Guest article! Below is the first section of the introduction to Daniel Kreiss’s new book, “Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama,” available in the Amazon store. We’ll be running a section of a later chapter next week, but to read the whole thing (and to get the tasty footnotes) you’ll need to buy a copy. After reading what’s below, I think you’ll want to.
Innovation, Infrastructure, and Organization in New Media Campaigning
Excerpted from “Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama”
On February 10, 2007, Barack Obama’s presidential exploratory committee posted a video of the candidate on BarackObama.com. In it, Obama declared that he was formally entering the race for the presidency and that “tomorrow, we begin a great journey. A journey to take our country back.” Obama echoed Howard Dean’s announcement speech nearly four years earlier, on June 23, 2003, in which the former Vermont governor declared that “we stand today in common purpose to take our country back.” Obama, of course, ascended to the presidency—an achievement of which Dean had only dreamed.
More than rhetoric links the campaigns of the two men. Dean’s run came up short, but the insurgent, outsider candidate was stunningly successful at mobilizing his supporters. While ultimately short-lived, Dean’s success was in large part due to the campaign’s embrace of the Internet. The Dean campaign took up an extraordinary array of tools to spur supporters to action and to coordinate their efforts. The campaign was the first to routinely and systematically use e-mail for fund-raising and to deploy a blog to gather supporters. The campaign was also a remarkable site of technical innovation, as staffers and volunteers modified existing technologies to meet their needs and built entirely new tools, including an early social networking application that enabled supporters to find one another and thus coordinate their electoral efforts. The campaign’s organizational innovations were as important as its technical work. Dean’s staffers crafted new and effective practices for mobilizing and coordinating the efforts of supporters online. As a result of this work, the campaign set records for fund-raising, drew tens of thousands of supporters to events, and moved thousands of volunteers to contact voters months in advance of the Iowa caucuses.