, Yes, indeed, I have lived on the east coast (Philadelphia, to be exact).

While I did find some differences (it's much more socially acceptable to litter out your way than it is here, at least in public, and you can't put the kind of sex gear in the windows here that you can on South Street), I generally didn't find it all that difficult to communicate.

Sure, people in Philly talked faster; sure they cut people off. There are, I grant you, a hundred different signals.

But I think earnest sincerity cuts through a lot of that stuff. If someone has something important to say, or truly cares, I hear fine. I found that east coasters listened, if I talked, no matter how slowly.

And we all watch TV and go to the movies. There's a passel of different styles there--from California Buffy to Mafia Sopranos. Humans are imitative creatures--we can watch and listen and pick up new languages of speech patterns.

I agree that Dean volunteers couldn't learn all of those styles.

But I also don't think Kerry, or Edwards, or Clark, managed to get native speakers (so to speak) in there. It has been my personal experience that we in the midwest have to take whatever style the entertainers (so to speak) give us, from CNN news to MTV glitz. We're pretty used to people talking in odd tongues and standing too close.

I just don't see the language/culture barrier as all that compelling a reason for failure. Heck, I don't even really see it as a barrier.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 11:36 AM:

Forgive me, but I'm really unclear how my remark that "I suspect that some of Dean's problems in Iowa were caused by cultural tone-deafness on the part of out-of-state volunteers" has become such a ringing declaration of cultural division between Iowa and New York City. I kind of feel like a kinda-sorta-maybe speculation is being argued with as if it were a mighty categorical assertion.

Frankly, the "cultural tone-deafness" I was thinking of is as much a function of class and age as it is of geography, and could as easily happen between people who were all raised in Iowa (or wherever). I agree that it's easy to put too much weight on geography. Indeed, I often suspect that one reasons American political commentary obsesses so much over minor geographically-based cultural differences is because we're all trying to talk around the elephant in the living room, which is of course class.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 01:30 PM:

Patrick: Whining? Is that meant ironically, as would seem to be indicated by the context, or seriously? If the latter, perhaps you could suggest a way I could make what I see as statements of fact in such a way as to not have them be seen as whining.

Also I'm inclined to see it as ironic because you read my LJ so you really know what my whining sounds like. Heh.


Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 08:09 PM:

Okay. How's this for whining?

I *will not* vote for anyone who voted for the war, or who accused Dean of being wrongheaded in declaring that capturing Hussein didn't make us any safer.


This is a line I will *not* cross. Not for Bush, not for Hitler, not for anyone.

500+ Soldiers dead. I knew one of them. And Kerry dared to attack Dean on that point -- except when the war was going badly. Then Kerry was anti-war. Then we caught Hussien. Suddenly the fucking hero is all for that.

Fuck "Anyone but Bush." Not this time, not anytime. This is an evil I will not support.

I don't pretend to know what shoals the Dean campaign struck. The media was against him from the start, and when the so-called Democrats started attacking him for being "too liberal", that didn't help either. But, in the end, what failed Dean was that he couldn't get Democrats to vote for him.

That's well and good. But, as of this point, if Kerry ends up the nominee, I'm not a democrat anymore. Hell, I don't think I am now. I'm not conservative enough. How the *FUCK* I ended up being too liberal for the Democratic party, I don't know, but there it is.

I will not take the lesser evil anymore. I've had my say in who the nominee is. If the country at large chooses the lesser evil, that's their souls they risk.

I will not stand with them -- or with you. I may burn in hell for this, but I'm not holding my nose. Bush's evil isn't that much greater, in my eyes. He's only greedy and power hungry.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 08:30 PM:

In contrast to the above, here's Howard Dean:

Acknowledging that his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination is "a longer shot than it was," Howard Dean suggested today that he would accept the No. 2 spot on a national ticket if it were offered.
"I would, to the extent, do anything I could to get rid of President Bush," Dr. Dean said on a morning radio program in Milwaukee. "I'll do whatever is best for the party. Obviously, I'm running for president, but whatever's best is what I'll do. Anything. We've just got to change presidents. We're really hurting right now."

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 10:23 PM:

Dean, of course, has sense--it just doesn't come across clearly when he's on television. Kerry, on the other hand, like Reagan and W. Bush, is a political Rorhschach blot--he has the trick of seeming to be many things to many men (and women). And that's what wins elections. What's scary is that, like W. Bush, once Kerry has won the election, he still has to be a chief executive. Well, at least he's not likely to put Ashcroft, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in his inner circle. But the worst of Kerry's executive acts may be quite similar to W. Bush's. Imagine Rorhschach blot memos!

In terms of making internet organizing work, the way to do it is probably to incorporate it, somehow, into the caucus system, so that delegates and, ultimately, candidates will be chosen who represent the caucus and who are good public speakers. It is likely to take a while before party leadership that can do this emerges, however.

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 11:58 PM:

I just don't get some of this. What on earth was the point of supporting Dean in the first place if the point wasn't to get rid of Bush? If getting rid of Bush was not important, there was never any reason to support Dean.

And, you know, it is a canard that Kerry voted for the invasion of Iraq. There was never a resolution to pre-emptively and unilaterally invade Iraq even if the inspectors found no weapons of mass destruction. That bill was never before Congress.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 02:20 AM:

"If getting rid of Bush was not important, there was never any reason to support Dean." The public isn't riled enough with W. Bush, yet, to think like that. Meantime, well, a lot of the public doesn't want to think thoughts as bitter as us premature anti-Bushistas are thinking. I can't blame 'em, exactly, but it makes campaigning 1,000 times harder. The moreso because the US public is so scared of anything resembling a leftie idea that it's extremely difficult to present a positive moderate left program. or any positive program, in fact--the right is like a dog that's caught a car: they don't have a positive program--if they did they'd be enacting it.

What are Democrats going to do if W. Bush isn't the Republican candidate this year? It's entirely possible they'll dump him over his Guard record. What do we fight for then?

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 10:14 AM:

What on earth was the point of supporting Dean in the first place if the point wasn't to get rid of Bush?

The point was to support a candidate who at least acted as if he supported many of the policies that I support, and to support a candidate who clearly, from the beginning, opposed the Iraq War, and refused to waffle when such support was unpopular.

The whole idea that the only reason Dean was worth supporting is that he would be the anti-Bush is, frankly, one of the reasons the Democratic party has failed. The more they tried to define themselves as what they aren't, as opposed to what they are, the more they could be manuevered into being the other conservative party.

Never mind the implication. "Dean is only a worthy candidate if you think beating Bush is the only reason to vote for him." Okay, if that's the qualification, let's nominate someone who's even *more* Bush than Bush, and win that way.

If Kerry had come out and said "I was wrong," I might have forgiven him. He did not. He was for the war when being for the war helped him, and he was against the war when being against the war helped him. He's against the war now, because that might get him the nomination.

You can play the "That vote really wasn't a vote for the war" card, if you wish. It's a meaningless card. Look at what Kerry was saying in 2003.

And now, I'm supposed to be a good little Democrat and vote for him, if he should get the nomination.

I never said "Anyone but Bush." You did. We need someone who will fight Bush, not support Bush when doing so is popular. One of the reasons things have gotten so bad is the way the Congressional Democrats have rolled over on so many issues, and Kerry is one of those who rolled.

All of that, I could forgive. Kerry's whoring to the money interests, I might forgive. The flip flop on the war, and pretending that it isn't important? I cannot.

Not when 3000 died in New York, and the bastard who did it walks away. Not for the unknown thousands who died in Iraq over "the possibility of wanting a WMD program," or whatever hell excuse is being used today. Not when doing so resulted in the pillaging of two known nuclear storage sites, meaning the chance of a US city being attacked with nuclear materials has skyrocketed.

This is *not* an issue you track the winds over. This is an issue you stand against. Dean did. Kucinich did. Kerry did not.

