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Tuesday 15 July 2003

From Tino

When Lawrence Lessig announced on Saturday that Howard Dean would be filling in this week for him this week, I was intrigued. A lot of noise has been made about Dean’s campaign weblog, and how his campaign is using things like Meetup to give a boost to grassroots organization.

What goes on at the Dean Meetups, though, as near as I can tell, is not unlike what goes on at other grassroots political meetings, except that because of better communications, there tends to be more people at the Dean meetings. And the Dean campaign weblog is really nothing more than a collection of press releases, though admittedly readers can leave comments, and the ‘press releases’ there are not as sterile and information-free as the usual policy-clarifying hot air you generally find on political websites.

So, as I said, I was intrigued when Lessig said that his weblog would feature Dean this week. Howard Dean, The Man Who Gets It. I do not agree with Dean’s politics, but I’ve been encouraged by the fact that anyone in the political arena has noticed that technology has progressed beyond the fax machine and the WATS line.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when the very first post from Howard Dean actually begins by saying ‘Hello from the Dean for America campaign’, tells us that The Great Man Himself will be posting later in the day, and tells us that all of Dean’s comments can also be found on the Dean campaign weblog, because “It’s our policy that whenever Governor Dean posts anywhere on the Internet, his posts will also be crossposted to our site.”

Part of my disappointment might have to do with the use of the word policy. In common use today, it almost always means “Something that someone else has decided that we should do, that you’re probably not going to like, that’s probably not a good idea in this case, and that might not even be a good idea in any case, but that we’re going to do anyway.” In government and in commerce, when someone starts talking about ‘policy’, it’s a fair bet that they’re about to tell you that the obvious, perfectly good, cost-free, elegant solution to some problem is in fact totally impossible for unexplained arbitrary reasons, and that instead we need to spend a lot of money and take a lot of time to wind up with a solution that’s about a tenth as good.

This case doesn’t quite rise to that level, but you might now better understand my feelings about the word policy.

In any case on Monday afternoon there was a post from Howard Dean himself, quickly followed by a post from the campaign telling us that we’d just seen a post from Howard Dean.

Early this morning there was another post from Howard Dean. It’s headlined ‘From Howard Dean’ — that’s the origin of the somewhat less-than-informative title of this post — and signed “Thanks again, Howard Dean”, which might explain why there isn’t another post from the handlers letting us know what we’re looking at.

I was hoping that we’d see a bit into the mind of a presidential candidate, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find something else. It takes time to read things, get worked up over them, and write complaining rants worthy of posting on the Internet. Thus the best weblogs are produced by people with a lot of time on their hands, a category of people that definitely doesn’t include presidential candidates.

And this is the big problem: if you’re a presidential candidate, you really don’t have time to do much of anything other than serve as the public face of an enormous apparatus (the campaign) made up of people who do the heavy lifting. You’re not going to say anything controversial (unless it’s a controversy that your apparatus has determined can benefit you), you’re not going to write anything (except maybe an outline of something to be fleshed out by an ‘aide’), and you’re not going to actually ‘connect’ with any ‘people’, unless those people are holding sacks of money and are thus a prudent use of your time. Everything else is going to be done by an assistant, which means all we’ll see are things like vague complaints about “special interests” — though Dean recently spoke at the annual meetings of the National Council of La Raza and the NAACP.

Posted by tino at 15:51 15.07.03
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Whenever I hear the world policy, I start looking for the guy with the binder.

I’ve noticed that the government has a lot of binders.

Posted by: Nicole at July 15, 2003 04:09 PM