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January 26, 2004

Is Social Software Bad for the Dean Campaign?

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Posted by Clay Shirky

I’m getting the same cognitive dissonance listening to political handicappers explain Dean’s dismal showing in Iowa that I used to get listening to financial analysts try to explain dot com mania with things like P/E ratios and EBITDA. A stock’s value is not set by those things; it is set by buyer and seller agreeing on price. In ordinary markets, buyers and sellers use financial details to get to that price, but sometimes, as with dot com stocks, the way prices get agreed on has nothing to do with finance.

In the same way, talking about Dean’s third-place showing in terms of ‘momentum’ and ‘character’, the P/E and EBITDA of campaigns, may miss the point. Dean did poorly because not enough people voted for him, and the usual explanations – potential voters changed their minds because of his character or whatever – seem inadequate to explain the Iowa results. What I wonder is whether Dean has accidentally created a movement (where what counts is believing) instead of a campaign (where what counts is voting.)

And (if that’s true) I wonder if his use of social software helped create that problem.

We know well from past attempts to use social software to organize groups for political change that it is hard, very hard, because participation in online communities often provides a sense of satisfaction that actually dampens a willingness to interact with the real world. When you’re communing with like-minded souls, you feel like you’re accomplishing something by arguing out the smallest details of your perfect future world, while the imperfect and actual world takes no notice, as is its custom.

There are many reasons for this, but the main one seems to be that the pleasures of life online are precisely the way they provide a respite from the vagaries of the real world. Both the way the online environment flattens interaction and the way everything gets arranged for the convenience of the user makes the threshold between talking about changing the world and changing the world even steeper than usual.

We also know from usability testing that the difference between “would you” and “will you” is enormous — when “would you use this product?” changes to “will you use it?”, user behavior frequently changes dramatically. Apple’s eWorld imploded after the beta testers all dropped the service once it started charging, despite enthusiastically declaring that they would pay for such a service.

“Would you vote for Howard Dean?” and “Will you vote for Howard Dean?” are two different questions, and it may be that a lot of people who “would” vote for Dean, in some hypothetical world where you could vote in the same way you can make a political donation on Amazon, didn’t actually vote for him when it meant skipping dinner with friends to drive downtown in the freezing cold and venture into some church basement with people who might prefer some other candidate to Dean.

The Dean campaign has brilliantly conveyed a message to its supporters, particularly its young ones, that their energy and enthusiasm can change the world. Some of this was by design, but much of it was a function of people looking for something, finding it in Dean, and then using tools like MeetUp and weblogs to organize themselves. The story of the bottom-up and edge-in style adopted by Dean’s staff has been told a thousand times, and it’s a good one.

But what if this style has also created a sense of entitlement or even inevitability about the change? What if communing with fellow believers has created the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from participation in a shared effort, but hasn’t created a sense of urgency or threat? What if Dean supporters believe that believing is enough, and what if the Dean campaign’s brilliant use of tools to gather the like-minded both online and off has fed that feeling?

Voting, the heart of the matter, is both dull and depressing. Standing around an elementary school cafeteria is not a great place to feel like your energy and excitement is going to change the world, and unlike getting together with like-minded Deaniacs, where affirmation can be the order of the day, the math of the voting booth undermines any sense of inevitability – everyone in line not voting for Dean cancels your vote.

When the Clinton campaign used an MIT-furnished e-mail list in the 1992 campaign, they didn’t use it socially, they used it as a fast cheap fax, and they used it to help them manage the traditional news cycle. Many of us assumed that this was the crack in the dam, and that online tools would become critical to organizing the voters themselves, first in 1996, and then in 2000, and we were surprised when they didn’t.

Finally, when Dean (and Trippi and Teachout and Rosen) came along, we thought “This is it – these are the people finally making it happen!” And in a way they are, by providing the model –- all top 3 finishers in Iowa use MeetUp, and they all have weblogs. But the Dean campaign used those things organically, while everyone else is playing catch up. And many of us (self very much included) thought that the inorganic adoption of social tools by Kerry, Clark, et al left them at a disadvantage.

Now, though, I’m not so sure. Maybe the adoption of those tools by a traditional campaign is a better way to fuse of 21st century organizing and 20th century “Get out the Vote” efforts. This would be especially true if these tools, used on their own, risk creating a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that doesn’t translate to driving down to the polls in freezing weather.

When I was 19, I remember seeing a bunch of guys in a parking lot in New Jersey absolutely rocking out to Twisted Sister at top volume, “Oh we’re not gonna take it, No, we ain’t gonna take it, Oh we’re not gonna take it anymo-o-o-o-ore” and I remember thinking the song was using up the energy that would otherwise go into rebellion.

Just rocking out to Twisted Sister so hard, and feeling so good about it, made those guys feel like they’d already stood up to The Man, making it less likely that they would actually do so in the real world, when the time came. And I’m wondering if the Dean campaign has been singing a version of that song, or, rather, I’m wondering if the bottom-up tools they’ve been using have been helping their supporters sing that song to each other.

Comments (44) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. Tom Steinberg on January 26, 2004 5:04 PM writes...

This supports a theme I've been banging on about for a while now, the idea that 'politics as usual' is not sclerotic and ossified, but is in fact a fine tuned, turbo injected, iteratively refined wonder-machine powered by The Message. The battle may be New Tech vs Old Tech, but the Old Tech is actually incredibly good at doing what counts - getting enough people out to win elections. When Old Tech starts getting challenged by New we shouldn't be surprised if the New Tech adoptees have problems - they're up against The Message, a prize fighter which has won every major political bout for thirty years. This isn't to say that it can't win, just that the Old Tech approach is still one hell of a fighter, and we'll need more than a messianic faith in emergence to beat it.

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2. Lucas on January 26, 2004 6:28 PM writes...

I agree. But I'm not sad about it. The world needs more active activists like it needs a whole in the head. Islamic terrorists are activists. People who know all the answers are activists. These people are annoying, quite frankly, and in large numbers scary.