And if that results in Bush winning, and the destruction of our country, so be it. The more I think about it -- the more I watch the so-called opposition party run as far to the right as it can, while telling me that "I have to vote against Bush", the more I start to think that I was wrong in 2000 -- and my attacks against the Green Party were just as wrong.

Voting for the lesser of two evils only works if the lesser of two evils is supportable. In this case, to me, it is not. I cannot live with myself by supporting either one -- no matter how dark the consequence. I will fight them -- but I will not fight them by voting for those who helped make it happen.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 11:34 AM:

I can't imagine what I could say to you, Erik, that wouldn't result in your getting even angrier.

When you write "And if that results in Bush winning, and the destruction of our country, so be it," you lose me. As it happens I don't think the re-election of GWB would result in anything so immediately colorful as "the destruction of the country," but I'm pretty much completely opposed to the logic of "we have to let things get worse before they can get better." Indeed, if there's a political idea I can say that I'm implacably opposed to, that would pretty much be it.

In my view, the idea is to try to minimize destruction, tyranny, and misery, and maximize opportunities for healing, choice, and happiness. I'm all about choosing the lesser of two evils. Every single time. Because it's, you know, lesser.

The people whose chances at healing, choice, and happiness we sacrifice when we refuse to make a choice between "two evils" -- you know, their lives count too. They have a moral claim on us.


I'm also frankly boggled at your characterization of the current problems of the Democratic Party. It's as if you haven't read a newspaper in the last six months. The picture of spinelessness you're painting was an accurate one -- for several months following the disastrous 2002 midterm elections. Every trend within the party since then has been away from that and in the direction you say you want. The party has been growing a spine, refining its rhetorical chops, and (most crucially) learning new fundraising techniques from the Dean campaign and from 527s like moveon.org, techniques which have the promise to make the party back into an actual organ of the American working middle class. Does this mean everything is going to be hunky-dory? Of course not. But I think you're missing some promising developments. Or, perhaps, you're simply not impressed by them and don't think they'll amount to much. If so, you may be right, but you appear to be writing as if they're not even happening.


I do have to say one more thing, which is that when you write "How the *FUCK* I ended up being too liberal for the Democratic party, I don't know, but there it is," I blink a lot. In core convictions and outlook I have been well to the "left" of the Democratic Party for most of my life.

In fact, in my tiny heart of hearts I am an unruly anarchist. For for a crystallization of what my head believes, you could do worse than to look at the quotation from Benjamin Franklin that economist Max Sawicky currently has on the masthead of his weblog:

"Private property...is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing, its contributors therefore to the public Exigencies are not to be considered a Benefit on the Public, entitling the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honor and Power, but as the Return of an Obligation previously received, or as payment for a just Debt."
That's me: a Benjamin Franklin socialist. I think "private property" is something that society creates; it doesn't exist without society cooperating to enforce it. And society can oblige it to be "subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it." The rest of politics is just a big argument over the details.

So I basically don't think of the Democratic Party as any kind of bearer of ideals. It's a coalition of powers, some of them wicked. It's a big machine for hammering out rough consensus and, most critically, for checking and limiting the power of the other big political coalition in the United States. That's its job. If you want to oppose Republicans, you do it through the Democrats. 216 years of the operation of the Constitution have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that, in operation, the American system creates and reinforces a pair of large national parties, and that all efforts to create and wield significant power through additional parties are doomed to failure. Fair? Of course not; there's not a governmental system on the planet that's perfectly fair. Real? Real as the air you're breathing. The "two-party system" is an emergent property of the Constitution, and you won't change it without abolishing the American republic and creating a new one.

Maybe you think that's what we need to do. But I grew up at the tail end of the New Left and I've seen enough of the drain down which that kind of talk leads. I'll say it again: The people whose chances at happiness we sacrifice in our rage at being asked to make a choice between "two evils" -- their lives count too.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 03:02 PM:

Yes, I've read the news. I remember, vividly, seven so-called Democrats, standing there, declaring by thier action that Dean was "unelectable."

