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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Tuesday, July 15, 2003


the Open Source campaign

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, July 15, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Chris Suellentrop has an intriguing article in Slate about the double-edged sword that is Dean's embrace of the grass roots as the engine driving his bid. It's truly a fresh analysis of the phenomenon that now transcends meetup:

In addition to the gatherings (which grew out of a posting on the unofficial "Dean Nation" blog) that have been garnering press for Dean across the country, Dean supporters have organized themselves into unofficial groups such as a "Dean Media Team" that (among other things) is distilling Dean speeches into streaming, Internet-friendly sound bites and the "Dean Defense Forces" that organize letter-writing responses to negative articles in the press. It's peer-to-peer politics—voters connecting to other voters without the middleman of official campaign sanction.

But by encouraging so much spontaneous organization, Dean has—knowingly or unknowingly—ceded a lot of control to these unofficial groups. It's a gamble that may pay off, but it's still a gamble. If television took some power away from political parties and handed it to the candidates, the Internet has the potential to transfer that power again—this time by handing it to the voters or, more accurately, to organized activist groups like the ones that are now swarming around the Dean campaign. Dean hopes to assimilate the growing online liberal Borg, but it's possible that the Borg will assimilate Dean.

Small, unofficial, decentralized campaign offices (like the ones on the left on this page) could narrow-cast the Dean message, doing to the Dean campaign what fan fiction does to Harry Potter: They could create their own narratives and highlight their own issues and points of emphasis. It's possible that this approach would be wildly successful, allowing Dean's campaign to target a broad variety of voters with distinct messages. Gays for Dean? Go to this site. Geeks for Dean? Click here. Nurses for Dean? Right this way. Let a thousand Dean campaigns bloom.

(it's been a good week for Dean Nation in the press!). Suellentrop puts this diversity in the context of unintended consequences, but I think he doesn't realise just how deliberate this actually is. TYhe correct model is not "peer to peer", it is Open Source. As Joe Trippi commented on Lessig's blog yesterday:

I spent some time as an advisor to Progeny Linux Systems (the Debian flavored Linux) — the time spent there really influenced my thinking about an open source campaign.

I mean the political system today is exactly the same thing — a small group trying to keep control of a system they designed and that they hold the keys to — and an open source campaign is one that conducts open converstions, open collabortation — and in the end the contributions of many individuals in terms of time or resources when marshalled together will have the power to take government by the people back. Its the whole thinking behind a new politics of meaning — because without the people getting involved again politics has no meaning. I don’t know maybe I am rambling — but it is how we are trying to do this — maybe its a strecth but the fact is it was the time spent in Linux related endeavors that has shaped my thinking.

This open-ness and transparency is exactly what draws jaded citizens to Dean and fuels his appeal - because unlike with the rest of the candidates, there is room for idealism about our system of government again. Declining turnout is not a function of increased voter apathy or the "dumbing down" of America - it's because the barrier to entry for the average citizen has been raised too high - and only deep pockets have the will to climb it. Trippi has torn that wall down - in many ways, June 30th ($7 Million Monday) was our Bastille Day - the day we stormed the barricades and took back control.

Suellentrop recognizes this, but doesn't grasp its meaning:

The Napster analogy is instructive: What did file swappers do after Napster went down? They turned to Gnutella, a system that doesn't require a central broker. Dean wants to be Napster, but his supporters are more like Gnutella: They don't need to go through Dean to connect with one another.

What he doesn't understand is that we shouldn't need to go through him. Dean is the catalyst here, not the solvent. Suellentrop is making a dark prediction about what we will do after storming the Bastille - but that'[s a reflection of the fact that he's still perhaps bound by the mentality that a central broker is required to lend legitimiacy to your movement. Hence he still thinks Napster (closed-source, central server) is actually the desirable model, and Gnutella (open source, decentralized) is How Things Go Wrong. That's exactly backwards. We never were Napster, we've been using Gnutella all along - and that's the reason for our success.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.