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Howard's Web

From the January 19, 2004 issue: The Dean camp's Internet impresario.

Jan 19, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 18 • By DAVID SKINNER
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Even discounting for hype, Dean's is clearly the most with-it campaign when it comes to the world of meetups and flash mobs, and as a result it gives the impression of being more than just a campaign, possibly a seminal cultural moment. Rheingold, however, says that's not the attraction of the Dean campaign for him. True, he "forecasted something Dean's people picked up on and have taken advantage of." But he likes Dean because of Dean's willingness to bring the fight to Bush, who Rheingold believes is, among other crimes, trampling the Constitution.

"This administration," he says, with perhaps more passion than coherence, is "changing everything from the Fourth Amendment, search and seizure, the First Amendment, about the right to publish, to the way it is gerrymandering election districts, and [raising] questions about voting machines."

How quickly we descend from the aerie of technology and the future of democracy to the hard pavement of partisan contempt. Like many on the left, Rheingold is credulous about the most extreme anti-Bush accusations and markedly less excited about ordinary political issues. He's with Dean because of Dean's "objection to the fundamental constitutional rules being changed by the present administration. And frankly, his policies could be the same as George Bush . . . on everything else" and Rheingold would still support Dean.

When I ask Rheingold where he stood on going to war against Iraq, he says he approves of "corrective international action against nations who seek to possess weapons of mass destruction." He adds that it's too bad we alienated so many countries before going into Iraq because "we still have to deal with Iran and Korea." It's funny how often the political rhetoric of people who can be strikingly original thinkers in their own disciplines turns out to be clichéd and second-hand.

Dean's campaign may be by far the "coolest" of the Democratic operations in its enthusiasm for technology and for having supporters help the campaign by doing their own thing. Alas, it is probably not these qualities but group-think contempt for Bush that explains why the Dean campaign has all the energy on the left right now and why tech royalty like Howard Rheingold are along for the ride. It is, indeed, a smart mob.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.