Herding Donkeys1 INSURGENT VS. ESTABLISHMENTI was the biggest insult you could have--an outside-the-Beltway guy who didn't want to play by the Washington rules.--Howard Dean
It was one of those expansively clear summer days in the Mountain West. On August 23, 2003, Howard Dean's campaign had just embarked on the frenetic Sleepless Summer Tour--ten cities in four days across 6,147 miles, raising a quick million via its campaign blog in the process. You could watch the dollar amount inch upward in real time on a giant baseball bat posted on the website. Dean had kicked the tour off in Falls Church, Virginia, then flew to Milwaukee. That morning he was headed to Portland, followed by Seattle, Spokane, San Antonio, Austin, Chicago, and ultimately concluding in New York City's Bryant Park. In between Milwaukee and Seattle, the campaign added an unannounced stop in the most seemingly impractical of places--Boise, Idaho.Idaho didn't get a whole lot of visitors from national Democrats, except maybe for trips to their ski chalets and summer homes (John Kerry had one in Ketchum). "Let It Be Perpetual"--the state's motto--might as well have described the Republican control of government there. So when a few local Democrats in Boise requested some face time with the former Vermont governor, they didn't expect to get an affirmative reply. But Dean unexpectedly said yes, as he was prone to do with these types of requests. After much internalwrangling among his staff, the campaign figured it needed a refueling stop anyway, so what the hell? Let's go to Boise!As Dean's chartered Boeing 737, otherwise known as the Grassroots Express, took off from Milwaukee, his press aide, Matt Vogel, announced the stop. The campaign was going to deplane for an hour in Boise and was expecting "fifty people or so," Vogel said. When Dean landed on the tarmac, 450 people were waiting to greet him, holding blue DEAN FOR AMERICA signs. A social worker named Delmar Stone could barely contain his exuberance. "The last time I was this excited about someone who could change the world," Stone said, "was when I heard about Jesus!"Dean was not quite the Messiah, but he had been on quite a roll. He'd just graced the covers of Time
and would soon shatter Bill Clinton's three-month fund-raising record by amassing an army of small donors over the Internet, using that money to air TV ads in six states a full five months before voters in Iowa went to their first-in-the-nation caucus. He now led in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire and had staff on the ground in twelve states and volunteers in all fifty. Assembling this kind of organization by August, said Dean's media consultant Steve McMahon, was "unprecedented. It's never even been contemplated." Dean's mad-scientist campaign guru, Joe Trippi, dubbed it "a frickin' revolution." Boise was living proof. If the campaign could draw hundreds of people for an unannounced stop in the Republican hinterlands, the possibilities were endless. By discarding the old playbook, Dean had become a new type of candidate, running a different kind of campaign.Dean stood onstage behind a large American flag perched on a hangar. The five-foot-eight, 180-pound Vermonter, who was often described as "sartorially challenged," wore a blue and white seersucker shirt with the sleeves rolled up (it gave him a salt-of-the-earth look), dotted red tie, and black chino pants, held tight by his late brother Charlie's black and silver rivet belt, which he wore every day. (In 1973, twenty-four-year-old Charlie, the most likely politician in the Dean family, traveled to war-torn Southeast Asia andnever came back, killed by guerrilla captors in Laos.) Next to Dean onstage rested another flag. "You see this flag?" he asked, grabbing it for emphasis. "This flag does not belong to John Ashcroft and the right wing of the Republican Party! This flag belongs to the people of the United States of America," he said sternly, with more than a tinge of anger in his gravelly voice, "and we're gonna take it back!" As it happened, Attorney General Ashcroft was scheduled to be in Boise the very next day, defending the controversial Patriot Act, which nearly every Democrat in Congress blindly went along with in the aftermath of 9/11, one of a series of capitulations to President Bush that Dean and his followers deemed unforgivable. The crowd loved Dean's fiery rhetoric and plainspoken populism, especially when he asked, "When are Democrats going to stand up and be Democrats again?"At the end of the impromptu rally, Dean promised to return to Idaho as soon as he could. Indeed, he went back two months later during another swing through the West, prompting a local columnist to joke that he must have a girlfriend in town, he visited so much. There was some logic to the Boise visit--Idaho would hold its caucus between the Wisconsin primary on February 17 and a glut of nine primaries on March 2, and Dean was already preparing for a lengthy primary. But the larger meaning was symbolic, a message to fellow Democrats not to take anything for granted, for Dean's campaign--thanks to its grassroots support--could go anywhere, at any time, and leave its imprint.A Democrat hadn't held a major statewide office in Idaho since 1994, the year Republicans took over everything. The last man to do so, former governor Cecil Andrus, happened to be in the crowd that day. "I've never seen this kind of energy in Boise," the seventy-two-year-old Andrus told Dean's adman, Mark Squier. A careful student of political imagery, Squier watched the scene with amazement. "There's a bunch of old-timers in the crowd," Squier reported to Trippi, "and they're going, Finally!" Squier punched his fist in the air to capture the intensity of the moment. "A Democrat who's notafraid to grab the flag and stick it in the ground ... It's like they've been dying twenty years in the desert looking for someone that they can beat back with." Such experiences drove home Dean's conviction that there were Democrats everywhere, in the reddest of so-called red America, and that it was time for the national party to stop pretending they didn't exist.