I remember the way the Democratic leadership rolled over and let three of the most criminial, evil, underhanded bills -- the Iraq War resolution, the Patriot Act, and the Energy Bill, roll through Congress. All three could have been stopped. No action was taken to stop them.

I saw. So, along comes Dean, and then the Democrats grow a spine. They see the threat -- someone who's actually talking to *the people who vote for the party.*

They took action. It worked. You will, undoubtedly, call them correct. Dean needed to be "toughened" for the campaign, since he would have to face Bush. Dean was "weak" on Foreign Policy -- as compared to who? Bush?

The Democratic party leadership did nothing to support Dean. I refuse to support them any further. I will vote for people I think will do the least harm to me, provided they haven't crossed certain lines. Anyone voting anti-gay, anti-abortion, or pro-war will never get my vote.

If the Democrats want my vote, they can damn well find me a candidate I'm willing to vote for.

And, you know, I love the fact that suddenly I'm reponsible for "the people whose chances at happiness [I] sacrifice." Bullshit. They can vote. They can draw thier own lines, and make thier own stands. They may find what Kerry and the DLC did acceptable, and they can vote for him. I am one vote, and I accept the responsibility for that one vote. The millions who don't vote, well, they deserve who they didn't vote for.

But, from the moment the other candidates raised their hands in that debate, I refused to support them. They broke the deal -- that you support your party, not backstab them on national TV. "Anyone But Bush" died at that second. So, no time, no words, no money, no nothing to them from me -- and those who voted in certain ways will not even get a vote as the least of two evils.

I'm tired of a meme that says I have to vote for the guy who's mugged me five times, to protect me from the guy who's mugged me ten. Esp. when he went and mugged the guy who *never* mugged me.

Call me evil, if you wish. I'm certainly far enough to the right of you to be so. But I'm not so evil as to vote for a lying warmonger -- whether he's always one, or whether he's only one when we're doing well.

In some ways, the latter is worse. At least Bush is sticking by his position, evil as it is. Kerry's pretending he never held it.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 04:01 PM:

"And, you know, I love the fact that suddenly I'm reponsible for 'the people whose chances at happiness [I] sacrifice.' Bullshit."

Okay, we get it. You're not your brother's keeper. In fact this is a well-established ethical position. What it's not, is liberalism. In fact, it's kind of its exact opposite.

"Bullshit. They can vote. They can draw their own lines, and make their own stands."

Actually, most of the world doesn't get a vote in American elections. And yet the consequences of an American national election are worldwide.

"Call me evil, if you wish."

Not a chance. You're one of the more distinctly not-evil people I know. What you are, on this subject, is hurt and angry. Like many of us.

"I'm tired of a meme that says I have to vote for the guy who's mugged me five times, to protect me from the guy who's mugged me ten."

Buffy: Nothing's ever simple anymore. I'm constantly trying to work it out. Who to love or hate. Who to trust. It's just, like, the more I know, the more confused I get.
Giles: I believe that's called growing up.
Buffy: I'd like to stop then, okay?
Giles: I know the feeling.
Buffy: Does it ever get easy?
Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah. Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: (looks up at him) Lie to me.
Giles: (considers a moment) Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Liar.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 05:36 PM:

that it's not, is liberalism. In fact, it's kind of its exact opposite.

Exactly. I'm not really a liberal, and the DNC has swung from being to my left, on average, to my right, and is accelerating away.

Yes, I'm hurt. Yes, I'm angry.

No -- I will not make the deal anymore.

And if you would like to stop the insinuation that my position is immature, we can continue. This is something I've dealt with for a long time, always holding my tounge, watching the Dems work away from me. Now, certain candidates have crossed a line that I will not cross -- regardless of the harm that may come. The proper choice between Göring and Dönitz is not Dönitz, it is niether.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 09:36 PM:

I'm pretty angry and depressed and bitter myself. I've just written up in my blog my experience at today's Washington caucus. You might like to go read it.

eyelessgame ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 12:09 PM:

I'm afraid I find the argument unconvincing.

You do not need to change anyone's mind if elections are held at regular intervals and you lie leading up to them. This president campaigned as a fiscally-responsible, humble-foreign-policy moderate. He, and his small band of insiders, have changed the world.

Those who whisper into the president's ear don't need to win elections. Those whom he appoints to dismantle policies that have served us well for decades don't need to win elections.

Our small group of big-media conglomerates, by replaying Dean's gaffe overanoveranoveranover, changed a whole lot of people's minds; thereby their votes; thereby the world.

Nader, and his supporters -- a small group of committed people -- threw the 2000 election, and changed the world. What election did he win? The neocons -- a small group of committed people -- have changed the world. What election did they win? al-Qaeda -- a small group of committed people -- has changed the world, by provoking our leading fools into a hellbent war on all Islam -- what election did they win?

John Kerry has won the primaries. What in the world is he likely to change?

Make no mistake. I will work my ass off for Kerry. I will talk, patiently, persistently, optimistically, till blue in the face if necessary, to get people to vote against Bush. I would do the same if our nominee were the rotting corpse of Richard Nixon. But the Clay Shirkey quote above is, quite frankly, in ignorance of everything I can see about actual history.

Brian Hess ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 12:28 PM:

...the guy with the ... trucker hat and nothing other than instinct for who he trusts cancels the vote of the politics junkie....

And perhaps that is just as it should be. Your assumption appears to be that the political junkie is better-qualified (more worthy?) to cast a vote. I believe that's far from self-evident.

It's hard to understand...that someone who doesn’t even understand the issues can amble on down to the local elementary school and wipe out your vote....

Why is that so hard to understand? Really, what kind of elitist political ideology is it that says because you (the general "you," not "you" specifically) know the campaign manager's name your vote should carry more weight than the ambler in the trucker hat?

Hypothetically, suppose Mr. Trucker Hat has personal experience with Mr. Approved Candidate. Maybe Gov. Candidate was personally responsible for some back room double-dealing that never made it into the press, but it cost Mr. Hat's friends their jobs. A lot of jobs. So Mr. Hat may not know who's happening inside the Beltway, but he sure knows why he's not voting for Gov. Candidate.

But we'll stand in line at the polls and sneer down our Starbucks at Mr. Hat because he appears to be an ill-informed lout who's bound to cancel our more highly-qualified vote.

Is that it?

Perhaps we should make votes from people in non-ironic trucker hats worth only three-fifths those of "educated" voters?

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 12:39 PM:

I’m trying to figure out how trucker hats and Starbucks have become political education markers.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 12:54 PM:

Brian Hess writes:

"Your assumption appears to be that the political junkie is better-qualified (more worthy?) to cast a vote."

Clay Shirky can speak for himself if he's still reading this, but I strongly suspect this is precisely the opposite of what he thinks. Quite the contrary, his point appears to be that democracy is designed to check the dominance of elites, and that this is a good thing.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 04:34 PM:

"John Kerry has won the primaries. What in the world is he likely to change?"

The attorney general, vice president, and secretary of defense. All things considered, I'll take it.

Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 08:00 PM:

Erik, I don't think you're evil. I think you're angry--as am I--and I think it's leading you to an erroneous position.

It's not easy to vote for the lesser of two evils: but, in retrospect, it's clear that we'd have been better off if the people who, justly I think, felt betrayed by the Democratic leadership in 1968 had gone out and gotten Humphrey elected instead of Nixon.

I'm way to the left of Al Gore, and I think well to the left of you (and maybe Patrick). But we--we the people of the United States, and of planet Earth--would be better off today if the 2000 election hadn't been stolen from him.

It also occurs to me that yes, this is a matter of principle that I'm prepared to stand on, and for. Bush stole an election. That makes him an enemy of democracy, and arguably a traitor (though, as I pointed out elsenet recently, the legal definition of treason against the US is deliberately narrow). Given the chance, I will vote for the person who has the best chance of defeating him, come November--and work to make sure that the votes are counted, and that this time the winner gets to take office the following January.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 08:24 PM:

It's hard to understand...that someone who doesn?t even understand the issues can amble on down to the local elementary school and wipe out your vote....

Someone who doesn't understand the issues can also bolster your vote.

For that matter, your vote can wipe out the vote of someone who understands the issues far better than you do.

Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 08:54 PM:

Vicki hits on the point that concerns me this election. I strongly disapprove of "lesser of two evils" thinking; my inclination is to say "the hell with that, I'll wait until I have a good choice to make". And most of the time I have some leeway within which to pursue my particular conscience with little overall harm done to the values I espouse, which are well away from the mainstream at the best of times.

But this is an unusual election.

I am unconvinced by stolen-election interpretations, but I'll go along with the fact that the situation was so razor-close on election day (due partly to pre-election machinations, yes) that it could be bullied. I think any outcme from Florida would have been more or less arbitrary, but I don't need to fight that one out right now either because here's the key thing:

Bush has been an unmitigated disaster as a president.

He's jeopardized the lives, liberties, and prosperity of American and the rest of the world in countless ways. He is bad for the country, bad for anyone interested in doing anything other than being a happy serf.

None of the Democratic candidates appeal to me much in terms of policy. Gimme someone vigorously opposed to the War on Some Drugs, pro-federalism, pro-diplomacy, pro-trade...well. Not gonna happen. The best I can do is cherry-pick here and there. But at least each of the candidates does have something where I can say "okay, that's pretty good" and other stances of which I can say "enh, not my pick, but better than what we're getting this time around". Bush has nothing for me or, I think, any other decent American of any class, race, ethnicity, or orientation. If you're one of the favored looters, okay, but that's it.

I have no real sense for Bush as a man, or at least nothing that makes me comfortable taking a stronger stance than assessing him as thoroughly lazy, self-indulgent, and utterly convinced of his own rightness. But some of the folks around him are bad people and others are recklessly negligent or deliberately suppressing their own better natures for the sake of power. They've managed to ruin our economy, and with it much of the optimism and willingness to experiment which is so crucial to the American dream as I understand it. They've assaulted our civil order, with mixed results but too much success. They have ruined our standing in the community of nations and exhausted resources including the irreplaceable men and women of goodwill seeking to do their duty, and left us even more vulnerable to terrorists and other enemies.

I don't have to like Dean or Kerry or Edwards or Kucinich or any of them at all. All I have to do is be able to say with a straight face and clear conscience, "Taken overall, this man would be a better president than Bush." And because it's true of all of them, I feel that I have less liberty than usual to be finicky. I think we've got to have a better president than Bush if we are to avoid an American reich. If the price of that is an administration headed by someone that I regard overall as a somewhat intrusive technocratic managerial type, or some other comparably unimpressive character flaw...I'll pay it. I want to get this country back to a point where I can afford to give freer rein to my specific political convictions without worrying that my inaction may help a monstrous cabal finish destroying the republic.

I don't think, when all's said and done, that this is so much a matter of "the lesser of two evils" as it is of direction. Would the change from Bush to any of the Democrats with a chance at all improve the condition of the republic? I say yes, and therefore I regard it much as I regard legislation that doesn't solve all the world's woes but does relatively little harm and some substantial good: It's a step in the right direction, and that's what's available to us right now. We can step away from Bush, or stay with him. I'd like to leave.

(And it's appropriate for me to pause here yet again and note that all the folks who insisted that the Bush/Gore difference was much greater than I imagined were quite right. I can't go back and change the past, but I can at least learn the lesson, acknowledge it, and try to apply at this next chance coming up.)

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 06:17 PM:

No better place to put this, I suppose--I'm blogging up a storm at today's O'Reilly Digital Democracy Conference--the interested can see for themselves.

Varia ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:17 PM:

Stipulating for the sake of speculation that Nader's choice of campaign terrain had a significant contribution to the outcome of the 2000 elections, wouldn't that be a horribly, horribly ironic example of Mead's quote? Indeed, a small group of thoughtful, committed people, changing the world--for four years at least.

Varia ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:19 PM:

Never mind, somebody else already made that point. This is what I get for not re-scanning the thread.