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Frank Rich on Dean and the Internet

Neither Instapundit nor I stop for a little thing like Christmas, and he links to this piece by Jay Rosen, which quotes Frank Rich saying this, which I think is rather smart:

Rather than compare Dr. Dean to McGovern or Goldwater, it may make more sense to recall Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. It was not until F.D.R.’s fireside chats on radio in 1933 that a medium in mass use for years became a political force. J.F.K. did the same for television, not only by vanquishing the camera-challenged Richard Nixon during the 1960 debates but by replacing the Eisenhower White House’s prerecorded TV news conferences (which could be cleaned up with editing) with live broadcasts. Until Kennedy proved otherwise, most of Washington’s wise men thought, as The New York Times columnist James Reston wrote in 1961, that a spontaneous televised press conference was “the goofiest idea since the Hula Hoop.”

And Frank Rich saying this also:

The condescending reaction to the Dean insurgency by television’s political correspondents can be reminiscent of that hilarious party scene in the movie “Singin’ in the Rain,” where Hollywood’s silent-era elite greets the advent of talkies with dismissive bafflement. “The Internet has yet to mature as a political tool,” intoned Carl Cameron of Fox News last summer as he reported that the runner-up group to Dean supporters on the meetup.com site was witches.

I like that. It’ll be extremely interesting to see what happens to the Dean campaign. That all suggests that it may do rather well. However, I saw a tiny glimpse of Dean on TV last night, on a BBC Newsnight report of his efforts, and both the BBC reporter and Dean’s performance suggested to me that he’s a crazed demagogue and that when he comes flapping out of the caves of the internet into the cold light of those “impromptu televised press conferences” that JFK started all those years ago, he’ll crash and burn very quickly. But like I say, it’ll be interesting to see.

Even if Dean himself has (metaphor switch warning force six) flown on the wings of the internet too close to the sun of real politics, he has certainly done a lot to give political credibility to the internet, blogs etc. And sadly, what that means is that there will soon be a zillion blogs out there, but that they won’t be linking to the likes of this blog; they’ll be linking to each other. I am about to be an even smaller fish in an even bigger pond. You can feel the word ‘blog’ and ‘blogger’ (the BBC also made much of Salam Pax) becoming something that everyone will soon understand and have an opinion about and which about half of everyone will have to have, like ‘website’ before it. Respectable political opinion has stopped ignoring the political impact of the internet and has switched to worrying about it.

“Weimarization” is the word I am hearing, although I can’t recall where. The idea is that the internet is empowering the extremes. But that’s only because the non-extremes aren’t using it, and that’s surely about to change. Indeed, I keep thinking that this ‘the internet is predominantly conservative and libertarian’ vibe is about to roll over and die. And in terms of sheer square yardage of verbiage, it probably already has. If we continue in any way to ‘dominate’, it will be (a) because our ideas and arguments are better, not because we merely proclaim more of them, and (b) because to the liberal left, a media system not biased in their favour – not owned or captured by them – feels like it’s biased against them, even if all that’s really happening is that anyone can now say what they want and read what they want.

That of course being one – and I speak as a libertarian rather than as a conservative now – of our ideas.

By the way, who exactly is Frank Rich?

18 comments to Frank Rich on Dean and the Internet

  • Frank Rich is a former New York Times drama critic turned columnist . Aside from conventional left wing politics his main interests are gay issues and ‘culture’ .

    Along with Krugman he is one of the most boring of America’s major pundits. He lacks any sense of humor or any real feel for cultures and peoples outside the NY/LA orbit.

  • jk

    I like your comment that “to the liberal left, a media system not biased in their favour – not owned or captured by them – feels like it’s biased against them.”

    The left in America has never been able to retake talk radio from the right, though they will now try throwing money at it. Awfully uncharitable to say on Christmas Eve, but I think that without bias, the ideas of the right seem to win out in a marketplace of ideas.

  • Julian Morrison

    On the internet, libertarians are immune from being shouted down or marginalized. Popularity drives visibility, rather than weight of numbers. All the center-left’s usual zero-sum game plans will beat against this in vain.

  • The Internet will not Weimarize politics because on der tag you still need to get 51% of the vote. American politics structurally mandates a centrist candidate with a coalition of supporters. Dean may be able to ride his appeal to the Left wing of his party to a nomination, but he cannot then go on to win the presidency having done so.

    In fact, Dean’s self-annointed candidacy is on a continuum with that of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, people who decided to run for the Democrat nomination in an “entrepreneurial” fashion, started on the margings and then conquered the center. Dean’s employment of the Internet has merely streamlined a process which has been in place since the Democrats reformed their internal govenance prior to the 1972 election. The book to see is Alan Ehrenhalt’s The United States of Ambition.

    The Dean candidacy is not a good indication of the the long-term effect of the Internet on American politics. It certainly does not represent a major break with the past. We repeatedly see minority parties, frustrated by repeated defeat, turn toward more ideologically “pure” candidates, who then get clobbered. Goldwater in 1964, Mondale promising to raise taxes. This type of thing occurs a lot at the State level. Dean’s run is a rather typical phenomenon.

  • ernest young

    “The Internet has yet to mature as a political tool,”

    Quite a telling remark – although I do not think that he meant it in quite the way that I am taking it.

    Subconciously I think they realize that the Internet will not be so easily subverted and manipulated as radio and tv, and it is comparatively free! No longer can individuals be bullied and browbeaten into silence just so the vociferous minority can get their way.

  • More Dean-haters. :) And some won’t even get a chance to vote against him!

    I haven’t made up my mind about the guy; the little I’ve heard has been smart and stylish — in particular his compliments to Bush on the day Hussein was captured. But I am still waiting to hear what his position is on the “OK, we’re in Iraq; what do we do now?” For me, that might be deal-point.

    And Brian, how can you trust the BBC’s editing? :) I seem to remember hearing you say some uncomplimentary things about those liberals at the BBC. No? So why trust their presentation of Dean? (Even if one assumes they would favor him they sound like unskilled journalists.)

  • Eric Sivula

    David Sucher, considering that Dean suggested in Sept. 2001 that Americans should be prepared to give up some civil liberties for the duration of the war on terror, I think his understanding of the Bill of Rights is shaky. Try looking into Dean’s policy ‘flip-flops’ and his comments on them. He has openly lied about comments he made about Saddam Hussein (saying in 2002 that Hussein was a threat, and then denying the statement in 2003).

    And what about his suggestions that the UN should have influence on US military policy?

  • Talking of fishes and ponds – one of the things that has struck me about the Blogosphere in the last 12 months is how few new entrants there have been. There were stacks in the 12 months before that but very few since. Barriers to entry or could it be that the Blogosphere swept up a lot of the good writers at a very early stage?

    Anyway, I think you are more likely to become a bigger fish in a bigger pond.

  • jk

    While waiting to make up your mind on Dean, you might also consider his resolve to abolish all of the Bush tax cuts and bring that money back into the government.

    This man may be stylish and clever but he is no friend of liberty.

  • The big deal about Dean isn’t that he’ll succeed (what’re the current odds in Vegas?), but that he has fleshed out some ways of coming out of no where with the Net.

    Think of what Reagan could have done with blogs and moveon.org in ’76! He did a similar thing on the Right in 80 the old way that Dean is doing on the Net today.

    And look out for 3rd party independant campaigns in coming elctions, what Dean is doing now will become the future baseline very quickly, with more innovations on top of current cutting edge models.

  • J. Wilde

    Dean may revolutionize the way pols get their message out to the people, but the more he opens his mouth, the more he drives me away from him. I have yet to agree with a single position of his, and considering the way he’s been waffling and flip-flopping on the issues, that’s a significant problem for him.

  • Dale Amon

    Brian. I’ve heard the same worry on a regular basis almost since ‘the beginning’. In the early days it was the annual influx of newbies as freshman arrived at college each fall and inundated our esoteric intellectual groups with clueless prattle. And of course by the next fall they were ready to worry about the next generation of newbies.