Twice a year, the various members of the Democratic Party--state party leaders, representatives from the different interest groups, elder statesmen--gather for the biannual meeting of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in Washington. During the election season, the Democratic candidates for president are invited to speak. These functions tend to be polite, sterile, scripted, backslapping affairs. That wasn't what Dean had in mind when he arrived at the podium on the afternoon of February 21, 2003.Just a few weeks earlier, Colin Powell had gone before the UN and made what many pundits and politicians deemed to be an unassailable case that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and needed to be forcibly disarmed. But Dean still wasn't convinced, and he was increasingly agitated by the unwillingness of Democratic leaders in Congress and on the campaign trail to question the Bush administration's march to war--and the broader failure of Democrats to challenge Bush on the domestic front. "The Democrats were shell-shocked, they were behaving like Republicans, they were afraid of their own shadow," Dean said of the mood at the time. "And the Democratic public really wanted something different." But he hadn't yet articulated precisely those sentiments, and no one really knew who he was. In January 2003, Dean still had only $157,000 in the bank and seven staffers crammed into a tiny office (the kitchen doubled as a conference room) above a pub in Burlington. Al Sharpton was leading him in the polls, to say nothing of John Kerry, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman.At 10:45 a.m., Dean sat in his hotel room at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. He'd just gotten off a red-eye (his preferred mode of travel) from California and was operating on two hours of sleep, which even for a doctor/politician was pushing it. He was due to speak at 11:15 and hadn't yet prepared a speech. "So what do I have to say?" he asked his small group of advisers--media consultant Steve McMahon, then-campaign manager Rick Ridder, longtime aide Kate O'Connor. McMahon brought along his business partner, Joe Trippi, to feel out the candidate that day. Dean had met Trippi only a handful of times but knew of his reputation as a bit of a loose cannon, wildly inventive but deeply insecure and difficult to control. Trippi urged the candidate to pose a series of rhetorical questions about the decaying state of the Democratic Party. "Let's take it to them," Trippi said."This is a little incendiary for Capitol Hill," Ridder said worriedly."We need to push the button now to create the movement," Trippi responded."Movements don't win elections," Ridder said, "candidates do.""This will create a buzz," McMahon chimed in, "but is it the buzz we need now?"Dean, ever the pugilist, liked Trippi's idea. "Let's just draw the contrast," he said.Trippi wanted him to say "What the fuck happened to the Democratic Party?"Dean knew he couldn't be quite so explicit. "How about if I say, 'What I want to know is'?" Dean pulled an envelope out of his pocket, kneeled down in front of a coffee table, and scribbled a litany of one-word indictments. The entire speech, if you could call it that, was hatched in ten minutes. "There was a dynamic tension in the room," said Dean's campaign chairman, Steve Grossman, "that led me to believe that Howard had something he needed to say to the DNC, to the American people, to the media, and he knew this was the moment." But as was so often the case, nobody quite knew exactly what shoot-from-the-hip-Howard would say once he took the stage.His staff had passed out little packages of Vermont maple syrup and cheddar cheese as goody baskets, so Dean started the speech with a line thanking his campaign team for its hard work. Then he paused, licked his upper lip, and got right to the point."What I want to know," he said in a deadly serious monotone, "is why in the world the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the president's unilateral attack on Iraq." So much for a formal introduction. Scattered cheers came from a group of supporters holding white Dean signs in the back of the room.Usually, political speeches take a while to get going, but Dean chose not to bury the lede, as they say in the news business, and continued his refrain. "What I want to know is why are Democratic Party leaders supporting tax cuts? The question is not how big the tax cut should be, the question should be can we afford a tax cut at all with the largest deficit in the history of this country?" A few more isolated cheers. Most members of the audience sat uncomfortably in their seats."What I want to know is why we're fighting in Congress about the Patient's Bill of Rights when the Democratic Party ought to be standing up for health care for every single American man, woman, and child in this country." More nervous clapping and scattered cheers."What I want to know is why our folks are voting for the president's No Child Left Behind bill that leaves every child behind, every teacher behind, every school board behind, and every property tax payer behind." Dean was picking up steam, and amid a few more hoots and hollers people were starting to stand up and get in on the act. He waited for a moment, then delivered the punch line he'd unknowingly borrowed from the late senator Paul Wellstone, who was killed in a plane crash days before the election in October 2002."I'm Howard Dean," he told the room, "and I'm here to represent the Democratic
wing of the Democratic Party!" The room finally exploded, with more than one person asking themselves, "Who is this guy?!"Steve Grossman led the DNC from 1997 to 1999 and had sat through more than a few of these gatherings. He'd never seen one like this before. "The response to all of the candidates was rather tepid, but people flew out of their seats for Howard," he said. "The applause was thunderous." Grossman sensed immediately the larger significance of the speech. "He challenged the Democratic Party right to its core," Grossman said. "To some extent he was challenging the people in the room, but they didn't see it that way, because they were always chafing under party orthodoxy and many of them were grassroots activists and they were looking for somebody to galvanize them and pull them out of that morass." Dean emerged the clear winner of the early cattle call. "He just blew those people away," said Joe Klein of Time
magazine. "It was one of the most effective speeches I've ever seen a candidate give." The question was, would it be a temporary blip or the beginning of something bigger?The Dean offensive had begun. For Trippi, "it was sort of like love at first sight," he recalled. Soon after, he went up to Burlington to run the campaign full-time. He and Dean proved a combustible mix, like throwing vinegar on baking soda in chemistry class. "There's an unpredictability about Howard Dean that's mirrored by the unpredictability of Joe Trippi," Grossman said. "You never knew on any given day exactly how it was going to turn out." Dean's speech on February 21 marked the beginning of that wild ride, which would continue long after his presidential campaign came crashing apart."My goal was not to be the best friend of all the people I was running against," Dean said. "My goal was to win. And I thought the party wasn't going to win unless we underwent fundamental change." His DNC speech, more than any other single event, set the tone for the rest of the campaign and shifted the arc of the Democratic Party for years to come. What direction the party would take, however, was hardly a settled question. Could Democrats once again become a party of the people, motivated by core principles and powered by grassroots activists out in the states? Or would theparty remain a Washington-centric institution, plagued by caution and calculation and dominated by a privileged group of megadonors and political operatives? In the weeks and months and years that followed, Dean would become a folk hero to insurgent Democrats across the country, but also a marked man among a circle of increasingly discredited yet stubbornly unyielding power brokers eager to hold on to their turf. The fight was much bigger than one person; Dean was only the match that lit the fire.
