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Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2004 /6 Shevat, 5764

James Lileks

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http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | 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 native garb.


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 the headlights.


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 humiliation.


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.

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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 little more. 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.

Up

01/27/04: When the battle over artistic freedom goes over the edge
12/31/03: For the Left and Right, Some New Year's Resolutions
12/22/03: Dean's black helicopters
12/15/03: Dems Are Mainstreaming the Extreme
12/08/03: Does Dean Really Want to Be President? One Wonders, When He Opens His Mouth
11/24/03: The real story: Most Brits see U.S. as force for good
11/19/03: The Trouble With Al Gore's Screed on Civil Liberties
11/11/03: Can a fellow win with the Confederate Metrosexual vote?
10/22/03: Let's make Greenpeace pay
09/29/03: Ah-nold & Clark may be on different sides of the aisles, but their supporters are cut from the same cloth
09/19/03: All Hail the Ninth Circuit Court of Surreal
08/26/03: This time, the record industry doesn't stand a chance!
08/18/03: Assessing the Schwarzenegger Factor in Republicanism
08/08/03: No wonder Howard ‘Two Covers’ Dean gets all the buzz
08/04/03: Expect bad news for the foreseeable future
07/28/03: Despot's Deserts
07/21/03: No winners in this game of gotcha
07/14/03: Doing the right thing in Liberia may not be the right thing to do
06/27/03: On feet in Democratic mouths
06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks