The Magazine

Fold, Spindle, Mutilate

How the American political campaign got computerized.

Dec 27, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 15 • By G. TRACY MEHAN III
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Meetup.com is a site where people interested in certain topics--typically something like stamps, Irish setters, or Star Trek--are matched up for get togethers (usually at a Starbucks, for smaller gatherings). Trippi had stumbled across this site while reading a blogger who mentioned that Dean supporters were using the site to arrange meetings in several cities. For Trippi, "it was exactly the democratic vision of the Internet that I had always believed in, using technology as a way for people of similar interests, passions, and causes to find each other and instantly form into communities--tiny little Iowa caucuses made up of science fiction fans and curling enthusiasts and knitters."

A small number of Dean supporters, only 432 across the nation, had already signed up. But after the Dean campaign posted the link on its own website, 2,700 people immediately enlisted for Dean. Trippi negotiated an agreement with Meetup.com to do ongoing organizing of Dean supporters for a rock-bottom price of $2,500--which yielded 190,000 new Dean members. Almost eight hundred Deaniacs showed up for one meeting in Manhattan at which the candidate made an appearance. This became a regular feature of Dean's schedule throughout the campaign. One jealous adviser to a Dean rival sniffed, "Some of these Meetup events look like the bar scene from Star Wars."

Despite the campaign's success with the Internet, Trippi's candidate appears to have cooled on his campaign manager. Dean seems to have viewed Trippi as a bit mercurial, too much of an enthusiast for the Internet, carrying the decentralizing theme a bit too far. The downward slope of the relationship is epitomized by Dean's failure to inform Trippi of the endorsement of Dean by Al Gore. Trippi heard about it only when everyone else did.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a traditional campaign narrative, a brief for the potential of the Internet in politics, and a broader argument for the transforming impact of new technologies on society in general and business in particular. Despite its flip, often irreverent style and its overuse of four-letter words, it is, on balance, a substantive volume worth the time of serious readers.

Of course, Trippi envisions a liberal utopia driven by this new technology. But despite his view that the Republican party is a command-and-control party, overly wedded to top-down management, the history of the GOP since 1964 suggests otherwise. At least, one hopes so, for the influence of the Internet on elections is here to stay.

G. Tracy Mehan III was assistant administrator for water at the EPA. He is presently a consultant in Arlington, Virginia.