Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Cultic Qualities of American Politics--First Exposure

I can still remember the day I read Joe Trippi's Perfect Storm blog post. I had been hunting around looking for examples of this new word I kept hearing about--What exactly is a blog? Now, it is nothing new; I have been reading them every day since. But then, it was a mystery. I discovered Gary Hart's weblog, and Dean Nation, which still exists. I guess, as I was hunting for blogs, I was simultaneously searching for a candidate. I thought to myself: We really need an iconoclast--someone who will not be afraid to speak his/her mind. I considered Hart (before he dropped out) and Dean, and even Kerry (I believe it was soon before that that he said: "What we need is a regime change in America").

There I was on that day (I forget which day) reading Dean Nation; someone asked the question: Is a Dean Candidacy really possible? I read through the comments--different points of view about what is possible. Many were skeptical; remember, at that time, Bush was still viewed as invincible. No reason to get our hopes too high, but then something happened: Someone left a comment under the name Joe Trippi, entitled: the Perfect Storm. I had already come across his name, had read articles talking about the innovative campaign manager of the Dean campaign (It was also about that time that Hart dropped out of the race and Kerry was viewed as the frontrunner). But seeing his name there startled me. How many campaign managers would do that?

He began by asking the rhetorical question: How is this possible? There was already something of the miraculous in that question. "3 months ago Howard Dean was a political asterisk, today he has become such a threat to the frontrunner, and evidently, at least a few others...." Trippi then showed how Dean's opponents were distorting his record, and in those words a movement was born, or at least my participation in it was. They were not just attempting to stop Howard Dean, the candidate, but something bigger, beyond a single individual:

They are trying to stop the Perfect Storm.

It is a storm that has never happened before -- because it could not have happened before. The forces required to come into sync were not aligned, nor in some instances mature enough prior to this Presidential campaign. But the past few days may prove to be only the first winds of the Perfect Storm that will be required to defeat George Bush.

Something clicked on in my brain when I read those words. It all started to make sense, and anything was possible. In the streets, the general view was: "There's no way!" And here were these words in a virtual space, responding: "Yes there is!" Here we were living at this unique moment, the forces were suddenly aligned:

First the storm requires thousands and thousands, perhaps millions of Americans to become actively involved in determining the future course of our country. But how do these Americans find each other? How do they self-organize? How do they collaborate? How do they take action together? For the first time since we heard the words World Wide Web -- the Internet makes this possible.

There was so much hope back then--all we had to do was grow the movement and generate buzz.

Obviously things didn't work out as we had all expected. The excitement has died down. The forces of the establishment demonstrated their might. Skepticism has again flooded the hopeful fires; I hear few discussions about how the internet is changing everything. And yet, there is still reason to be hopeful. There are challenges ahead, and the progressive movement is very much alive. I, and many like me, who had never before been involved in politics beyond the single act of voting, are now politically aware.

Why did I title this piece: "The Cultic Qualities of American Politics"? Some may interpret the word cult in a negative sense. Indeed, after Dean lost, some people said to me, "It is just like a cult." And, to be honest, the more I got involved in the Perfect Storm, the more I felt it was like a cult. We had our leader who some viewed as the second coming. That is why I was always disturbed by words like Deaniac. I never felt pressured into doing anything, other than mobilizing around a candidate, whose message was: "You have the Power!" I could read the views of other candidates--and I did--and sometimes was pursuaded.

By cultic, I mean the way political campaigns--truely successful ones (even when the do not ultimately succeed)--generate this excitement, mobilize vast segments of the population, and create the feeling that our candidate, and only our candidate, can lead us to the promised land, a new age, a new birth, a utopia. In this process, they use techniques that have been developed over the centuries, harnessing them through ever new media technologies.

In my next post, I will discuss some of my recent experiences at campaign rallies.


Blogger patriotskullface said...

Just stumbled over here from MyDD. I understand what you mean about the 'cultish' qualities of Dean's campaign. I always felt the same way about the late Senator Paul Wellstone.

The thing is, with Dean, or Wellstone, or Kucinich, or a real true progressive who speaks from the heart, you feel that they would walk on hot coles for YOU, so the least you can do is pass out some lit or make some calls.

2:29 AM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

Thanks for the comments. In some ways, I think all politics has to have that quality if it will go anywhere or attract anyone, but certain candidates and certain campaigns are more able to rally the troops. Is it in the techniques used by the campaigns? Is it the charisma or character of the candidate? Is it the willingness of people on the ground to participate in something bigger than themselves, bigger even than a particular candidate? How do all of these factors work together to create a movement? I think Trippi's Perfect Storm post answered some of these questions.

3:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know I still remember writing that post -- and the real hope I had that we could change a political system that so ill serves the people. I still hold that hope. American politics does indeed contain its cultish elements -- the problem is that there have emerged too many cults of selfish interests -- it is the cult of the common good and common purpose that will spark the transformation that is needed to solve and address our problems. My old boss Gary Hart wrote a piece recently that is circulating on the net that speaks to this better than I ever could. Thanks for reminding me about my post -- reading yours kind of time warped me back to that day when I wasn't so road weary.

Joe Trippi

2:33 PM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

I don't have any way of verifying that you are the real Joe Trippi, but what you say is definitely the spirit of Joe Trippi. Be assured, though, that it was the sentiments of that post that brought me into the political game. It was the feeling that we could all come together as one force and shake the foundations of the establishment. I would love to know where I can find that Gary Hart piece, a man who I have followed since eight grade.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can email me at and I will try to dig up the Hart piece for you -- it is truly a must read -- I am on the road right now but as soon as I get home I will dig it up for you.

It means a lot to me that I had anything at all to do with getting you more involved in the process of our democracy.

Thanks again
Joe Trippi

8:19 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Weird. I was just thinking about the same thing today, reading a post by a self-confessed "former neocon" who describes his political life for the past six years as "cultlike." Now, a lot of people throw the term "cult" around lightly, but there are some similarities between cults and political parties; it's just that cults go much farther in trying to control their adherents and gain new ones than any political party ever has.
I wrote a little about it here. There's links to the "former neocon" piece, which is definitely worth reading.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

Thanks, Lisa, and good points! I'll check out your site. I will also have more posts on this topic in the near future.

6:24 AM  

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