10 Years Later: The Howard Dean Legacy

Bill Scher

I’ve commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the formal beginning of the Howard Dean presidential campaign with an article at The Week, “4 ways Howard Dean changed American politics.”

Dean helped make liberalism respectable again, strip the bark off the Republican claim to the national security mantle and use the Internet to connect the people to the political system. Barack Obama then took what Dean accomplished and took it all the way to the White House.

The reality of Internet politics may have been inevitable, but would not have happened as fast as it did without the early embrace by Dean and Obama. As I noted at The Week, Dean was mocked by the professional political class for recruiting volunteers online, until they saw how forging those online bonds led to an army of loyal small donors.

But with these successes comes some disappointment. The hope that Internet politics would break down all special interest barriers to progressive policies has been dashed. Barack Obama’s online team may be the best that’s ever been, but they have not cracked the code for using the Internet to pressure obstructionists in Congress to stand down.

Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that the public feels more connected to the political system today than in the days before the Internet. People email their representatives and click on online petitions every day. Congress is flooded with a broader range of public feedback on a daily basis than at any point in history.

It’s not a fair to expect every click to automatically produce results. But we keep plugging and pushing and clicking because you never know which online grassroots call is going to light such a spark that Washington can’t ignore it.

We have grassroots tools in our arsenal that we didn’t have 10 years ago. And we have Howard Dean to thank.

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