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Disintermediation and Politics 817

code_rage writes "Everett Ehrlich (capsule biography) writes an article in the Washington Post that examines Howard Dean's effective use of the internet to create a political organization. He says that Dean has created a 'virtual' party that has taken over the only remaining asset of value, the brand name of the Democratic party. His analysis refers to the theory of Nobel-winning economist Ronald Coase: that the size of an organization is determined by the cost of gathering information. Ehrlich's article makes some predictions about the effect that Dean's strategy will have on the political system." In a related story, there's an mp3 interview with Dick Morris, along with a couple of (appropriately) blog posts about it.
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Disintermediation and Politics

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:22PM (#7703982)
    The most interesting passage in Ehrlich's article doesn't talk about Dean at all, but the Republicans:
    And that's what Howard Dean has done. Nor is Dean alone. The same forces make the evangelical right a powerful force in the Republican Party. With its TV stations, membership lists and money, it is a party waiting to happen. When Republicans of more moderate stripes express concerns about the evangelicals "taking a walk" on the party, they are recognizing that underlying reality
    I've always wondered why Republican political figures such as Bush don't just tell the bible-pounders to go pound sand. It's not as if they're going to vote Democratic just to spite the administration, right? Ehrlich's point explains just exactly why: because if the torch-waving asshats of the American Taliban ever take their ball and go home, the Democrats will win by default, forever and ever Amen. There will be no single party capable of stopping them. And once unopposed, the Democrats will start to look a lot more like old-school Democrats (read: socialists in populists' clothing) than the Stepford Republicans they now resemble.

    Scary stuff for a right-leaning person such as myself who thought he had no use for the religious wackos that infest the Republican party...
    • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:39PM (#7704179) Homepage Journal

      torch-waving asshats of the American Taliban

      You just brought new meaning to the word "flamebait".
    • Arlen Specter did just that back at the '94 Iowa State Convention.

      He was booed from the stage.

      Good luck, god speed, have fun playing with the dispensationalists. I abandoned that dog about 10 years ago.

    • by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @05:17PM (#7705507) Journal
      I've always wondered why Republican political figures such as Bush don't just tell the bible-pounders to go pound sand.
      Because Bush is a bible-thumper.
      • I've always wondered why Republican political figures such as Bush don't just tell the bible-pounders to go pound sand.

        Because Bush is a bible-thumper.

        Not really. He is a Christian, he is a Republican, and he does occasionally make scriptural references in his speeches, but that is common of anybody who actually reads it regularly. But he is by no means one of the people the poster was talking about. I generally vote Republican (but am not a registered Republican), and I am a Christian. I gener

    • An interesting interpretation is that many non-religious-right GOP members are "South Park Republicans". I would call them Libertarians who don't know it. Maybe the Libertarian Party should buy some commercial airtime on Comedy Central during "South Park" and "Tough Crowd"? :-)

      "South Park Republicans" []:

      If Republicans are so different from mainstream America, then who voted for them? The nation has more Republican congressmen and state governors than any other political party, plus control of the White
  • Nah. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shystershep ( 643874 ) * < minus author> on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:23PM (#7703996) Homepage Journal
    I don't buy it. As far as being able to organize a campaign based on emotionally-charged issues, and thus being able to recruit volunteers with little or not effort, the internet will and has had a dramatic impact on politics (i.e., Howard Dean). But just because it allowed Dean to expand his base of support much more rapidly and widely than was ever possible before, that does not automatically mean the death of organized politics and our two-party system. How will it help moderate, hum-drum politics and politicians (probably > 90%), or even interesting politicians without a drum to beat? It won't. It'll help the radical and/or disaffected fringes to have more of a voice (which is usually a good thing), but most Americans are firmly in the middle of the road. The group that appeals most to the middle is going to be the one that wins. I'm not saying our current system will be the way it is forever (god help us if so), but I don't see any radical change anytime soon.
    • Re:Nah. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by deanc ( 2214 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:54PM (#7704363) Homepage
      How will it help moderate, hum-drum politics and politicians (probably > 90%), or even interesting politicians without a drum to beat? It won't.

      That's correct. Politicians who rose through the ranks based on their connections with party-elders and got into office due to the intertia of the voters are, in fact hurt by the internet. They will be vulnerable to politicians who are able to create networks of loyal rank-and-file supporters who "believe" in their candidacy.

      The radical change is that politicians who depend on the inertia of voters are suddenly vulnerable.
    • We have lots and lots of parties. But they don't get much press or many votes. We only have two MAJOR parties.

      I see this differently. I see this as allowing different people in different geographical areas to coordinate their efforts to push their agendas.

