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Joe Trippi

Filed in: politics, SXSW2004, Web, Sun, Mar 14 2004 22:40 PT

Zach Exley of MoveOn introduced Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Howard Dean (and organizer of the Change for America blog. He said that Trippi was “a part of the history of the Democratic Party and politics,” because of his work on many campaigns.

“Both parties, since about ’76, spent every waking moment” trying to stifle independent candidates. As soon as Carter left Washington, he said, politicians tried their hardest to make sure outsiders never made it into the political arena. In 2003, the Democrats crafted the primaries to ensure that the guy with the most money became the nominee. The Republicans figured this out long ago (see: John McCain). An “insurgent” like Howard Dean had to overspend in order to make that system work for him. He says that was the only strategy someone could have pursued. He says, look at Wesley Clark or Joe Lieberman: those who eschewed the system set out to trap them were dead in the water by New Hampshire. The system is broken, says Trippi.

Now, people are collecting thousands from rich people just to run ads, and the traditional media is only getting smaller. “People got taken out of the process.” It’s now about using money to lock people out of the process. There are 33 lobbyists in Washington for every member of Congress. That, he said, is why we don’t have health care. “My $25, my 4 hours in a precinct can’t change a damn thing.” So, the Alamo where Dean made his stand is called the Internet.

The Internet is “the single most powerful tool ever placed in the hands of the average American.” It helps build communities, online and in real life, and cause bottom-up change, not just in politics, but with things like Napster, etc. MoveOn is the “tip of the iceberg” in the area of political change.

Dean got 650,000 supporters, raised more money than any other non-incumbent, including Bill Clinton. It was done at an average of under $100 per person. (Applause.)

“Blogs are an amazing thing.” (Thanks, Joe!) Things like black-box voting discussion came out of the blogosphere, not the media. Trippi discovered MeetUp because he discovered it on someone’s blog. By February 2003, there were 2,607 MeetUp people for Dean. It grew to 190,000 people meeting locally.

“Every day, there’s another American waking up thinking, ‘I can make a difference.'” (Applause. Where is that guy, anyway?) They got $3.7 million in donations online, more than the other candidates, and they were among those people. “This year, there are 2 million people who would borrow $100 to get rid of George Bush… If they would do that, it would change politics forever.”

“The television set is power. It’s the wrong kind.”

Three minutes after they put up 50 posters, each state “for Dean.” The first comment came from Puerto Rico, saying you missed us. They fixed that, then got a comment from England saying they didn’t have one for Americans abroad. They fixed that, and got a thank-you from Spain. The thing is, this all happened in the course of 10 minutes. Dean was an open-source approach to politics.

He told the story of the red bat. Someone on the blog suggested that Dean hold up a big red bat at a New York rally if he raised $1 million that day. Thirty-five minutes later, when the line had been crossed, with the work of a campaign worker, there he was, live, with a bat in his hand.

Trippi says it’s “crazy” to think that politicians are “immune to bottom-up change.” “Have they not read the Constitution?” (Applause, but this time not just from that one guy.)

It’s smart politics to raise a million with a gala dinner while spending $350k on the expenses. Dean spent $100k running an ad in Austin taking Bush to task on the war. Dean made a million on that. “Now, in this world, you spend $100k… (get) millions in free play on CNN… make a million, and in their world, it’s wasteful media spending.”

“The genie’s out: I don’t have to exist. You guys exist.” Dean “gave (the Democrats) their backbone.” They’re “sounding a lot more like Howard Dean than John Kerry.” (Big applause.)

Someone had suggested that he go after $10 from 2 million Americans rather than $100. Then he could come back around and say, look what you get for $90 more.

He dropped the hint that Dean is going to launch something on March 18th around technology and politics, and that he wants in. Interesting.

“The campaign was in trouble long before the Dean Scream.” He says the big event was Gore’s endorsement, though he’s glad Gore did that. All of the other candidates at that moment said, “We have to go kill Dean.” Then the media and the candidates both went after Dean, which Trippi says was the first time that had ever happened. Kerry and Gephardt supporters backed a 527 organization running the Osama bin Laden ad in Iowa. Republicans put up $1 million from the Club for Growth on attack ads. “The entire world went kaboom.” Iowa is the oldest state in the country, with 65% of caucus-goers over the age of 65. So Gephardt is running ads “scaring seniors about Medicare.”

The single most important event in this entire election, believe it or not, was John Kerry writing himself a $6.4 million check” in Iowa. He says there’s nothing bad about that from his perspective. But had he not done that, it may have been Edwards-Dean in Iowa. Trippi says Kerry was smart to have done it, but it’s a sign that things should change.

Given his effusive praise for bloggers, I felt I had to say something as he walked out. And what I managed was, “Good job. I blogged the whole thing.”

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