If Dean is stopped, will he (and his Deanies) bolt?
: John Robb continues the discussion (news being a conversation, of course) about the Dean web movement with a fascinating question. He says we don’t disagree about the essential structure of the online movement and then adds:
However, it is pretty clear to me that the people supporting Dean have … chosen to join a community of like minded people. That community’s relationships are now being etched into social software (that automates many of the difficult parts community development and maintenance — this provides the productivity boost that gives this campaign its momentum). Can this community survive a defeat? The history of American politics suggests no. Will we see it develop a platform, voting mechanisms, and a nomination process to field candidates that run against other Democrats in the future? Maybe or maybe not (this time).
At the same time, New York Times columnist William Safire said he fears a Dean Democratic defeat, for be believes that Howard and the Deanies (sounds like a third-rank ’50s garage band, no?) would bolt and run as an independent. He sees a dangerous cleft in the Democratic party.
: He is not the sort who gives up easily. Nor is he likely to ask Clark or whomever in a smoke-free room for the No. 2 slot. Dean has grass-roots troops, a unique fund-raising organization, the name recognition and the fire-in-the-belly, messianic urge to go all the way on his own ticket.
Politronic chatter picked up by pundits monitoring lefty blogsites and al-Gora intercepts flashes the warning: If stopped, Dean may well bolt.
That split of opposition would be a bonanza for Bush. In a two-man race, the odds are that he would beat Dean comfortably, but in a three-party race, Bush would surely waltz in with the greatest of ease.
Here’s my problem: Such a lopsided, hubris-inducing result would be bad for Bush, bad for the G.O.P., bad for the country. Landslides lead to tyrannous majorities and big trouble.
Which is why I worry about Dean not getting the Democratic nomination.
: A still-unformed thought: I wonder whether the big impact of Dean online movement is a feeling of empowerment.
I sat down with some good folks trying to boost the online presence of an issue movement and I lectured them that “you have to look like a movement even before you are one.” That’s not the cynical comment it may sound like. It’s the way things are done now, post-Dean: You need to involve people; make them feel involved; make them feel invested; make them feel heard. That is what Dean & community have done so well.
So the thing is: Once a community is started, does it feel like a movement with legs of its own? Does it live without Dean? Probably not. Does it live with Dean if he bolts? Likely yes.
What I’m dancing around is that while the digital Dean doesn’t change the essence of a campaign, it may well change the essence of the movement, of the supporters and how they think. It may make them not only more connected but more independent of party hierarchy, less controllable. Only time will tell the impact.