      Decentralized Democracy.

      Instead of having lots of parties with lots of candidates, we'll end up with a few candiadates talking to a lot of people who are the leaders of their groups.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:24PM (#7704005)
    The Dean candidacy is likely to cause great damage to the party come November 2004.

    Dean, a far-left candidate, is campaigning to the far-left in order to win the nomination. He has given little thought to the "middle": a group which is necessary to win the election. He has Bush landslide written all over his face.
    • If by far-left you mean representing the majority of Americans instead of the wealthiest 1%, then yes.
      • by JWW ( 79176 )
        I am by no means in the wealthiest 1% and there is no way in hell Dean will get my vote.

        Please, if you are a Dean supporter you better get over assuming that everyone will like Dean as much as you do. Dean has to have something better to run on other than "I hate Bush." Oh, and "I'm going to raise your taxes again" isn't the right thing either.
      • FYI, NYC firefighters fall into the highest income tax bracket.

        Oh, let me let you in a little secret too: rich people don't pay income taxes. They hire lawyers and accountants to put their money in trust funds, privately held corporations, and off shore accounts. Only the poor and the middle class are dumb enough to pay income tax.

      • Funny, that's not what things look like on the map []...

    • During the 2000 race, when Georgie W. went to Bob Jones University, he was doing it for exactly this reason. The primaries are when you court people a little to one side of your party, and then once you're elected you "move toward the center." Bush went hard to the social right, that was the signal he was flying at Bob Jones, and then once he was the nominee he soft-shoed those sides of his platform.

      During the nomination process for any office you'll see this. Tim Pawlenty, our Minnesota Governor, was muc

    • Dean is also the Dem's best hope. For 2008.

      Dean is nominated (with the help of Gore's support)
      Dean loses to Bush
      That leaves either Hillary or Gore to run against a no-name Repub in 2008.

      If the Dems with this time, (Dean, Lieberman, or Clark), Gore and Hillary out of the running until 2012. Too long to wait.
    • "Dean is far-left" is a standard right-wing straw man. Dean is not *even* left. Check out Political Compass's analysis [] of 2004 Pres. Candidates for a little perspective.
  • by Octagon Most ( 522688 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:24PM (#7704006)
    I am not necessarily a big fan of Howard Dean, but I love what he is doing to political fundraising and grassroots organization. His campaign team's efforts have really reversed the equation and empowered the small-money donors to make a difference. I think it is much better for the American political system for a candidate to raise $100 from 2 million donors than $200 million from some very large donors and interest groups. It's bottom-up campaign finance reform. Once again a technological and social solution can do what convoluted legislation cannot.

    • Actually the Democrats have more money from large organizations such as unions and PACs than any other party. Truth be known the Republicans have more small donations. The really out there parties such as Greens and Libertarians are close to 100% small donors. I don't see the Internet INFLUENCING voters much at all. Sure they have another medium to get information, but web presentations have technology issues. If you don't have broadband then streaming video is difficult, and why get if off the 'Net when yo
      • by sheldon ( 2322 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:48PM (#7704283)
        "Actually the Democrats have more money from large organizations such as unions and PACs than any other party. Truth be known the Republicans have more small donations."

        No, it's not at all true, and I have facts to back up my argument... al/donordems. asp

        The impact of unions and PACs has been negated by the McCain-Feingold prohibition against soft money donations to candidates and parties.

        • by NixterAg ( 198468 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @04:10PM (#7704548)
          You do realize that the conclusion you've drawn from your above link is a bit disingenuous, don't you? You've got 1 Republican candidate versus 10 Democratic candidates in that graph. The parent poster was correct, the Democrats do indeed have more money from large organizations, such as unions and PACs than any other party. For example, consider this link from the very same site:

          Large contributors: Dem vs. Rep []

          One of the biggest embarassments to the Democratic party is that the size of the average donation to their party is larger than the average size contributed to the Republican party. In fact, the mean size of political donations to the RNC during the past election cycle (2000) was about $50. The Democrats claim that the mean size of contributions is unimportant and will not publish it for that reason and because it somehow would invade the privacy of their contributing base in aggregate.

          And if you think that McCain-Feingold has "negated" the impact of unions and PACs, you are very mistaken.
        • by twiddlingbits ( 707452 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @04:16PM (#7704635)
          A December 18, 2002 Washington Times editorial reports that donors giving "small and medium amounts" in 2002 overwhelmingly supported the GOP, while "rich or deep-pocketed givers" hugely backed the Democrats! Those giving $200 to $999: GOP $68 million; Democrats $44 million. Those giving $1,000 to $9,999: GOP $317 million; Democrats $307 million. The "fabulously wealthy" donors of $10,000+ gave $111 million to the GOP - a whopping $29 million less than the $140 million they lavished on the Democrats! Among those who gave $100,000+, the Democrats raised $72 million - more than double the $34 million the GOP took. The fact is that in the 2002 election cycle, those who gave a million dollars or more poured $36 million into the Democrat coffers, and a paltry $3 million into the pockets of the GOP. Again: millionaire donations went Democrat by a 12:1 margin! The two parties took in about the same amount overall - GOP: $384 million; Democrats: $350 million. Just look at the Hollywood left, and you see where the big money goes. In addition, the GOP attracted 40% more individual donors! (George W. Bush set an all-time fund-raising record by collecting the most money from one-thousand-dollar donors in the history of presidential politics.) Far more people giving small amounts exist as contributors to the Republican Party - while Democrats skunked the GOP among the super-rich. That's no surprise, since nine of the twelve richest members of the United States Senate are Democrats.
    • Take a look here [] to see where the big money is coming from....and more importantly where it's going.
    • Once again a technological and social solution can do what convoluted legislation cannot.

      There's no proof here that the internet will somehow make legislation obsolete. It would be perfectly possible to pass a law that put a hard cap on the amount of money an individual could donate or spend to promote a candidate. The problem is that there's this little thing called the First Amendment that many people interpret to mean that if I want to take out a commercial to say something about a candidate, I should

    • I think it is much better for the American political system for a candidate to raise $100 from 2 million donors than $200 million from some very large donors and interest groups.

      Agreed. But unfortunately this doesn't change the fact that the candidate with the $200 million is twice as likely to win as the candidate with $100 million.

      In American politics money talks, and more money talks louder than less money. This is what we really need to reform.

  • by cliffy2000 ( 185461 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:24PM (#7704010) Journal
    Just as JFK utilized the nature of the televised debates to triumph over Nixon, Howard Dean will attempt to use the power of the internet in order to take the Democratic nomination.
    Just a prediction.
  • Ann Coulter has her typical bitchy take [] on the whole situation.
  • sigh... (Score:2, Interesting)

    I'm so tired of being presented with the "choice" between "Rich White Man A" and "Rich White Man B" at each level of the process. In the 2000 primaries, both parties #1 and #2 were "Rich White Man" and here we are in 2004, and the Democrats are presenting a many-headed "Rich White Man" field of "choices". Kerry, Dean, Clark, Edwards, Gephardt.

    Screw them all. I'd vote for freakin' SHARPTON if he makes it to a ballot near me, and I think he's INSANE.

    I'll probably vote for Gen. Clark between the top two "cho
    • Amen to that. And it's not just Rich White Man A vs. B -- it's Rich White Man that went to stuffy New England prep school 1 and then Yale/Harvard vs. RWM that went to stuffy New England prep school 2 and then Yale/Harvard.

      "Both Howard Brush Dean III and George Walker Bush hail from the same White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (Wasp) establishment: a world of blue blood and old money, of private schools and deb balls, of family connections and inherited first names. Their fathers and grandfathers were educated a

  • Side stepping. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by redtoade ( 51167 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:36PM (#7704147) Homepage Journal

    How does this internet fund raising effect the current climate of pro-campaign finance reform?

    According to Kerry, Republicans have been contributing to Dean's campaign on the Internet. []. Whether this is true or not, it very well could be. How would we ever know?

    I'd like someone to explain to me how this is actually "grass roots," and not possibly one of the major parties (if not both) giving large sums in small packets under various proxies?

    • Re:Side stepping. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by weddellharbor ( 732345 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:47PM (#7704280)
      I can verify that. Both my wife and I are republicans, and we have contributed to Dr. Dean's campaign. Not for the reasons Mr. Kerry alleges, however. We think Dean has a shot at defeating the incumbent, whom we desperately want to see become a private citizen once more, and the sooner the better.
    • How does "Republicans contributing to Dean" translate to "financial shennanigans"? What Kerry was trying to say, by my reading, was that people in general are so dissatisifed with Bush's policies that even moderately hard-line Republicans will back what they see as a Democratic contender that's more true to their beliefs than their own party is. (Not to say that Dean's a moderately hard-line conservative - from everything I've seen, he's both a liberal and a conservative, depending on which belief/policy we

    •, a Republican leaning blog has been promoting Dean as the candidate they want the Democrats to run.

