Going into the 2004 election cycle, just about everyone said the Internet was going to change politics. But no one was sure how. Now we know.
The first signs of change came from the Howard Dean campaign. His campaign manager, Joe Trippi, used the Internet, and meetup.com and moveon.org to identify and bring together Bush-haters from all over the country, and raise far more money than anyone expected.
Dean rose to the top in the polls and amassed an e-mail list of 600,000 names. When Democratic voters dropped Dean as unelectable and embraced John Kerry as the most readily available instrument to beat George W. Bush, Kerry inherited Dean's Internet constituency. No one expected the Kerry campaign to raise more money than the Bush campaign. But it did, largely because of the Internet.
The Democratic Internet constituency was and is motivated by one thing more than anything else: hatred of George W. Bush. To see that, you only have to take a look at dailykos.com, run by Democratic consultant Markos Moulitsas, which gets 400,000 page views a day -- far more than any other political weblog -- and which received funding from the Dean campaign (which Moulitsas disclosed). It seethes with hatred of Bush, constantly attacks Republicans and excoriates Democrats who don't oppose Bush root and branch.
When four American contractors were killed in Iraq in April 2004, dailykos.com wrote: "I feel nothing over the death of the mercenaries. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them."
This repulsive comment produced no drop-off in page views. This was what the left blogosphere wanted. Kos was an early enthusiast for Dean's campaign for Democratic chairman and disparaged other candidates.
For 12 years, Democratic chairmen were chosen by Bill Clinton. He built a new generation of fund-raisers who relished contact with the Clintons. Now, the big money comes from the left blogosphere and Bush-hating billionaires like George Soros. Dean gives them what they want.
As Dean says, "I hate the Republicans and everything that they stand for." Hate. But Bush hatred was not enough to beat Bush in 2004 -- Democratic turnout was up, but Republican turnout was up more -- and doesn't seem likely to beat Republicans in 2006 and 2008. The left blogosphere has driven the Democrats into an electoral cul de sac.
The Bush campaign, quietly, used the Internet to build an e-mail list of 7.5 million names and a corps of 1.4 million volunteers, who produced more new votes than the Democrats. But the right blogosphere was different from the left. There was no one dominant website and no one orthodoxy.