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Friday, December 19, 2003
Ehrlich, Dean, the ‘Net and Political Parties

By Steven Taylor @ 2:07 pm

I finally got around to reading the Ehrlich piece from Suday’s WaPo in which he argues that the internet is going to transform party politics, and specifically stating

For all Dean’s talk about wanting to represent the truly “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” the paradox is that he is essentially a third-party candidate using modern technology to achieve a takeover of the Democratic Party.

Indeed, he seems to think that the defining characteristic of a political party is fundraising. This is not the case.

Erhlich’s problem is twofold. First, as is often the case with technological innovation, there is an assumption that new technology will take over existing institutions, when the truth normally is that old institutions normally co-opt, and learn how to use to their own ends, new technology.

The second problem is more profound: Erhlich seems not to understand American parties. Parties in the US are primarily three things: the candidates themselves, the officeholders who manage to win election, and, above all else, the voters who are willing to put those candidates into office. The institutional existence of the party (the party committee, and so forth) is really minor by comparison to the other aforementioned elements.

Mass-based, catch-all parties, like the two major US parties, are vast confederations of these candidates, office-holders and voters who share some general principles in common, but with a great deal of variation. The perception of the party writ large is dictated by the major elected officials of that party, especially the President, or the opposition party’s nominee. Dean is not some insurgent outsider because he uses internet voodoo to raise money. Dean is an insurgent because he was relatively unknown prior to this campaign cycle. If he wins the nomination, he will alter, to some degree, the image of the Democratic Party. Big deal, and nothing new. The only “revolutionary” thing going on here is that he is the first one to use a specific tool in this context. After this electoral cycle look for Dean-like usages of the ‘net to become a normal part of the campaign-finance toolbox. Next time it will be orthodox, and therefore mundane and no one will write columns on it. And most important of all, the party system will persist exactly as it has been.

Our party system, is stable on the surface, but malleable and adaptable as well. Indeed, the primary process itself, with the ability of candidates from various ideological perspectives to run for nominations (consider the Kucinich-Lierbman range in the current crop of Dems) allows for a great deal of intraparty variation. The voters in the primaries, therefore, ultimately decide the shape of the party in the short term, not the use of different types of fund-raisng tech

Steve Bainbridge has a lengthy, and interesting, post on this topic over at his place.

UPDATE: This post is today’s entry in BELTWAY TRAFFIC JAM

Filed under: 2004 Campaign
  • Signifying Nothing linked with The party ain't quite over yet
  • QandO linked with The information diffusion

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1 Comment»

  1. I find it ironic that Ehrlich’s example of true reformation in party politics was William Henry Harrison, who remains to this day the shortest tenured president on record. :)

    Comment by Eric — Friday, December 19, 2003 @ 3:04 pm

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