What it needs is a little less righteousness and a lot more questioning. It needs people brave enough to ask the tough ones, and a way for them to feel safer by being able to organize based on their working hypotheses. It needs a way for people to organically and interactively create authorities in a ruthlessly meritocratic fashion.

But then again, if I am pushing for this, does that make me an activist? I think I'll just go live my life now...

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3. Adam Greenfield on January 26, 2004 7:04 PM writes...

(Full disclosure: I spent a reasonable amount of January working on a application of moblogging to the Dean campaign.)

Your analysis feels correct to me as far as it goes, Clay, but there's another factor that jumped right out at me in all the post-Iowa-results reportage that probably has still more to do witht he way things shaped up.

And this is that it *wasn't people's neighbors* ringing their doorbell and asking them to vote Dean. It wasn't people who resembled the potential voters in broad demographic or psychographic outline. It was a cadre of out-of-staters who went so far as to visibly brand themselves out-of-staters with the orange hats - dumb, dumb move.

Nobody likes to be told how to think, least of all by self-appointed, parachuted-in vanguardists. Where the Dean Internet campaign "didn't scale," I tend to think it was in the opposite sense than the one in which we generally use this phrase. It scaled up just fine, which is what fooled all of us (and much of the national media). It simply didn't scale *down*, to neighborhoods and districts and precincts and wards, where it might have motivated people if it had ever once touched a chord of commonality or shared experience.

That's something that still can't be injected into a campaign, no matter how technohip it is. That's my reading, anyway.

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4. Robert Castelo on January 26, 2004 8:22 PM writes...

Seems to me that Dean's on-line activism allowed him to attract a lot of media attention because of the novelty value of the techniques his campaign was using - unfortunately this overshadowed whatever message he was actualy trying to get across to the electorate.

For Dean's campaign organisers, the medium was the message.

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5. Jeff Jarvis on January 26, 2004 9:45 PM writes...

I think you're right. But it's perhaps not quite as ominous as that. The campaign needn't be a cult. Look at it from the tool perspective, and the weblog was really a fancy forum where Deanies spoke with Deanies and that's as necessarily insular as a campaign rally. But campaigns are not just about rallies with the believers; they are about talking to unbelievers, too.
I wrote an oped about this.
Check out Jack Balkin's very smart comments on this tool perspective here.
Last week, I asked whether blogging hurt Dean. I said it didn't. But not using blogging right -- as a means to reach out and not just in -- didn't help.
And as I remember, you argued with about this at lunch.

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6. Anonymous on January 26, 2004 11:07 PM writes...


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7. anon on January 26, 2004 11:27 PM writes...

Here's to Jersey and memories, anyway. For those that may not know, Bif Naked's cover of the song figured prominently in the selection of music for those fighting Iraq II. (After all, Iraq I was the first war where everyone got to choose their own soundtrack, to quote PJ O'Rourke. As a trivia aside, Armed Forces Network played "Rock the Casbah" as the first strike package was time over target during Iraq I.)

But I digress. The difference you highlight is very accurate. This is the reason why voting - or just about any other exercise of civic duty, like zoning meetings or highway cleanup days - are considered the burden of democracy. It's work, ladies and gentleman, not just the chatter of the salon. Dean's campaign captured the attention of those chattering - it has not yet demonstrated it has a comeasurate ability to influence those that carry out the rather more mundane aspects of the actual work. This is not likely to change, no matter how many glass-breaking moments the candidate enjoys on stage.

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8. mike wing on January 27, 2004 2:06 AM writes...

I think you've put your finger on a fascinating moment. The insularity of the Dean campaign, which you very persuasively describe, happened in full public view. This was as far from a smoke-filled room as one could get. (It replaced the smoke-filled room with thousands of latte-soaked ones.) And yet the millions of people in it managed not to notice that they were being self-absorbed and self-reinforcing (and, to some extent, delusional). Whether one describes the mistake in terms of discussing-vs-voting or out-of-state vs local, the basic point is still that there was a disconnect between the gratifications of community and the act of changing the world -- or, at least, changing it in ways the world currently recognizes as meaningful. Enterprises of great pith and moment, and all that...

But whichever impulse one prefers -- the Romantic or the pragmatic -- there's no question that they came up against each other here. What we have here is evidence of the seductive power of a Movement, as Lucas notes above.

In any event, I'd say that Dean himself had that epiphany -- and that it came precisely because of his now-infamous rant. Whatever else you can say about The Scream, it was clearly an expression of desperate fealty to his Children's Crusade -- to the intoxicating belief that that's what he was leading, rather than just being a politician running for office. Think of the litany of lands that would succumb to the Deanies' manifest destiny: ... Michigan, Washington... yeaaah!

What he must have realized the morning after -- when his sincere emotional self-exposure became the topic of nearly universal ridicule -- was that most people out there weren't about to join this march, that they weren't, in fact, looking for a Pied Piper. The electorate of Iowa made a decidedly considered decision, and the late-night talk shows derided the belief in destiny. In all likelihood, that's a realization he never would have come to if he hadn't shown himself to the world -- and to himself -- in precisely this way.

And, one must say, Dean has handled that sobering epiphany very well. He stopped, recognized the delusion, and neutralized the damage by mocking himself on one of those very talk shows.

What's left of his campaign? I expect he'll plateau. He won't plunge into a black hole, as it seemed might happen just a few days ago. But what, exactly, IS his campaign, if not a crusade? What else realistically can it turn into? He may not be Howard the Scream anymore, but it's probably too much of a stretch for him to morph into Howard the President.

The image I'm struck by, though, is imagining that moment when he himself confronted the surprise and hurt of how limited his movement really was/is. This certainly isn't the end of the Net in politics. But it's a very interesting
and instructive moment in the coevolutionary dance of meat space and cyberspace, of DNA and meme.

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9. Seth Gordon on January 27, 2004 8:36 AM writes...

