Howard Dean got a raw deal from the media last week. So he was
hoarse. So he tried to rally the troops. So he pointed to people from
various states and named said states with the enthusiasm usually
reserved for calling in an airstrike while under heavy fire. It would have
gone unnoticed had he not ended the rally with a sound of someone
attempting to play a goose like a bagpipe.
It was not a presidential moment, as Dean himself noted to Diane
Sawyer a few days later, but very little that's honest and fun is
presidential. You can play the sax and talk about your underwear before
the election, not after. You can shill for Viagra after you've lost. Once
you're president, you put on the straitjacket of decorum. You are
allowed two opportunities per year to "vacation" and be photographed in
Every troubled candidate has a YEAGH! moment of some sort,
something that defines the candidacy in a way he or she had not
intended. Ed Muskie's tears, Mike Dukakis in the tank, Dan Quayle in
But Dean's moment was unique. It was one of those things that vaulted
out of the realm of politics and entered the bloodstream of pop culture.
Ten years ago talk radio would have used the YEAGH! to poke fun at
Dean. Five years ago people would have traded the sound file as AOL
mail attachments. But in 2004, the tools have improved. With a Mac or
PC, Dean's gonzo-charged exhortation could be sliced, dissected,
looped, set to music and distributed nationwide in a day. Grass-roots
And it was. Disclosure: I assembled one of the more popular songs.
Within 36 hours it had been mentioned by The Washington Post and the
Wall Street Journal; it was played on NPR, Hugh Hewitt's nationally
syndicated radio shows in a hundred markets and even made
MTV.com. I didn't mail the song to newspapers, or call up radio stations
and offer payola. I simply seeded the URL in the comments section of a
well-read liberal weblog and a well-read conservative one. And it was
off. This is how information works today: You can go from the bottom to
the top with no friction whatsoever.
Meaning? Well, weblogs make it tough for candidates to sell falsehoods,
because there will always be a hundred dozen foes ready to feast on
the lie. Gaffes become major policy misstatements; half-truths are flayed
or fleshed out. In the modern election cycle, we're used to seeing these
candidates on the tube 24/7, and they have to say something when the
camera's rolling. Forevermore now, there'll be someone watching who
can tease an offhand remark however he pleases, post it to the Web
and join the roiling conversation.
Dan Rather said he thinks the era of network coverage of conventions is
over, and he's right. That's a good thing. All we need is C-SPAN and the
volunteer pundit brigades. Weary Beltway wonks assembling the
conventional wisdom, or a hundred smart observers sharing their views?
Take your choice.
Dean's campaign had the weblog buzz; his pre-caucus Internet strategy
was a thing of beauty, right down to the slogans, guest columns,
effervescent comment sections and occasional visits by the man himself.
And it didn't work.
John Kerry who quite possibly thinks a weblog is something a spider
spins in an rotting tree trunk beat Dean handily. Lesson: Sometimes a
bunch of kids sharing their enthusiasm on a Web page is just that, and
For now, anyway. There's a Bush blog at georgewbush.com/blog, but
it's lame. It says "Official Blog" at the top, which sounds like we're going
to see Grandpa try the funky chicken. The GOP's official strategy is
e-mail. Supposedly they have the mother of all contact lists. Great:
spam. We're at the point in the information revolution where more e-mail
is the last thing anyone wants to get.
It's not the e-mail. It's not the blog. It's not the Web sites. It's the
computers, and the people behind them, connected like never before.
They won't control the buzz this year. But in 2008? Count on it.
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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.