A year and a half earlier, Dean strolled into the office of his top aide, Kate O'Connor, a thin, wiry, meticulous thirty-seven-year-old native Vermonter, and casually told her he was planning to run for president. She barely blinked. "If George Bush can do it," O'Connor told her boss, "then why can't you?"In presidential politics, there are really only two types of characters worth paying attention to: the establishment candidates and the insurgents. Those in the former club rely on their lifetime of experience, well-to-do friends, media connections, and influential circle of advisers to bulldoze over their lesser opponents. The British writer Henry Fairlie, in 1955, famously described "the Establishment" as "the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised." Despite claims to the contrary, such an establishment most certainly still exists.Insurgents, by contrast, possess none of these claims to power and usually start off broke and unknown. They must create buzz--usually by saying something unusually substantive for a politician that is counter to the position of the establishment candidate(s)--to get in the papers, which they hope will help them raise money. From the very beginning Dean was, by default, an insurgent. He hardly visited Washington, spent little if any time socializing with the political and media in crowd, and had never raised more than $1 million for any of his campaigns. "I'm going to be dead last in fund-raising," Dean predicted early on. He liked to be home on weeknights andin Burlington on weekends. Though he was happily married, his wife, Judy, a practicing physician, hardly ever campaigned with him, which had to be a first for any presidential candidate. Nor did she upgrade to cable television in order to follow the campaign from afar. Dean's own mother, an art appraiser in Manhattan, described his campaign effort as "preposterous, and besides, it's very expensive."True, Howard Brush Dean III wasn't exactly a stranger to high society. His relatives came over on the Mayflower
and hunted whales off of eastern Long Island. He'd grown up on Park Avenue in Manhattan, descended from a long lineage of Republican bond traders (his great-grandfather was a managing partner at Smith Barney), spent summers in the Hamptons (where his dominating father, Big Howard, played golf at the exclusive Maidstone Club), and attended a Waspy boarding school in Rhode Island and then Yale. Dean's grandmother asked Dorothy Wear Walker Bush, future grandmother to George W., to be a bridesmaid at her wedding. But after an uninspired stint at the white-shoe trading house Clark Dodge, Dean eschewed the stuffy corporate existence by moving to Vermont for his medical residency in 1978, taking up stock in the Green Mountain State. His neighbor Esther Sorrell happened to be the grande dame of the Vermont Democratic Party, which is how Dean got his start in the business, serving as a local precinct captain and rising through the ranks. A friend described him as "a member of the club with a strong fuck-you mentality."Temperamentally, Dean was certainly more suited to the insurgent variety--frank, flinty, allergic to staying on script. He was the kind of guy who, though he could afford far better, drove a blue Chevy Malibu, rode a thirty-year-old mountain bike that his wife joked he'd bought for $10 at a garage sale, and painted his own house for relaxation, sometimes mixing paints to save money. His political consultant Steve McMahon recalled, upon first meeting him in 1992, that Dean was "remarkably and refreshingly honest and candid, and not a very snappy dresser. He didn't really fitthe stereotype of a politician as much as he fit the stereotype of a doctor."Dean knew he'd be an underdog if he ran, and circumstances gave him little choice in the matter. He'd thought about running for president in 2000, but Al Gore put the kibosh on that one. Since then, he'd had some time to think about the matter, and knew full well the odds were steep and slanted. Only one insurgent candidate had captured his party's nomination and gone on to win the presidency in the past quarter century, and that was Jimmy Carter in 1976. As it happened, Dean had volunteered for Carter's campaigns in 1976 and 1980, and knew a thing or two about the man. He flew down to Georgia and consulted the former peanut farmer turned president, receiving what, by this time, could be considered predictable advice: go to Iowa.It was Carter who put the Iowa caucus on the map, and that initial victory gave his campaign the instant credibility, money, and staff it so desperately needed. Dean knew that if he just did well enough in Iowa, he'd be in good shape in New Hampshire, where voters next door knew him. From then on, he reasoned, he could win a war of attrition against his opponents, competing in every state and going all the way to the convention if need be. He'd drive to every state himself if it came to that or fly cheaply on his favorite airline, Southwest, whose travel schedule he'd memorized.Dean began the journey by following Carter's trail to the Hawkeye State. His closest confidante, Kate O'Connor, would also make the trip. They'd attend fund-raisers for local candidates, drop by a dinner for a county Democratic Party, meet with farmers and businessmen, try to do an interview or two with a small newspaper or radio host. "Who are you and why are you here?" would be the most common responses. To say they were winging it would've been an understatement. "We would go to Iowa and we wouldn't know anybody," O'Connor said. "People really did think we were insane."Dean's travel habits were suited to life on the road; he packed sparsely, with a small carry-on bag, and, like Carter, stayed in supporters'houses, both to get to know the locals and to save money. If he had supporters in a given town, that is. At the time a lifelong technophobe, Dean eschewed a laptop or BlackBerry for a clunky cell phone, whose voice mail he sometimes had trouble accessing. Just like Carter, Dean stressed his distance from Washington and his record as governor--he'd balanced budgets in Vermont, given kids health care, and shifted the tax burden from poorer towns to wealthier ones in order to build better schools. What had his opponents done while Rome burned? Unlike his inside-the-Beltway competitors, Dean was sensible, honest, pragmatic. He wanted, he said, to be the candidate for "moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans and Independents," like John McCain in 2000.In those early days, Dean was entirely unprepared for what would come next. Everybody was.