      Back in June, 2003 they told readers to donate to Dean. ndit_ar chive.html#200428465

      I don't know what to make of it, not sure what impact this has had. The right-wing media has been given marching orders to talk about Dean's inevitable nomination, because apparently that's who the GOP wants to run against.
    • Simply put, you aren't paying attention. The Dean Phenomenon is about large numbers of small donors. For example, in the latest fundraiser (which is in response to Gore's recent Dean endorsement), just under $600,000 were donated over the internet from
      just under 7500 people. That averages out to around 80 dollars per person.

      Here's what you have agree to, to donate, by the way:

      I am making this contribution (and paying this credit charge) with my own personal funds, and I am not using funds provided by
  • by FearUncertaintyDoubt ( 578295 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:37PM (#7704152)
    ...I'm a Democrat
  • by sampson7 ( 536545 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:38PM (#7704170)
    What a wonderful theory. If only it fit the facts. Howard Dean has taken the internet and done amazing things with it, but the concept that he is somehow hijacking the Democratic party simply isn't accurate.

    * Dean was governor for 11 years. He got there through traditional Democratic party politics.

    * I remember having a conversation with some Vermont relatives back shortly after the 1996 convention about whether Dean would run in 2000.

    Basically, Dean has been an up-and-coming force in the Democratic party for a number of years. While his outsider rhetoric and outspoken opposition to the war has helped fuel his candidacy, he is still a product of the Democratic party, with its grassroots activists and door-to-door campaigning.

    Lastly -- a quick anecdote. Ralph Reed (formerly of the Christian Coalition, all around brilliant evil-doer, and now chairing Bush's reelection campaign in the Southeast) recently gave a speech talking about how according to all their polls, on the Friday before the election, Bush would have won all of the key battleground states had the election been held then. But instead, the Democratic apparatus came out in force and turned the election into a statistical dead heat. His best line went something like this:

    Republicans think the campaign ends the Friday before the election, after the last television ad is bought, the last billboard put up.

    Democrats believe the election starts the Friday before the election. GOTV (get out the vote) efforts don't really begin in earnest until those last 72 hours. The Democratic machine was what turned a sure Bush victory into a fraudulent mockery of an election (I try to be even handed... really I do, but facts is facts).

    Dean's improbable sprint to internet cash-and-glory will only get him so far. And then the incredibly labor intensive huge Democratic machine will have to take over. The article completely misses that fact. While the internet portion of the campaign may allow for a small control group, the actual work still has to be done by what is essentially a huge national corporation with a precense in every precint in America. That's a large group of people.

    A pretty theory with some definite substance -- just not as clear-cut as the author would have us think.
    • by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @04:10PM (#7704552) Homepage
      Dean's improbable sprint to internet cash-and-glory will only get him so far. And then the incredibly labor intensive huge Democratic machine will have to take over.

      If you look at Dean's main Website [] and official blog [] you'll notice that it's not just fundraising that's going on. There are 150,000 people involved in Dean Meetups [] and thousands more have already sent over 100,000 handwritten letters to voters in New Hampsire and Iowa. Plus there are scores of independent websites discussing and promoting Dean from various perspectives. He's got more troops on the ground than the Democratic Party - particularly if you count the union troops he's already recruited as his and not the Democrats', per se.

      What Dean's doing isn't taking over the "Left Wing" or even the Democratic Party so much as it is taking over the middle of the road. He's steamrolling right down the center with a good dose of traditional American common sense (although his invocation of Thomas Paine [] is a bit lame, at least it's an error in the right direction). He's redefining what the center of the road means.

      And this whole thing about his - and his fans' - "anger" is just off the point. George W. is an idiot, and he's calling the Emperor naked and saying clearly that we should replace him with all haste. People aren't angry at Bush so much as disappointed and disgusted because Bush doesn't live up to the Main Street American values that Dean invokes.

      The cynicism of the corporate-owned press is that we don't have any values to speak of beyond consumerism and the money to support our "American way" habits (and their advertisers). According to this cynicism all politicians are a bit false, so calling them naked is a bit beside the point. Dean's not a cynic, not false, and is using the Net to communicate directly with others who love America and see higher ideals as once again attainable by it, rather than a continued slide into blustering corruption.

      He' proving the Republic still has some blood in its veins. He's no Thomas Jefferson (alas), but could well become the best US president since FDR.
  • We should all thank Mr. George W Bush for starting the internet political revolution. We should also thank the RIAA, MPAA, and websites such as slashdot. If any of you would like to see an interesting new political site following the Dean method to success, theres a new pro open source anti RIAA site called [] With enough money from donations they plan to actually hire lobbyists. They also keep a list of politicians who support P2P and Open source vs those who dont so the vot
  • I was just going to put this in a JE but -- it's Friday and it made me laugh so I'll do it here. Links in chronological order, but probably you should start reading from the end.