American politicians have known for years that the voters in a primary are a subset of the voters in the general election, and the sort of campaign that appeals to primary voters won't appeal to general-election voters. Therefore, politicians in races with contested primaries generally move to the center after they have the party nomination in the bag, but try not to alienate the base that delivered the nomination to them.

Dean's Iowa collapse reveals an extension of this principle: if your campaign depends on heavy grass-roots support before the primaries even begin, the people who provide that support are a subset of the people who will actually vote in the primaries. Same paradox, same strategy. If Dean had changed his style back in December, hitting the late-night talk shows and stressing how moderate his platform and record are, he wouldn't be in this situation now.

(More on this topic on my own blog, here. For a more cynical take, see Seth Finkelstein's comment here.)

I wouldn't say that Dean is going to recover from this and go on to win the nomination, but considering how often reports of his political death have been exaggerated, I wouldn't write another obituary for him yet. The latest tracking polls for Arizona, Oklahoma, and South Carolina (which have their primaries next Tuesday) all have "undecided" in a statistical tie for first place, so the race is still very open.

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10. Valdis Krebs on January 27, 2004 10:53 AM writes...

Adam Greenfield hits the bullseye in his comments above!

Flying in many strangers that were recruited on the internet shows that the Dean campaign understands and utilizes 'technology' well, but they are clueless about 'sociology'!

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11. noreen sullivan on January 27, 2004 11:28 AM writes...

Perhaps it is because they were using the wrong social software. Blogs tend to create a feeling of self importance. I got up this morning, care about this and this and that. Meetup allows people to meet about a topic but has no tracking mechanism that keeps the people connected. Social software that makes people neighbors is what is needed. Look at Friendster. Now if the guy in the orange hat was the person you had been talking to not slashdot arguing to a fine point, then you would consider him a neighbor. It is the introduction mechanisms and the ability to track data that is needed. Dean made a start but he fell short because the online experience and the offline experience didn't sync up. Technology and socialogy can merge in a social platform. It is what I do all day long.

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12. K.G. Schneider on January 27, 2004 12:42 PM writes...

Not to be too reductive, but if Dean bloggers aren't Dean voters, then he can't win. I'm not too worried about the Dean campaign flying in strangers to get out the vote--that's not unusual. I'm more concerned by Clay's other excellent points, underscored by the Twisted Sister analogy. Blogging for Dean may be a satisficing activity that ends up draining away campaign efforts and, most important of all, votes.

I'm now wondering if we have created two cultures, one that decides who's in power, and one that talks about it.

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13. Stuart Gannes on January 27, 2004 12:58 PM writes...

Clay's Twisted Sister vignette reminds me of the Jefferson Airplane 1960s album "Volunteers."

I still remember the lyrics:
"Look what's happening in the streets.
Got to revolution.
Got to revolution."

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14. Steph Kent on January 27, 2004 1:27 PM writes...

A movement or a campaign?

Also about large group dynamics? This is posted on Many 2 Many: A group weblog on social software.

Clay Shirky argues that Dean has created

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15. Jen on January 27, 2004 3:02 PM writes...

Your Twisted Sister reference hits on an idea I've been wondering about in dissecting the failure of the recent Matt Gonzalez for Mayor campaign here in San Francisco. It's quite possible that the pro-Gonzalez supporters of techies, artists, and Burning Man devotees had enough votes to beat Newsom. But while the Gonzalez campaign was good at getting bloggers blogging and parties/raves together, they failed to get enough voters out on election day. Part of it could be the "disaffected youth" excuse (though I feel like I've heard that for the past 10+ years), part of it could be that he was tapping into a base that expresses itself via art and music but not votes, or some intersection of the two. Because I've always voted I can't put myself in the shoes of people who would blog or attend parties for a candidate but then not vote. But perhaps it is that simple. You become part of a "movement," and then assume that there's enough other people out there doing the voting for you, it's ok if you can't make it to the polls. Curious.

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16. Jeremy Lyon on January 27, 2004 3:18 PM writes...

Although many fascinating and cogently argued points have been made by Clay and others on this thread, I can't help but feel that we're all obsessing on the role of social software in the campaign, when Occam's razor says there are simpler explanations.

Like, people lied to the pollsters. They wanted to vote for Dean, but wanted to beat Bush more. At the moment of decision they went with Kerry because they were convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Dean was "too angry" to win.

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17. Clay Shirky on January 27, 2004 3:34 PM writes...

_Like, people lied to the pollsters. They wanted to vote for Dean, but wanted to beat Bush more. At the moment of decision they went with Kerry because they were convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Dean was “too angry” to win._

I have a hard time believing this is the sole explanation, not because of the fact of Dean's loss, but because of its magnitude.

Not only did Dean fail to win Iowa, eviscerating the inevitability story, and not only did he fail to come in second, he came in a distant third, getting half of Kerry's numbers, 14 points behind *Edwards*, and only 8 points ahead of a guy who dropped out of the race. If Gephardt had dropped out on Sunday, and _every single one_ of his supporters had swung to Dean, Dean would _still_ have come in third.

Standard political analysis could explain a fall from clear front-runner to a strong second place showing, but seeing Dean come in a distant third suggests to me that something more structural is at work. Dean has obviously unleashed a powerful new set of forces, but his use of them has not translated into votes, and the enormity of the gap between perception and reality suggests something other than a few swing voters changing their minds based on his character.

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18. Rusty Foster on January 28, 2004 12:01 AM writes...

Clay, I think you're edging toward the right idea, but you're wrong in focusing solely on the online stuff, and in using Dean as an example.

Dean's raised over 10 million dollars in two straight quarters (Bill Clinton's previous record-setting best quarter was $8 millon), and got 3500 people to go to Iowa at their own expense to volunteer. Volunteering for a campaign is not self-satisfying rock-star work. It's trudging around in the freezing cold, knocking on the doors of people who don't want to talk to you. It's sitting in a drab formerly abandoned building calling people on the phone who don't want to talk to you. It's driving a shuttle van back and forth from the airport, over and over. The fact that they showed up is astonishing. That comes down to the internet.

Now what they did with the money, and what they did with those 3500 idealistic folks is another matter. That's the field operation, and it failed miserably in Iowa. The field ops were not, as far as I know, too busy blogging pictures of their cats to handle the strategy. Their strategy and execution just didn't work. They didn't keep in contact with their pledged caucus-goers, and they didn't teach the people who actually went to the caucuses what to do when they got there. It had nothing to do with the internet -- it was a failure of the offline campaign.

It's clear that a campaign that's solely focused on the net won't win races. I agree with your larger point, that a successful campaign needs both the new and the old. But Dean in Iowa is a bad example of that point, because the failure wasn't that they thought the internet would win the race for them (despite the relentless drumbeat of that very notion from the self-satisfied chattering heads of the blogosphere), it was just that they screwed up. If they'd run the same strategy and done the same things on caucus day in an election where the net didn't exist, they'd have lost much, much worse.

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19. Fazal Majid on January 28, 2004 4:08 AM writes...

A simpler explanation - bloggers and Internet users might not be as prevalent in Iowa than in the urban coasts.

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20. Gideon Rosenblat on January 28, 2004 10:23 AM writes...

Very interesting, Clay, I think you point to something even bigger here - namely the difficulty of relying on "weak ties" for work that requires significant effort. Weak ties work well for facilitating simple, easy transactions, but harder ones like voting require stronger, more committed ties.

More details here

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21. Kristine Gual on January 28, 2004 2:24 PM writes...

This is a thought-provoking article, Clay. I agree that the Dean campaign's rise and fall is reminiscent of the dot com boom and bust, but in a different way.

I actually don't think that the social software used by the campaign ultimately led to inaction. Thousands of people, including myself, used the software to facilitate taking action - we used it to arrange events, meet people, and work on the campaign. I've put more actual work into this campaign than any other political campaign in my life, and it was thanks to the software. Many people I met while working on the campaign had never worked on a campaign before; using the social software was what motivated them.

I think that the key question here is *who* was motivated to take action for this campaign by the software, and the answer is the same as who was motivated to put all their chips on the dot-com bubble - technically-savvy urban elites like me, who aren't necessarily in touch with the priorities and interests of the rest of America. As someone who actually went to Iowa to canvas for Dean, I agree with Adam's comment that our appearance, strategy and message were totally out of touch with what the Iowa voters were looking for. It reminded me of the dot-com bubble, when all these like-minded people build up this immense hype amongst themselves (and put an enormous amount of work into it as well)... but failed because their products didn't resonate at all with the general public.

It seems to me that the Dean social software suceeded at creating a powerful, hardworking subculture. The problem was that they haven't been able to break out of that subculture and reach a general audience.

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22. Jeff Einstein on January 28, 2004 2:41 PM writes...

One of the many interesting questions raised by Clay's thinkpiece on the efficacy of the Web in political campaigns is the Web's ability--or lack thereof--to translate belief into action. But the primary product of all commercial media--interactive or otherwise--is inertia, just like any other addiction. Action beyond interaction with the medium itself is anathema to the medium and the nt commercial advertising that drives it. This explains the high cost of advertising, even and especially in an age of virtually limitless bandwidth: The cost of media in any medium nowadays has much less to do with the laws of supply and demand, and much more to do with the cost of overcoming the inertia generated by the medium itself.

Voter turnout started to edge downward about the same time cable television vastly expanded the commercial advertising bandwidth. The performance of individual advertising campaigns--political not least--started to decrease in relationship to the increased bandwidth and the increased advertising clutter it engendered.

Political campaigns spent an ever-increasing amount of their campaign funds on television, and before long the commercial clutter became the primary purveyor of political messages, however ad hominem and .

Of course, we have become every bit as inured to political attack ads as we have to the ads of any other advertiser--beer, lotto, consumer credit, or whatever. And we treat them all the same way: We avoid them like the plague. In fact, many of us invest in personal and corporate technologies explicitly designed to eradicate advertising--political or otherwise--from our lives.

The medium is very much the message, and the tendency to confuse interaction online with interaction offline is very real. Clay is perfectly correct in his assertion that people who interact passionately online are done interacting by the time they log off.

But the real explanation for the Dean campaign's inability to translate online belief into votes can be found in the primary function of commercial media across the board: to generate inertia and maintain the status quo.

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23. t.a. on January 28, 2004 10:28 PM writes...

hey kids, you forget: tens of thousands of people got together at least once a month, face-to-face. more than any other campaign, and completely unprecedented in modern political history. this was real life, not virtual. we continue to meet and work (not always on dean stuff, either) offline. and this happened because we first found each other online, the place where we maintain many important communicative links.

and if anyone considers iowa a loss, they are simply playing the media's this-is-the-big-game infotainment game. 20% of iowa's dems showed up for the caucuses -- and this proves what? dean finished ahead of his polling numbers in NH, and well ahead of what was expected after iowa (and the subsequent media freak show).

here's an idea: let's wait til dean has actually lost the nomination before concluding the software or people or anyone else failed. at this point, dean leads in delegate count! he tot 2/3 of the NH delegates. he has strong organization in AZ, and MO is totally up for grabs. so calm down and let events actually occur before deciding what those events are or what they mean.

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24. Clay Shirky on January 28, 2004 10:41 PM writes...

_hey kids, you forget: tens of thousands of people got together at least once a month, face-to-face. more than any other campaign, and completely unprecedented in modern political history. this was real life, not virtual_

I don't forget that -- I've known Scott Heiferman for 10 years, am on the advisory board of MeetUp, and have often pointed to it as the avatar of a new type of social software.

But this heightens, not dampens, my point. All these Dean supporters meeting up, but it doesn't translate into votes. Why not?

_and if anyone considers iowa a loss, they are simply playing the media’s this-is-the-big-game infotainment game._

I'm so stupefied at the ignorance of this statement, I hardly know what to write.

I mean that literally -- I've been staring at the screen, fingers itching but inert, for a couple of minutes now, trying to figure out what to say to someone who defines a third-place finish in a state widely tipped for Dean, a finish so poor that if he had garnered every vote for Gephardt as well he would _still_ have been in third place, as anything other than a loss.

All I can say is that you, t.a., are my new Exhibit A of people whose worldview regarding Dean is so secure as to be unaffected by reality. Dean lost Iowa, and then he lost New Hampshire. He may yet win the Democratic nomination, but he lost those two states.

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25. Adam Greenfield on January 29, 2004 2:42 AM writes...

...and I'm not even going to comment on the arrogance contained in and if anyone considers iowa a loss, they are simply playing the media’s this-is-the-big-game infotainment game.

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26. Steve on January 29, 2004 4:53 AM writes...

If you scooped all of the intllectuals knowledgeable about politics up in a basket you'd have a big basket. But the world would be lefted, the orchard wouldn't miss them, and there would be a need for shitload of baskets to pick haul off the rest of the people. But it is fun. And all the energy going into this self flagellation is being diverted from ringing doorbells and stuffing envelopes in places like Missouri. But enjoy...after all, the real joy of the campaign is gone (fired) and only the candidate, apparently of little interest, remains now. LOL

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27. iconoclastia on January 29, 2004 8:52 AM writes...

I volunteered for the Dean campaign on Tuesday in New Hampshire, which let me see some of the action on the ground. We had an ARMY of supporters on phone banks, canvassing, and doing visibility. Kerry headquarters was empty compared to Dean HQ. Kerry only had one person holding a sign for a few hours at my polling location, whereas we had at least 4 people there from open to close.

90% of the volunteers were under 30. 50% were probably under 21. And there's the problem: there is a small, devoted hard core of young people who are interested and involved in politics. They want to change things and help out any way they can. One young New Hampshire volunteer said that he cried when he cast his ballot. These people are passionate and very, very rare. Talking with the other volunteers, we all pretty much agreed that "young people suck".

The people who actually voted on Tuesday were the usual staid group: parents, retirees, veterans, and churchgoers. Dean has appealed to the young and the hip. The problem is that after spending two hours freezing outside an elementary school, I only saw three people describable as young and hip.

Dean's base is among people who just don't vote. Social software has nothing to do with it.

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28. Bob Jacobson - Dean Issues Forum on January 29, 2004 10:19 AM writes...

At issue isn't the use of SNS per se, or its effectiveness. It's been well used to build an ever-expanding bubble of "Dean awareness." What's at issue is too much talk about it and not enough focus on building additional IT tools, on more conventional communication models, for use in groundfloor campaign operaions.

How quickly the revolutionary becomes the status quo.

And it's still happening here. "Let's talk more about blogging..."

The campaign isn't over and some of us are continuing with building campaign power tools. Now that the perilous financial state of the campaign is known -- something that a thousand blogs never revealed -- these tools may not emerge in time for Howard Dean's use. Or they may. But in either case, at least they'll emerge.

The question then is, how to take something IT that's been stamped with one candidate's identity so strongly, and have another candidate adopt it? Do we have to make the other candidate want to steal it? (Ego problems among politicians are more daunting that IT models,) And then we have the Bush IT juggernaut to face, for all the marbles....

Thanks for an insightful commentary, Clay. The debate you highlight has been going on for awhile, but the means didn't exist to get it on the table without damaging the Dean campaign. Now maybe there's enough looseness in the ranks to think more clearly. And Dean's finally iin charge, in the 11th hour.

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29. Adam Greenfield on January 29, 2004 10:19 AM writes...

I wasn't going to comment again, but this is just too important a point to pass up:

iconoclastia, I do hope there's at least a little irony in this statement of yours:

The people who actually voted on Tuesday were the usual staid group: parents, retirees, veterans, and churchgoers.

Why? Because otherwise your apparent contempt for the majority of the people you share a nation with would be too depressing to contemplate. This is why the [progressives/left/Democrats/take your pick] are never truly able to achieve much traction: we talk a good game of "diversity" and all that, but fail to reckon with the fact that this also means having some goddamn respect for those "staid" people we don't happen to agree with.

There's a clue to a lot of why Dean's campaign is failing right there, and maybe social software has little to do with it. Winning the Presidency is not about being hip, it's about developing a convincing narrative that convinces people that your candidate ('s policies) will materially improve their lives.

It's perhaps karmic justice that little ol' heavily-pierced & tattooed &c. me has to spend my declining years pointing this out, but it's never been clearer to me why people dismiss the left. It's because we dismiss them first.

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30. Richard Bennett on January 29, 2004 1:30 PM writes...

You're right, Adam - Dean's problem isn't the software per se, it's the people the software has brought into his campaign - they're alienating moderate voters and pushing him too far to the extreme left.

If Dean had simply run on his record as a governor and not tried to be an Internet/anti-war movement sensation, he'd be in much better shape right now.

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31. Adam Greenfield on January 29, 2004 2:15 PM writes...

Well, I'm not so sure about your first proposition, but as for the second...good god, I think this may be the first time I've ever agreed with you, about anything.

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32. Bob Jacobson on January 29, 2004 6:05 PM writes...

I think these are the comments of armchair politicians. Kerry's support is extremely soft -- he's a nice guy, probably, and had "demeanor" constitute most of what people know about him.

Dean's support is hardly "extreme left." If it were, I guess I'd be Marx. It's progressive, not conservative, but so are most of the voters. The media trashing and Dean's own "tough love" messages don't help, but in fact, if Dean's or a program like it aren't the Democrats' platform, defeat at the polls is assured.

And the software did have something to do with it.

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33. Lauren Gelman on January 30, 2004 5:07 PM writes...

I think the question is not whether social software was bad for the Dean campaign but whether social software layered over a closed, centralized campaign architecture really is an Internet Election-- More in a piece I wrote for Findlaw--

We have yet to experience the true "Internet Election." In that election, the Internet will not simply be a tool for electioneering. Rather, the Internet's design will itself be a prototype for democratic discourse and decisionmaking

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34. Richard Bennett on January 30, 2004 10:33 PM writes...

Lauren, the Internet's architecture is a fine model for machine communication, but it doesn't really apply to human communication in the way that you think it does. What appears from the outside to be "many-to-many" is actually a number of one-to-one connections routed over a many-to-many fabric. If humans communicated this way, we'd have two big problems to deal with, one of which sunk the Dean campaign: 1) if all communications have equal value, you have to read them all, and there aren't enough hours in the day for that; and 2) if all communications have equal value, the loons have as much influence as thoughtful, informed citizens.

The Dean campaign was more closely analogous to the Great Dot Com Swindle than to any fundamental architecture for machine communications, as Joe Trippi's bulging bag of campaign cash proves.

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35. David Locke on January 31, 2004 12:08 AM writes...

Dean struck me as a cult, so I stopped following it.

Then, there is the issue of when does a Democrat or Republican become a Democrat or a Republican. Usually, on primary day. But, with the Republican's not running a primary, where would the Republican primary voters vote? Yes, the Democrats have a loser on their hands. They are stuck nominating the guy the Republican primary voters are picking. All is lost.

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36. Adam Greenfield on January 31, 2004 1:41 AM writes...

By most readings, David, the Republicans would like to see a Dean nomination. As far as I can tell, that isn't happening.


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37. Marty on January 31, 2004 11:23 AM writes...

All Wrong.

The reality is that it is not related to weak ties at all (Gephart got pounded with a huge organization and strong ties. ) I am thinking that what we are actually seeing is that the campaigns have achieved technology parity.

The real question is how did Kerry and Edwards come form nowhere and organize visibility, raise loads of money the night of the win and fight conventional wisdom that organization mattered. Organizing is clearly happening at a faster tempo because the strength of weak ties that can forum at the last minute can now swing real power because of the ability of the supporters to connect to real work quickly.

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38. Scott XYZ on February 1, 2004 8:03 PM writes...

This is kind of a trackback, originally posted at

I've been on the Dean mailing list for months but never read the e-mails (preaching to the choir, I figured) and recently deleted them all from my inbox after Dean's unexpectedly weaker showings in Iowa and New Hampshire and the replacement of Trippi with Beltway insider Roy Neel. But today I got a great e-mail from Dean campaign worker Zephyr Teachout which I want to pass on to you. (It's reproduced in its entirety at the bottom of this post. If you like the idea, email it to a bunch of your friends.)

Basically, Teachout is trying to use the internet to bring about some old-fashioned street theater.

Dean supporters should simply go out on a busy street corner near their house at 4PM Eastern Time this coming Saturday February 7 and hold up a sign saying "I am Howard Dean's Special Interest" in a show of grassroots support for this Democratic candidate.

This could be a great way to get the message out person-to-person, without wasting dollars on TV air time and without begging for fair treatment from the Diane Sawyers and Maureen Dowds of the world!

Dean campaign post-mortems - premature?
I was ready to write the Dean campaign off as another dotcom-style flame-out and just vote for Kerry or Edwards or Clark or whoever's "electable" - "Anybody But Bush" (ABB).

Some people have said that Dean was more about The Medium than about The Message - but I never really had a problem with that, probably because I like "stupid networks" - network architectures where all the content is created by the subscribers (and not by AOLTimeWarnerRupertMurdochCBS), and I'd probably like "stupid candidates" - politicians whose policies are shaped by participating individuals and not by dollars donated by corporations.

"Rise of the Stupid Network" by David Isenberg

An interesting e-mail from the Dean campaign
Today, after I stayed up all last night reading all kinds of post-Iowa, post-New Hampshire analysis of the Dean campaign's stumbles (the most nuanced I thought were by Clay Shirky and John Perry Barlow), I got my first email from the new Dean campaign manager, former lobbyist Roy Neel, (called Where we go from here) - which I opened and read, and it was actually a pretty sober, strategic stab at regrouping...

"Where We Go From Here" by Roy Neel

"Is Social Software Bad for the Dean Campaign?" by Clay Shirky

"The Counter-Revolution has been Televised" by John Perry Barlow

A great new idea from the Dean campaign
...and there was another e-mail from the Dean campaign written by Zephyr Teachout, entitled Imagine this story in the papers - which I also decided to open and read, and it seemed insanely great.

In this e-mail Teachout proposes a bold, simple, brilliant tactic apparently targeted at tackling some of the very same old-media-versus-new-media crossover problems identified in Shirky's and Barlow's post-mortems on the Dean campaign:

{This Saturday}, on February 7th, ... stand with thousands of other Americans in thousands of neighborhoods to show that the Dean grassroots are here to stay.

It is very simple - just make your own "I AM HOWARD DEAN'S SPECIAL INTEREST" sign ... Walk to the corner of your block at 4 PM ET (1 PM PT, 2 PM MT, 3 PM CT, etc).

This "SmartMobs"-type event might start to bring about the much-needed virtual-to-real-world spillover that bloggers such as Shirky and Barlow (and their commenters and trackbackers) have diagnosed as missing from Dean's campaign.

There are many different ways to harness the New Media for political campaigning, and maybe we're learning that internet fund-raising to buy expensive ad time on the Old Media might not even be the best one of them. (Web-design books I used to read always said it was a mistake to look at the internet as some sort of PR "add-on" to the main enterprise - the best way to harness the internet is to see it as central to the main enterprise itself. Websites not as virtual business-cards, but as actual store-fronts and meetup-points.)

How to really harness the internet
So, maybe the Dean campaign hasn't gone far enough in harnessing New Media strengths. The internet is good because:

(1) New Media, with the right topology, can perform the "gatekeeper" function much better than Old Media. (Examples:'s ad vetting and voting process can come up with more-relevant ("truer") messages than Madison Avenue can. Volunteer bloggers can come up with much higher-quality ("truer") content than paid media whores. Volunteer peer-to-peer file-sharing creates better music and video libraries and stimulates better mixing than brick-and-mortar corporate labels and A&R departments.)

(2) New Media, with the right topology, can perform the "aggregator" function much better than Old Media. (Example: Internet-based fund-raising can raise more, smaller donations than $1,000-a-plate dinners. Snapshot on-line primaries such as's and long-term blog-rolling such as or can (someday) better take the pulse of the people than Zogby polls or a series of caucuses and primaries held during bad weather in small less-populous states.)

Dean has mainly used the New Media as a fund-raising tool, subsequently funneling a lot of that cash back to the Old Media for TV ad purchases. What if he started using the internet as a "smartmobs" tool (as in Zephyr Teachout's e-mail proposal)? What if he were to sponsor a ad contest (and demographically target and distribute the winning ads on the internet and ultimately across the "digital divide" into people's VCRs)? Why pay the networks when you can just buy blank VCR tapes? Make a different tape for each state and distribute those tapes, rather than writing hand-written notes to caucus-goers.

New Media might need to "run around" the Old Media
As found out when CBS refused to their very carefully vetted award-winning safe-for-prime-time anti-Bush ad during the Superbowl, it's not even about BUYING expensive ad time from the Old Media - you have to BEG for the privilege of buying it. (To address this problem, how about just burning a bunch of DVDs and VCR tapes showing ALL the ad finalist, and dropping them around the neighborhood? Heck, if Dean can blow $33 million on ads and organizing in just two states, how about budgeting a few million dollars for blank VCR tapes and DVDs. If CBS is the problem.)

CBS has no problem giving George Bush free air-time with a feel-good puff-piece pre-game Superbowl interview, and CBS has no problem running ads from licit-drug-pushers Partnership for a Drug-Free America making the questionable claim that illicit drugs including marijuana finance "terrorism" - but when a grass-roots organization wants to run an ad reminding us most economists are saying that George Bush's economic policies are mortgaging our children's future, that's considered too controversial.

Feeling threatened with a loss of political and economic clout, the Old Media may have decided to pick a fight with the New Media, like the futile battle the music labels and movie studios are attempting to wage against high-quality, low-cost file-sharing topology, like the aptly-named "fossil" fuel industry (EnronHalliburtonBechtelBrownRootAndKellog) is attempting to wage against. As it turns out (and as ABC has now officially admitted), the first remix of the "Dean Scream" was done right during the first recording, when a directional mic was used to hone in on the single track of Dean's shouting to be heard over the roaring crowd.

And remember Dean's "Adopt-an-Iowan" letter-writing campaign, where Dean web volunteers hand-wrote letters to Iowa caucus voters? Maybe the down-home old-timers didn't take to kindly to a bunch of out-of-state whipper-snappers telling them what to do.

Social-software theorist Dave Wineberger's inbox is so overflowing with personal recommendations and recommendation-requests for people joining social-software networks such as Friendster and Orkut that he's been forced to treat such inbox items like spam now: deleting them all unread. I know a lot of my friends are sick and tired of hearing me rant on and on (on the phone, in e-mails) about how we need to take this country back again. But I've also sent lots of my friends hundreds of hours of MP3 music I downloaded and duped onto data CDs - and I'm sure they're happier to get that CD rather than have to listen to me trying to belt out an old disco hit myself over the telephone. Why should my friends have to listen little old me ranting about George Bush when much more talented media masters such as Michael Moore or Will Pitt or Bev Harris or Gregory Palast or SymbolMan at or the ad contestants can do such a better job than I can?

Hippocratic oath for New Media and social software
A new, shoulda-been-obvious rule for social-software design and New Media networking is finally starting to make its way around the blogosphere: "First, do no harm..."

...a Hippocratic oath the good Doctor Dean might have violated when he blew his campaign war-chest on repetitive, saturation airing of old-style ads (and media-buy commissions for Trippi) and clever but ultimately perhaps condescending letter-writing campaigns to Iowans - both of which may have done more social harm than good.

...a Hippocratic oath which we all probably violate when we rant to our friends (and to strangers) about what a mess the Bush administration is. Instead of ranting to our friends or co-workers or the person sitting next to us at the coffee-shop or on the airplane, what if we went to the trouble to give them a high-quality videotape of the best audiovisual messages out there which they could choose to view at their own leisure?

There are lots of ways virtual organizing can cross over into real-world results. Pooling lots of small donations to buy ad time on CBS is just one of those ways, and - given CBS's obvious pro-corporate, anti-grassroots partisanship - probably not even the best use of precious funds. I think the new watchword should be "obviation" - as in "Obviate CBS" - Go around the Old Media. If CBS wants to surround itself with a moat and pull up the drawbridge, show them that they're only isolating themselves from the majority of the country.

"Smartmob" techniques such as Teachout's good old-fashioned street-corner electioneering proposal, and other old-fashioned virtual-to-real-world crossovers such as the idea of going straight-to-video rather than to CBS - these might be how to really harness the internet as a tool for political organizing, and "go around" the gatekeepers of the Old Media so that individuals can interact directly with individuals once again.

= = =

Here's the entire text of the e-mail from Dean campaign worker Zephyr Teachout:

From: "Zephyr Teachout, Dean for America"
To: ____
Subject: Imagine this story in the papers
Date: Sun, 01 Feb 2004 03:58:23 -0500

Dear _____,

Imagine this story in your local paper next week:

- - - -

One neighborhood at a time, ordinary Americans stand up for Dean

Block by block, Dean supporters took to the streets yesterday. Ordinary Americans claimed thousands of street corners from Flagstaff to Austin, Green Bay to Miami, sprawling across America one neighborhood at a time, holding signs reading "I am Howard Dean's Special Interest." More than 300,000 Americans have donated $88 on average.

- - - -

Kerry and Edwards and Bush have solicited millions of dollars from large corporate special interests - only Dean has the passion of over half a million people committed to changing America. We have a candidate who doesn't just talk about change, but has a record of delivering real results.

Next week, on February 7th, the date of the Michigan and Washington caucuses, stand with thousands of other Americans in thousands of neighborhoods to show that the Dean grassroots are here to stay.

It is very simple - just make your own "I AM HOWARD DEAN'S SPECIAL INTEREST" sign (or we'll send you one if you sign up below). Walk to the corner of your block at 4 PM ET (1 PM PT, 2 PM MT, 3 PM CT, etc). Pick a corner that has some traffic, but is still close to home. Be creative - if a few people find a thousand different ways to be visible for Dean on thousands of street corners, sprawling across America's small towns and big cities, we can make this happen.

* Plan an event online:
* Pledge to stand up for Dean (on your own) on February 7th:
* Download a media advisory to let your local press know that you're involved:
* To contribute to give voice to Howard Dean's message, click here:

It is our job in a democracy to imagine the world we want to live in, and then act to realize that vision.

This election is about power - who owns our government and who runs it?

If hundreds of thousands of Americans all stand on street corners together, standing with you, standing Dean at the same time, sharing Dean's message of democracy, results, and courage, we can wake this country up, show our power, and help Dean break through --

Thank you.


Zephyr Teachout, Dean for America

PS: Don't miss Governor Dean on television: A full-hour interview on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday morning. To find the time and channel, go to:

Diane Sawyer's "mea culpa" in which ABC News and other networks admitted to overplaying and misrepresenting Governor Dean's Iowa speech. Read or watch the story at:

PPS: Meetup is Wednesday. Make sure you go and bring 10 friends:

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39. David Marks on February 2, 2004 12:36 AM writes...

I absolutely agree that the Dean campaign may have established a movement, but not a successful campaign. Let me explain a few observations garnerd from real campaigns and then explain why new technology could be used effectively to get votes.

1) Groupthink
Campaigns, and indeed administrations, are highly subject to groupthink. This is a situation in which everyone goes along with an idea without challenging it, mainly because everyone is going along with the idea in the group or because a powerful leader suggested it. It becomes impossible for people inside the campaign to challenge, for example, the idea that the campaign’s positioning is pulling in “true believers” but not likely or potential voters. Those who question the direction are typically penalized in some way from rocking the boat.

Some campaigns reveal themselves as paper tigers that collapse when they reach the real world. They go off in a direction that sounds good to the true believers, but appears a bit wacky to the bulk of voters who get involved at the last minute.

One solution to this is regular, unbiased, independant polling. Find out what non-supporters think of you, and play to your strengths while innoculating people against your perceived weaknesses.

2) Getting Out the Vote (GOTV)
Campaigns only win when they get people to vote for them. You've got to appeal to people who vote, and you've got to get them to the polls. Dean had a challenge in this area -- he appealed to younger people, and they a) aren't that plentiful and b) don't vote as much as other, older, demographics. Recent surveys state that

So… bet your campaign on young people, and you’re likely to find yourself insulated from the bulk of voters. If you can’t train those young supporters to act as good salespeople to their older peers, you probably won’t get the results your groundswell of support would indicate.

3) Inappropriate Positioning
For democrats (and many, many others!) this election is all about replacing Bush. People are so desperate in this need that they will jump on whichever candidate is considered most likely to meet this need. While Dean positioned himself opposing Bush (smart), I think his positioning failed to establish him as someone who Bush would have a tough time beating. National Security is perceived as such an important issue, and a strength of Bush, that people who want to see Bush out of office started looking for candidates that they thought could beat Bush in this area.

Kerry and Clark, having established military experience, do well in this area. When voters had to decide between “opposed to Bush” (Dean) and “opposed to Bush but able to beat him on defense” (JK and WC) Dean lost out.

I don’t think this was so mysterious — people tend to vote for whoever they perceive is the most “winnable.” Polls should have told Dean’s team that they were vulnerable on defense relative to Kerry and Clark, defence was a top issue for the actual election for most voters, and voters thought this was an area that Bush would try to use to defeat a Democrat.

The only solution would have been to, somehow, find a way to position himself as strong on defense with even Bush supporters. Perhaps the right VP would have worked…

Dean and Trippi built an amazing movement but may have failed on positioning himself as a winnable candidate and targetting mainstream voters. Inside the campaign, people who brought this up may have been penalized.

I don’t think this means that technology (blogs, social networks, etc.) CAN‘T be used for successful campaigning — but it does mean that nobody has mastered this area yet. You can’t just build a huge online movement: you’ve got to connect your movement with physical action. And you’ve got to target your positioning and actions at demographics that are both plentiful and who typically vote.

It will happen, and indeed it came pretty close this time! You live and you learn…

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40. Benjamin Ragheb on February 2, 2004 3:19 AM writes...

So you assume support for Dean dried up when it came time to leave the computers and go to the polls?

That's stupid.

The people involved with Dean online and at meetups are dedicated and they showed up. The problem is that they were outnumbered by the people who voted/caucused for other candidates. The number of people signed up online is still relatively small compared to the number of registered voters.

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41. Clay Shirky on February 2, 2004 11:00 AM writes...

"So you assume support for Dean dried up when it came time to leave the computers and go to the polls?"

No, I assume that the gap between the projected win and the actual loss was in part because the campaign's use of software created the illusion of support that didn't exist. Explaining that more people voted for Kerry than Dean is appealingly tautological, but it doesn't explain where Dean's projected 30 point NH lead came from, nor where it went.

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42. FOX on May 2, 2007 7:04 PM writes...

I think pop music, rock in particular, is way more about sex than classical music is. Much more directly, anyway. So it doesn't bother me there.

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43. Evan on May 4, 2007 7:37 AM writes...

More or less not much noteworthy happening today. That's how it is. I haven't been up to anything recently, but what can I say? I guess it doesn't bother me.

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44. Evan on May 4, 2007 7:39 AM writes...

More or less not much noteworthy happening today. That's how it is. I haven't been up to anything recently, but what can I say? I guess it doesn't bother me.

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