Everybody, perhaps, except for Trippi. He'd been dreaming up a radical campaign like this for a million years and was compelled to spread the news to anyone who would listen. Most chose to ignore him, as you would a crazy man on the corner ranting about the end-time. In a world of dapper political consultants, Trippi styled himself as a hopelessly shabby Don Quixote. Vermont congressman Peter Welch, who hosted the first strategy session for Dean at his apartment in Burlington, described Trippi as "the weirdest guy I've ever met in my life." While everyone else drank coffee and orange juice that morning, Trippi dipped on a can of Skoal and consumed what must have been a case of Diet Pepsi--a staple of any workday for him, Dean staffers soon learned.Trippi loved romantic losers, quoted films about hapless underdogs, and, every four years, caught presidential fever like few in the business. He was there for Ted Kennedy in 1980 and Walter Mondale in 1984 and Gary Hart and Dick Gephardt in 1988 and Jerry Brown in 1992, when Governor Moonbeam raised $5 million in three weeks in $100 increments via an 800 number in a last-ditcheffort to stop Bill Clinton. Time
called it "the Touch-Tone Rebellion," led by "Public Enemy No. 1 for Establishment Democrats."In the 1990s, Trippi decamped to Silicon Valley and advised start-up tech companies, which opened his eyes to the possibility of using the Internet and technology to democratize politics. Meanwhile, back in Washington, Newt Gingrich and his band of suburban culture warriors grabbed the insurgent mantle, and Clinton spent the bulk of his eight years in office fighting for survival. The 1990s were not a good time for anti-establishment Democrats. In order to stay afloat and moderate the Democratic brand, Clinton cut deals with the Republican opposition on issues like taxes and welfare reform--a hallmark of his "Third Way" strategy of triangulation--invited wealthy businessmen to sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom to raise money, and brought in the widely reviled hatchet man Dick Morris to direct his reelection campaign. Clinton proved that he was a "different kind of Democrat," not like those tax-and-spend New Deal liberals--but at what cost? Clinton skillfully won two presidential elections, largely due to his own personal charisma, but his party shrank during his tenure in office, losing congressional seats, governors' offices, and state legislatures. After Clinton's election, Democrats controlled 57 seats in the Senate, 258 seats in the House, and 30 governorships. When he left office in January 2001, Democrats found themselves a lonely minority, holding 50 seats in the Senate, 212 in the House, and only 19 governorships.Politics had become an unseemly business in both parties. Decade after decade, campaigns grew more and more expensive, while fewer and fewer people voted. Civic engagement was at an all-time low, a disturbing trend captured in works like Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone
. "Our politics has been trivial and even stupid," E. J. Dionne Jr. wrote in his excoriating book Why Americans Hate Politics
in 1991. "For most of us, politics is increasingly abstract, a spectator sport barely worth watching." The soap operas of the Clinton years did little to refute that notion. With their majorities relinquished and their hold on power increasingly tenuous, a growingnumber of Democrats felt that their party had lost its compass (and just maybe its soul). Those sentiments only grew bleaker after Democrats suffered an electoral massacre in 2002, and Democratic leaders in Congress lined up in support of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq and post-9/11 policies. As Dean would later say, "Democrats are almost as angry at their own party in Washington as they are at George Bush."Dean was hardly the first person you'd nominate to lead a political rebellion. During his twelve-year tenure as governor, he studiously read Foreign Affairs
--the holy grail of elite foreign policy wisdom--and for most of his life he'd considered himself more of a hawk than a dove; sure, he'd protested the war in Vietnam like many of his peers and flirted with voting for Eldridge Cleaver, but he supported the first Gulf War and Clinton's interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. And he was often the target of progressives in Vermont, who found him to be too stingy with the budget and unwilling to spend money on ambitious social programs. "The left was always mad at me for something," he said. Dean got his start in politics agitating for a bike path rather than protesting the spread of nuclear weapons or U.S. aggression in the Cold War. He became governor only when, as lieutenant governor, his Republican boss died of a heart attack in office. Dean was performing a physical when he heard the news, and calmly continued the procedure before rushing to the state capital of Montpelier. But perhaps because he became governor by accident, Dean wasn't congenitally afraid--as most politicians are--of taking a potentially unpopular position. After he signed a bill in 2000 establishing civil unions for gay couples in Vermont, he received death threats and was forced to wear a bulletproof vest that fall and summer as he traveled the state. At one stop near St. Albans, an elderly woman called him a "fucking queer-loving son of a bitch." Such taunts were good preparation for a presidential campaign.After 9/11, Dean had taken to reading the Financial Times
and The Guardian
and noticed that the European press was far moreskeptical of the Bush administration's case for war--particularly the president's claims about Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction--than their American counterparts. Like a typical doctor, Dean did an examination and reached his diagnosis. If the evidence was, at best, mixed about Saddam's weapons program and ties to terrorists, then why was it so vital to unilaterally invade and occupy Iraq? Dean began to question whether Saddam indeed presented an imminent threat to America. "We cannot be successful in the long run by being unilateralist," he told the Concord Monitor
editorial page as far back as December 2001, "and I think there's very little support among our allies for bombing Iraq."As he kept speaking his mind, Dean marked a sharp break not just from his Democratic counterparts but also from the stage-managed and overproduced politics of the 1990s. As a governor, Dean had been a devoted Clintonite, but the times now called for a different approach. "What a lot of people learned from Bill Clinton is that if you accommodate and you co-opt, you can be successful," Dean said in the winter of 2003. "And Bill Clinton was very successful. But that role doesn't work for everybody, and it's not the right time for it anymore. It's a new time to be blunt, to be direct, and to stand up for what you believe. That's really the fault line--and the war is a piece of that."His stance on the war suddenly made Dean relevant. And the Internet would soon grant him an audience and a platform the candidate could never have imagined. A new movement was about to emerge, but it was difficult to see it coming. The chaotic, unpredictable next year, full of exuberance and anguish, would have been impossible to script.
