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.