Some analysts are starting to recognize the extent to which the Netroots drove this week’s election results.
But even some of the Netroots’ fiercest advocates may be missing the extent to which this is a process revolution, and a very important one.
They say that on the Internet no one can tell you’re a dog. Or a pundit, for that matter. Your words and your work speak for you. That’s not an ideological change, but a technological one.
The previous political revolution, the Goldwater Conservative revolution of the 1960s which resulted in the Nixon Thesis of Conflict, in Reaganism, in the Gingrich Revolution, and finally culminated in Bushism, was also process-driven, and technological in nature.
The think tanks, the astro-turf organizations, the billionaires’ funding it all (like those at the mis-named Club for Growth) all these are process changes in our politics, none of them more than 45 years old. The technologies driving these changes were direct mail and telephone trees.
Richard Viguerie was the Markos Moulitsas of his time. It was the disciplines of the direct mail business that drove how all this resulted in power. The anger, the enemies, the sense of continual betrayal, all these are creatures of a specific technology, the direct mail list.
The technology platform also made a top-down organizational structure necessary. Its circular logic is also defined by the technology. The list is refined, success is defined, your message is structured based on its conversion rate, 2% being the magic number defining success. As the technology advances (and this is true whether you’re selling politicians or books) your focus continually narrows on your best prospects. You learn how to push their buttons, their specific buttons, and you segment your list accordingly.
The open source revolution is also technology driven, this time by the Internet. (To that extent, Moveon.org is actually a throwback, since they’re really using direct mail techniques.) But the Internet is a true conversation. While the direct mail technology requires a top-down organization, the Internet always works from the bottom-up.
This is something most pundits still don’t get, even 10 years on. Since TV is also a top-down medium, CNN figured it could treat bloggers like Kewl Kidz, buy them off with drinks and food on Election Night. Many bloggers went, because their work was done by that time and the party sounded like fun. But CNN gained nothing from the experience but a few segments of programming — they still don’t get how the Internet is driving politics.
Howard Dean does. Dean has always understood, somehow, that this is about process, about enabling people to come up from the grassroots, about inspiring people to take their own actions, even though those may not be like his own actions.
So who was this election about?
It’s about Carol Shea Porter. (That’s her, on the left side in this picture, from Wednesday morning.)
Every wave election has its poster child, as I’ve said before. The 1974 Watergate election gave us Thomas Downey, then a 24-year old who somehow beat long-time incumbent James Grover on Long Island. The 1994 wave gave us George Nethercutt, out-spent 10-1 but still the victor over House Speaker Thomas Foley. The 1966 election was the first victory by one Ronald Reagan.
This election can best be seen through the eyes of Carol Shea Porter.
Porter was not a Deaniac. In the 2004 primaries she supported Wesley Clark. In 2005 she wore an anti-Bush t-shirt to an event and was tossed out for it. This drove her run for Congress, from New Hampshire’s First District. And she won. Conservatives already hate her.
But it’s how she won that is the story. Carol Shea Porter was out-spent 10-1 in a Democratic primary and won it. She was given no money by Rahm Emmanuel of the DCCC and she won anyway. She ran no negative ads, she couldn’t afford them. But the radio ads supporters dreamed up for her were e-mailed all over the district.
Shea Porter was part of a netroots revolution that swept New Hampshire this fall. Democrats won both Congressional seats, the Governorship, and a majority in the state legislature for the first time in over 50 years. Sen. John Sununu, whose 2002 campaign clogged the phone lines of Democrats in order to win, is already a dead political man walking. (Note that the scandal involves the use of old technology.)
This revolution was not televised. It was driven by the Internet, by the grassroots, from the bottom-up.
And that’s where we go from here.