The all-powerful x
factor for any would-be insurgent--a rush of positive publicity--swelled quickly after Dean's DNC speech, even though this was still well before the advent of You Tube. People began visiting the campaign's website in larger and larger numbers andasking to get involved in the campaign. Bands of committed supporters did one better and began organizing their own gatherings. If one had to put a date on when, precisely, Dean realized that the campaign was suddenly a whole lot bigger than he had ever anticipated, it was a couple of weeks after the DNC speech, on March 5, 2003.That night, he looked down from the balcony of the Essex lounge in lower Manhattan and couldn't believe how many people were packed into the rectangular-shaped bar. Nor could he believe that a few hundred more had been denied entry outside, lingering in a block-and-a-half line on the streets of the Lower East Side. Dean was expecting sixty people, and more than eight hundred showed. "All of a sudden the lightbulb went off in my head that this was a real campaign," Dean said, "and my days of wandering aimlessly in living rooms were over." More amazingly, his campaign hadn't even put the gathering together. It was done by a group of volunteers through a then-obscure website called Meetup.com."You're number two in meetups," Kate O'Connor informed Dean one day."What's meetups?" Dean asked blankly.O'Connor explained. A group of people signed up on a website based on their interests and then got together to discuss them. The site's cofounder Scott Heiferman first had the idea after watching The Lord of the Rings
and realizing that fellow Tolkienites around the country had no way to discuss the travails of the Hobbit kingdom in person. The campaign figured Meetup could become a great way to identify a network of supporters, a good many of whom probably also happened to be Rings
fans."Who's number one?" Dean asked."Witches," O'Connor responded. It had been a source of much consternation among Dean's Web team that the Wiccan coven still bested them.News of the site spread like a game of telephone. O'Connor heard about Meetup from Trippi, who heard about it from a blogger named Jerome Armstrong, who heard about it from another blogger, AzizPoonawalla, a twenty-nine-year-old medical student in Texas who founded the first unofficial Dean blog and one day in January received an e-mail from a Meetup salesman. Trippi, who by March was up in Burlington running things, began pushing for the candidate to attend a big meetup in New York City, which would in turn inspire supporters in other cities and states to hold their own, generating press attention, money, and new recruits. He initially met resistance from some inside the campaign, who worried about holding a large event in the wake of the fire that killed ninety-six people at a Rhode Island nightclub, or preferred that Dean do a fund-raiser instead. There was also the question of how many people would show. A meetup in Manhattan the month before, wrote the organizer David Nir, an associate at a hedge fund, had drawn a "very good turnout" of "around fifteen people." Nir was planning another event for early March. Trippi figured that in the wake of the DNC speech, the crowds would grow exponentially. After the number of RSVPs passed three hundred, Dean's scheduler, Sarah Buxton, gave the okay. They planned it for a Wednesday, in the hopes of making The New York Times
's influential Circuits column the next day.That same week, the Bush administration continued to try to rustle up the votes for a second UN resolution to authorize an invasion of Iraq. General Richard Myers announced plans to "shock" Saddam Hussein into an early defeat. War seemed all but certain. "It is time for regime change," Dean told the boisterous crowd. "We need regime change in Washington!" No other major candidate at the time dared challenge the popular war president in such a confrontational manner. A week later, Trippi got his Circuits column, splashed across the front page of the Times
's technology section. "Like Online Dating, with a Political Spin," the headline read. "We had intended to run this as a traditional campaign--an underdog campaign, but a traditional campaign," Dean later said. "But then the Internet exploded and became this enormous, growing phenomenon."Soon after, Trippi made the Internet the centerpiece of the campaign,which had not exactly been tech savvy up to that point. The server was based out of Colorado, and you had to call one of two people in Denver to make any changes to the website, no matter how minuscule. Staffers called it "fishing in mud." There were separate unofficial Dean blogs but no central one. Everyone worked on clunky old PCs. All of this soon changed. Around Trippi sprung a legion of tech-savvy underlings who came to define the campaign, for better or worse. They all had stories of how they ended up in Burlington, as if it were akin to a pilgrimage to Mecca.Matt Gross drove all the way from Utah, told Trippi he blogged for MyDD.com, and was hired as the campaign's blogger. Gray Brooks, a tall, blond Alabamian, deferred his sophomore year at Presbyterian College in South Carolina and became a programmer for the website. Nicco Mele tried and failed to get into the March meetup in New York, quit his job at Common Cause anyway, and became the campaign's Webmaster. Joe Rospars left a job and a girlfriend in Sweden to write e-mails and blog for the campaign. Zephyr Teachout, an iconoclastically named Utilitarian from Norwich, Vermont, made a flowchart one day of all the different ways she could change the world. She figured the Dean campaign was her best route, so she took a leave from work as a death penalty lawyer in Durham, North Carolina, and became the campaign's director of online organizing. On the outside, soon-to-be-influential young bloggers like Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, and Nico Pitney talked up and defended the candidate on a proliferation of blogs and websites.All this technological innovation struck those who knew Dean as more than a little ironic. At the beginning of the campaign--before Trippi arrived--the candidate and his top advisers, de facto Luddites, didn't even know what a blog was.One day in mid-February, Teachout, one of the campaign's first staffers, rushed excitedly into the office of Rick Ridder, Dean's campaign manager pre-Trippi. "Rick," she said, "Howard just blogged!" For the first time, Dean had posted a message to his supporters on the campaign's website."You mean clogged?" Ridder replied, thinking of an old-fashioned folk dance still practiced in Vermont. "I didn't know Howard knew how to dance.""No," Teachout responded incredulously. "Blogged. As in Web log
."Dean walked into Ridder's tiny closet office a few minutes later. "I understand you're the first presidential candidate ever to blog," Ridder told his boss."Is that what I did?" Dean cluelessly responded.Such was the birth of the Internet Campaign.
In early May, the campaign moved into a spacious new office in a nondescript section of suburban Burlington. The Internet was now the only thing Trippi wanted to talk about. He'd sit slouched in his office, behind a desk strewn with mounds of empty Diet Pepsi and Skoal cans, hunched over a laptop, scanning blogs and chatting with Dean supporters all day and night. In those days each department of the campaign wanted to control the website and nobody knew who was in charge. A heated turf war was about to ensue. On May 13, Trippi called a staff meeting for 10:00 p.m., a seemingly late hour for a crucial business meeting but standard fare on the sleep-deprived Dean campaign.A dozen top staffers gathered in the sparsely decorated conference room, sitting on folding metal chairs around a cheap wood table. Trippi stood in front of a giant preinstalled whiteboard and for the first time mapped out a legitimate path to victory. He detailed how the campaign was going to use the Internet to raise unprecedented sums of money, attract an untold number of supporters, and win the primary by bypassing traditional political channels in the media and fund-raising world. "We're gonna make history," Trippi said. "People might laugh at us now, but we're gonna build something bigger than ourselves." His scribbling--lines and lines that arched into the distance--looked like incoherent scrawl to a casual observer, but everyone in the drab conference room got themessage. "That was a critical moment," Mele said, "because everyone got on the same page." After the meeting, Trippi created a PowerPoint presentation based on the talk, traveling around the country trying to spread the gospel of a new political model to skeptical political insiders. "Everybody I gave the presentation to looked at me like I was from Mars and probably on massive quantities of hallucinogenic drugs," he told The New Republic
.Trippi was particularly obsessed with MoveOn.org as a guiding light. MoveOn launched during the Clinton impeachment hearings but came of age and grew rapidly because of its organized opposition to the war in Iraq. "There is no way to understate the importance of what MoveOn and its members proved--that the net can be used to mobilize huge numbers of grassroots to take local action beyond their monitors," Trippi wrote in a campaign blog. They'd also raised $4 million for political candidates during the 2002 campaign, an impressive sum at a time when the Internet was just emerging as a fund-raising source. "They raised a lot of fucking money on the Internet and nobody else had," Mele said. Trippi called MoveOn's San Francisco-based founder, Wes Boyd, and twenty-two-year-old campaigns director, Eli Pariser, constantly for advice. Technically, MoveOn offered to help all the Democratic candidates, but only Trippi took them up on the offer. Soon enough, MoveOn's organizing director, Zack Exley, was dispatched to Burlington. The emergence of a new liberal power center, galvanized by the likes of MoveOn, both complemented and enabled the rise of the Dean campaign.Thus began a remarkable spring and summer, when the campaign built a plethora of new tools that would fundamentally change political campaigns and the nature of public communication. "It was the most amazingly inventive, creative, intense, stressful, but exciting period during the campaign," Teachout said. "I'd argue that in those four months, all the seeds of what then became the Obama campaign were created." Soon enough, Dean supporters could plan events online and invite other Dean supporters in their area (a precursor to Obama's my.barackobama.com), create their ownprofile page on a website and network with other activists (a precursor to Facebook), follow speeches by the candidate and upload their own content to the campaign's website (a precursor to YouTube), call a list of targeted voters anywhere in the country from their own homes (technology that would become standard fare four years later), and receive campaign information via cell phone text messages (ditto). Never before had ordinary campaign supporters had so much power. Suddenly they went from passive consumers to active organizers. A grassroots army could be fielded in ways previously unimaginable. Building a "party of the people" was no longer a theoretical or purely aspirational undertaking. "Trippi knew that he had unleashed something potentially dramatic and unpredictable," Steve Grossman said. "It's like if you're in a chemistry laboratory and you're fooling around with unstable compounds. You know that you could blow up the lab, you know that somewhere in the back of your mind you are playing with fire, but you're driven to do it because you're pushing the frontiers of chemistry and science." A volatile experiment was under way.