    New York Times Magazine article [] about the Dean campaign as therapy group for breakup victims, featuring Clay Johnson bitching about ex Merrill.

    WSJ ridicules Clay Johnson []

    A pissed-off Merrill writes to the Journal [] wondering what the hell passes for journalism at the Times (no direct link, search for "Merrill") and, as they note, sh

  • Undoubtedly there will be many posters saying that this will never happen and that the two-party system will live on forever - nothing will ever change.

    I don't know if they are correct or if the author of the article is (you read the article right?). What I do know is that the potential of a shift from a duopoly to a three, or more, party system does seem to be occurring. The fact of the matter is that the country is NOT as evenly divided as some would like you to believe, with most people sitting in the
  • No different (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:47PM (#7704271) Homepage
    This isn't any different than how the NeoConservative movement hijacked the Republican party in the 1980's (under the threat of Soviet Nuclear Annihilation), and how the Christian Wackjob movement hijacked the Reform party in 1999 (under threat of the previous Reform party being the only alternative for rational sane Americans).

    Dean's hijacked the Democratic party on the basis of the Anti-Plutocrat movement. More power to em. If the internet was a key vehicle for that, I'm not really suprised, but since the internet exists for all people, that sword cuts both ways.
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:50PM (#7704309)
    Coase's theory of the relationship between information gathering costs and organization size is interesting, but not the most interesting impact of the internet on politics. One side effect of low-cost high-speed information gathering (and distribution) systems is that the competing parties can adjust their offers to voters using a much more rapid feedback cycle. Intensive use of polls, focus groups, trial balloons, e-mail, etc. let candidates fine tune their message like never before.

    The two party system engenders a careful political calculus of stepping just far enough over the middle to steal an opponent's votes without alienating the extremists in the party. The democrats will try to appear just far enough right of center and the republicans will try to appear just far enough left of center to win. Everyone is shooting for the same 50.1% of the electoral votes and has the information gathering systems and information distribution systems to get it.

    Unless one side achieves a huge advantage through external events (e.g., Dean wills if the economy tanks, weather disrupts voting in a key state, etc.) this will mean more close elections that reveal the statistical inaccuracies of our voting systems. It won't surpirse me if the Supreme Court will again decide the outcome of a presidential election in the near future.
  • ...what effect the Dean campaign will have on the political process:

    [] m
  • by cheezit ( 133765 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @03:59PM (#7704435) Homepage
    So an economist's theory from seventy years ago explains the inevitability of American two-party politics, and the upcoming decline of those politics. Sounds good, but...

    What about other countries? America is virtually alone in having only two viable political parties. Most of the rest of the world's democracies have more, and some have embraced a much more dynamic multi-party coalition form of government. Was their "cost of information" a lot lower?

    I think the author's analysis discounts many other factors. American politics is affected by American's much weaker community affiliation, propensity for movement, high economic mobility, etc. Under these conditions the cost of information may be important.

    In countries where (for instance) tribal or religious ties are strong, you could lower the cost of information/political organizing all you want and have no significant effect.

    Then again maybe I should be over on k5 with this...:)
    • The reason why many countries have more parties/more variety is because they use systems like single transferrable vote or proportional representation.

      Here in the UK, you end up with huge amounts of tactical voting. People might like Labour, but prefer the Liberal Democrats, and dislike the Conservatives, but if they perceive that the seat is Conservative vs Labour with LDs trailing, they will not choose who they want, but who will defeat who they don't want.

      Then, there's the issue of "safe seats". If y

  • InterVote98 is a turnkey web service sold by Assets New Media to TV stations.
    TV stations use InterVote98 to provide web-based campaign and election coverage for their viewers.

    InterVote98 was a few years ahead of its time.
    It didn't change the world; in fact, it's defunct.

    There is some analysis at How InterVote98 Could Change the World [].
  • Fraud? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Saint Stephen ( 19450 ) on Friday December 12, 2003 @05:52PM (#7705955) Homepage Journal
    How many times can the American people be fooled?

    The dot-com era showed how clearly and blatantly easy it is to misrepresent your revenue, and your whole value, to an extrordinary degree.

    And here comes somebody with a result that *shouldn't* be happening, and yet it is happening, and people just go: "Well, gosh, ain't that internet something!"

    No, it ain't. I'm not saying it's definite, I'm just saying "raising wildly unexpected amounts of money" sets my bullshit radar off. I would think all the frauds of the past 3 years would make you suspicous too.

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous