Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Dean Mythos

Note: Somewhere along the way I took a detour and this post became more about the Lamont campaign than Howard Dean. But, hopefully you'll get the connection.

We all have a tendency to glamorize the past; it's human nature. But the Deanies seem to be masters of the art form. Being involved in the Lamont campaign, I read and hear way too much about how great and exciting the Dean campaign was, and almost nothing about what was learned from its massive failure.

Dean is often credited with validating the NetRoots as a vital part of the political process. I would argue the opposite - the NetRoots validated Howard Dean. The Internet is an incredibly powerful medium that gives a voice and power to the masses. Its role in the Democratic process was inevitable. To those who were the pioneers, blogging and posting before the 2004 election, take some credit for your work. Don't give it away to Howard Dean.

I've done volunteer work for several campaigns in the past. But, my online and offline involvement in the Lamont campaign, and voracious reading of relevant material has opened my eyes to at at least two critical problems of the Dean campaign worth addressing:

#1 The leaders that emerged from the NetRoots made those that wanted to join the campaign later feel unwelcome in Club Dean. Quite a bit has been written online about this phenomenon. As far into the future as I can predict, the NetRoots will play a critical role, especially in rallying support early on. But, elections will still be won or lost in the physical world. Traditional media will still matter. Live public appearances will still matter. Massive numbers of volunteers stuffing envelopes and drinking too much coffee will still matter. And, even with the success of efforts like ActBlue, big-money donors will still matter. The NetRoots needs to find a way to work in harmony with the Grassroots, the big donors, and old-fashioned volunteers (maybe we can come up with a cool "roots" nickname for these folks.)

#2 Dean himself was a much better candidate online than in real life. In person he came off as too angry and rough around the edges. This was an ongoing problem and not something isolated to the famous "I Have Scream" speech after his third-place finish in Iowa. I'm not sure how the NetRoots can solve this problem, other than to do more homework when vetting candidates to support.

But, this is all old news. Why am I writing about it now? Because many people have started making comparisons between Ned Lamont and Howard Dean. This makes sense, to some degree. Both are progressive Democrats who were catapulted to the national stage by the NetRoots. Before you ask, yes I believe that Ned Lamont would not have even made it to his announcement day two weeks ago were it not for the NetRoots.

So, how is Lamont doing with regard to the two problems descried above?

I don't think Lamont will suffer from #2. He's an incredibly likeable guy. We've all read the stories of skeptics making a 180 after a single meeting (I've reported on some of these.) Despite any effort by the Lieberman campaign to paint him as an angry guy, Ned Lamont is Mr. Congeniality.

For me, the jury is still out on #1. My involvement to date has been primarily through the NetRoots - writing blog entries, posting comments, and e-mailing friends to encourage their involvement. The main theme of Lamont's pre-announcement work was that he needed "1,000 volunteers, representing every city and town in Connecticut." The last I heard, over 1,500 had signed up through www.nedlamont.com. However, it takes great persistence to become involved. I've spoken with others who are eager to lend a hand, but haven't received any response or direction from campaign officials. Nearly everyone on the Lamont campaign team worked or volunteered for Dean. I hope Club Dean learned a lesson from its exclusive membership policy of 2004 and makes a concerted to make everyone feel welcome.

Now, before the hardworking folks on the Lamont team get pissed off at me, would like to commend a few ace recruiters. Kim Hynes ("official scheduler") is amazing (as is Aldon). Until two months ago they didn't know me from Adam. But, Kim and Aldon have encouraged my involvement and are incredibly responsive to e-mails and phone calls - even when it's about something outside their areas of responsibility. If Kim ever decides to make another run for office, I'll be one of the first to volunteer. Rose Ryan is also a great asset to this campaign. For a Volunteer Coordinator, having 1,500 eager helpers must be both a blessing and a curse. I pestered Rose for a while, and she has put me to work. Hopefully she can get hundreds more involved while they are still fired up.

Hopefully this campaign will hold fast to Ned's initial message. To make use of those 1,000+ registered supporters, everyone on the staff should view him/herself as a Volunteer Coordinator. Welcome, encourage, and take full advantage of the folks that want to send Ned Lamont to Washington as our next Senator.


Blogger The Continental Op said...

Actually the really big myth about Dean is that he is a "progressive", when he's really more of a Rockefeller Republican. Of course, given the current degraded state of the Democratic Party, even Goldwater would probably appear left of center, and Rocky would be painted bright Red.

1:25 AM  

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