When Colorado senator Gary Hart ran for president in 1984, nearly upsetting former vice president Walter Mondale in the Democratic primary, he talked about what he termed the "politics of concentric circles." Hart would drop a pebble in a certain place--finding a dynamic organizer in a given town or state--and watch the movement ripple out in waves. Hart's dictum made a lasting impression on Trippi, even though he worked for Mondale at the time. It seemed a perfect way to run a successful insurgency--"you could spread a candidate or a cause or an issue like a virus--starting with a small, key group of people and let them run wild," he wrote. "Unfortunately, back then there was no tool that would help you create the momentum." Thanks to the growth of the Internet, the Dean campaign was able to undertake what Trippi called "concentric circles on steroids."To be sure, there had been plenty of innovation in political campaigns--particularly on the presidential level--before the Dean campaign. JFK conquered the television era in 1960, and Richard Nixon struck back eight years later by hiring slick Madison Avenue admen to produce his campaign commercials and rebrand him as the "New Nixon." George McGovern's campaign discovered in 1972 that a direct-mail solicitation could yield hundreds of thousands of dollars in small donations, a trend the Republicans soon took advantage of and surpassed Democrats at. Twenty years later, Bill Clinton's brash, jean-jacket-wearing young advisers pioneered the hard-hitting style of "war room" rapid-response communication in the age of cable news. A WWF wrestler named Jesse Ventura got himself elected governor of Minnesota in 1998 by almost exclusively using e-mail to attract supporters to his unorthodox campaign. John McCain raised $2 million in two days over the Internet after winning the New Hampshire primary in 2000. All of these were thought of as major developments at the time. Yet at the beginning of the new millennium, the Internet remained a primitive medium, and TV consultants and megadonors still prevailed.On June 17, 2003, George W. Bush kicked off his reelection campaign with a $2,000-a-head cocktail reception at the Washington Hilton featuring the city's top corporate lobbyists and Republican fund-raisers, whom Bush, in a classic Freudian slip, once referred to as "my base." Each "Ranger" pledged to raise $200,000 for the campaign, toward an end goal of a $200 million war chest. That night alone, Bush netted $3.5 million, and his two-week fund-raising tour had just begun. That money gave the Republicans a marked advantage. Even before Bush's fund-raising spree, Republicans out-raised Democrats in every dollar amount except donations of $1 million and above. Thanks to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill of 2002, which outlawed unlimited "soft money" contributions, Democrats lost that lone advantage too. Republican election lawyers referred to McCain-Feingold as "the DemocraticParty suicide bill" and predicted they'd out-raise and outspend Democrats for decades to come.Back in Burlington, Trippi calculated how many rubber-chicken dinners the Dean campaign would have to hold in order to even come close to matching Bush. Suffice it to say, the poultry industry would've made a fortune. If the campaign did things the way they'd always been done, Bush would make a laughingstock of whoever became the Democratic nominee. Trippi reasoned, from a purely tactical perspective, that the campaign had no choice but to go an unconventional route.On June 23, 2003, Dean stood before a sea of five thousand supporters in downtown Burlington and officially announced his candidacy, unveiling a new campaign slogan, "You Have the Power," as in, "you
have the power to take our country back." What seemed like feel-good hippie talk to his opponents resonated among Dean supporters, who liked the fact that he was challenging the powers that be in both parties. "Our founders have implored that we were not to be the new Rome," Dean said in his announcement speech. "We are not to conquer and suppress other nations to submit to our will. We are to inspire them."That Tuesday, following the speech, $300,000 came in over the Internet. The same thing happened Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, the campaign put up a picture of a baseball bat--a soon-to-be-familiar motif--to measure the progress, with a goal of $4.5 million for the end of the month. When the take jumped to $6.5 million over the weekend, Dean thought the website had been hacked. On the last night of the fund-raising quarter--numbers closely monitored by political operatives and campaign reporters, dollars being the only language Washington really understands--$828,000 poured in, with an average donation of $112. "End of Story, Howard Dean Is the Story," National Journal
's insider rag, The Hotline
, declared. He was now irrefutably a contender, and quite possibly his party's nominee. It sent "shockwaves through the entire Democratic Party in June when that money all came in," Trippi said. If two million peopleeach gave $100, the campaign could match Bush. That idea--stunningly simple yet profoundly ambitious--became the mantra for the Dean campaign and the small-donor revolution that would follow.Over the Fourth of July weekend, Dean's pollster, Paul Maslin, a thirty-year veteran of the business, called up Trippi. "Joe, you know what this is, don't you?" Maslin told him. "This isn't Jimmy Carter or George McGovern or Jerry Brown or Ross Perot or any of the analogies people are making. You know who this is?""Yeah, I know exactly who," Trippi responded. "It's Andrew Jackson.""If we really pulled this off," Maslin said, "you'd have the equivalent of that scene where Andrew Jackson becomes president and the people just break down the fence at the White House and say, 'This is our place.'"