    Yes, the internet is an important political medium. We have been using it for the LP for a long time. Blogs are just the latest and so far most effective tool for that.

    I am also reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s famous line “the medium is the message”. There is a very big difference between TV and the net. TV made image and spin possible. It removed much of substance from debate because all that mattered was controlling the agenda of the small number of one to many communications outlets. When Kennedy debated with Nixon, everyone watched ABC, NBC and CBS in the US. PBS didn’t do politics in those days, it did Romper Room. Everyone read Life Magazine and watched Walter Cronkite.

    The internet medium is different. It is disastrous for spin and control, selective fact users, fact benders and outright liars. True, there is always someone to believe absolutely *anything*. But with the internet, the truth is not only out there, it is easy to find. You may judge it your own way and come to your own conclusions, but politicians can’t avoid it getting spread far and wide and fast.

    So bring them on! We’ve absorbed multitudes in the netiquette and the ethos of CMU, Stanford and MIT over the decades. We’ll do the same with the new.

    We will assimulate them.

  • Dean appears to me to be yet another political Rorschach test: we read into his statements what we fear or admire the most.

    For example, I freely admit that I may be reading into Dean the fact that he is a “tough Democrat” who is not in the remotest fearful of Bush as either politically or socially. (Helps when your grandmother was a bridesmaid at the other guy’s grandmother’s wedding.)

    I’ve just looked at the Dean website and I don’t see anything there particularly upsetting; of course I may have missed it — I am not strong on reading politician’s homilies. But I especially liked Dean’s implicit endorsement of the Bush doctrine:

    “Homeland Security starts abroad. Governor Dean would increase military, intelligence, and police focus on offensive operations against terrorists operating overseas.”

    Another place I clearly agree with Dean is that the tax cuts were a bad idea; and I beg to differ that such cuts have anything to do with “liberty.”

  • Patrick Anders

    Government is a brake on freedom for the individual. Taxes are food for the government. Tax cuts, by starving government or at least slowing its growth, promote liberty.

    Pretty basic, Mr. Sucher.

  • I will remember Mr. Anders’ perspective the next time I call my tax-supported police department to report a potential problem.

  • Patrick Anders

    Well my perspective isn’t all that unusual for readers of this blog, I gather, Mr. Sucher. I suspect it’s an odd view where you reside though.

    I’d never begrudge your right to prompt and efficient police attention in the event of an intrusion into your home. A strong local police force is a legitimate government function of which I approve and for which I pay my own taxes.

    But your example is somewhat specious. Why not try “I will remember Mr. Anders’ perspective next time I call my tax-supported radio/television station to demand accountability for biased news reporting”?

    Or next time I call my tax-supported zoning board to obtain a six inch variance on a building setback requirement?

    Or next time I call my tax-supported arts council to obtain a grant to support my guerilla street theater poetry readings?

    Or next time I call my tax-supported school to complain that I disapprove of what they’re teaching my children about the evils of western civilization?

    Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but try calling for an ambulance, a pizza delivery, and a cop. Guess which one will arrive first?

    Of course I’m lucky enough to live in a part of the world where in the event of robbery, I can supplement slow police service with my own smallish arsenal of firearms.

    So please keep my taxes low.

  • M.

    When I first saw Dean some yrs ago on a news program,he struck me,from hard eyes to talking down to the interviewer, as a typical New England puritan,rightous and intolerant and sublimely convinced of his own infallibility.
    Imagine Tony Blair without the smarmy canned charm and oily veneer of smoothness.

  • Ironchef

    Or next time I call my tax-supported pork project (how about The Big Dig in Boston, for one) to complain how my money is being spent out-of-state for others needs while my state is lacking funding for highways?

    Or next time I call my tax-supported railroad (Amtrak) to complain about how my money is wasted on an outdated, inefficient, wasteful mode of transportation.

    Or next time I call me tax-supported welfare program to complain how my money is wasted on those who insist on ruining their OWN lives and those of their children through their own abuses. (they can smoke crack all they want – I just don’t want to support it)