Of course, Dean repelled as many people as he excited, most notably those Democrats accustomed to running the show inside Washington. Talk of a populist revolt sent shivers down the spine of Al From and Bruce Reed, leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). "What activists like Dean call the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is an aberration: the McGovern-Mondale wing, defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home," From and Reed wrote in a fiery memo titled "The Real Soul of the Democratic Party" on May 15, 2003. Four days later, after Dean won the endorsement of the 1.5-million-member public employees union AFSCME, the DLC denounced the union as "fringe activists."Since its founding in 1985, the DLC existed to break the power of liberal interest groups inside the Democratic Party and attract support from the business community. Former congressional aide Al From aggressively expanded what had been an informal caucus of southern and western congressmen into a $7-million-a-yearoperation at its peak in 2000. By that time it had five thousand members, and politicians, policy wonks, and lobbyists flocked to its annual summit. The DLC's support for free-market policies (and the money that brought in from major corporations) and its early media savvy enticed an ambitious young Arkansas governor into becoming its chair in 1990. After Bill Clinton's election, DLC strategists Bill Galston, Elaine Kamarck, and Bruce Reed became top domestic policy aides in the White House. When Newt Gingrich took over the House in 1994, From instructed Democrats to move to the right and "get with the [DLC] program." The DLC quickly became the new Washington establishment, launching state chapters, creating the New Democratic Coalition in Congress, and expanding its Progressive Policy Institute think tank. A top aide to Jesse Jackson groused of Clinton's Democratic Party, "The DLC has taken it over."The DLC's accommodationist instincts--Clinton's strategy of triangulation was all about peeling off core Republican positions--led them years later to emerge as a key supporter of the war in Iraq. At a ceremony at the Rose Garden announcing the war resolution, current and former DLC chairmen Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, and Dick Gephardt flanked President Bush. No candidate embodied the DLC's ethos better than the hawkish Lieberman, who shared a pollster--the cantankerous Mark Penn--with the organization. During the campaign, the DLC, Lieberman, and Penn became Dean's sharpest and most vocal critics. "A Dean nomination could again mean Democrats lose 49 out of 50 states," Penn told Newsweek
, without acknowledging why his own candidate was floundering in the polls. Indiana senator Evan Bayh echoed this broader ideological attack, proclaiming: "The Democratic Party is at risk of being taken over from the far left."Ironically, in 1996 the DLC had praised the reelection of "the centrist Gov. Howard Dean" as indicative of blossoming "New Democratic leadership." Indeed, Dean didn't fit neatly into any prearranged ideological boxes, which helped explain why he was becoming so popular. He was socially liberal, fiscally conservative,opposed to the war in Iraq but generally hawkish on foreign policy, and had been endorsed in Vermont by the National Rifle Association and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL). Slate
noted that during the campaign he'd drawn comparisons to just about every possible candidate, including Bill Clinton, John McCain, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Harry Truman, and even Ronald Reagan. When Dean talked about representing the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," he meant standing up for some basic principles rather than pushing the party far to the left. The criticism of Dean by DLC types led some political analysts to wonder whether the DLC's animosity was more about power than ideology. "Mr. From fancies himself a kingmaker," wrote Wall Street Journal
columnist Al Hunt, "and Dr. Dean hasn't supped sufficiently at his table."Dean had become the messenger for a much bigger battle. "I knew very well that if I was going to be the front-runner, everybody was going to do everything they could to get rid of me," Dean said. "I had no connection to Washington, and I was the biggest insult you could have--an outside-the-Beltway guy who didn't want to play by the Washington rules."
The staggering amount of money that poured in over the Internet after his official announcement speech--in three months Dean raised more cash than he expected to amass during his entire run--allowed the campaign to do things that heretofore seemed both illogical and impossible. From the very beginning of his bid, Dean wanted to build an organization in all fifty states. "I didn't need fifteen or twenty percent in the polls," he said. "All I needed was twenty-five people in each state who would organize, and that would be enough." Vermont can be a pretty isolating place, but as far back as 1997 Dean traveled frequently to far-flung red states as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. "We've got to go to the places where nobody else goes," he told O'Connor. He figured theseappearances would boost local Democratic parties and candidates, give him a foothold in states no other presidential aspirant bothered to visit, and help his campaign once the race got past Iowa and New Hampshire and became a battle for delegates. Certainly no other presidential hopeful was crazy enough in May 2002 to attend the Wyoming Democratic Party's annual convention at the Outlaw Inn in Rock Springs. Dean returned to the Cowboy State two months later as part of another tour through the West, also hitting Colorado, Idaho, and Nebraska.At the start of the campaign, crisscrossing the country didn't strike Dean's advisers as a very practical idea. "We literally had like $100,000 in the bank, and Howard wanted to have campaign managers in all fifty states," Trippi recalled, laughing. As a response to Dean's stubborn insistence, Trippi wrote a memo to the campaign staff arguing that "few successful national campaigns have garnered that success by embarking on a full blown fifty-state strategy. The demand on time and resources has almost always led to failure." In his office, Trippi scribbled four things on a giant whiteboard: Iowa, New Hampshire, Internet, and $. "If you came in to talk to him about anything else, he said 'Get the fuck out of my office,'" said his deputy, Paul Blank. "And believe me, he didn't say it nicely."But as donations skyrocketed and supporters flooded the website, Dean's implausible fantasy suddenly became a workable concept. Soon enough, this fifty-state strategy became a badge of honor inside the campaign, another symbol of how Dean was running a different kind of campaign. As e-mails poured into headquarters, local volunteers were asked to begin organizing their states by holding meetups and recruiting more volunteers. Zephyr Teachout called it "hiring people for free." The campaign as a whole still focused primarily on Iowa and New Hampshire, but broadening beyond the usual battlegrounds gave Dean the tactical advantage of being organized in places his opponents were not--generating a ton of press and money as a result--and took on the larger significanceof involving people in places the party had long ago written off. "The campaign got so much excitement everywhere that you had to have a fifty-state strategy," explained Blank, "because how could you turn down all these people who were excited about politics for the first time ever just because they lived in Montana? That's ridiculous. So we had to get them involved, and that's where technology was so helpful, because it meant they could get involved."In August 2003, when George Bush retired to Crawford for his summer vacation, the campaign made a surprise decision to place a TV ad in Bush's backyard. Looking relaxed in a blue oxford shirt, Dean stood behind a row of trees and looked directly into the camera. "In the past two and a half years we've lost over two and a half million jobs," he said. "And has anybody really stood up against George Bush and his policies? Don't you think it's time somebody did?" The ad ran only in Austin and cost less than $200,000 to produce and air. Nonetheless, it generated a torrent of publicity for the campaign and $1 million in donations over the Internet. Texas became Dean's latest red-state obsession. Later that month, he visited both Austin and San Antonio on the Sleepless Summer Tour, drawing huge crowds. "In Dean, some backers see hope for Texas' ailing Democratic Party," the Austin American-Statesman
reported. At the end of September, five hundred Texans spent a weekend knocking on doors in Iowa and New Hampshire, sharing their firsthand stories of disgust with George W. Bush. That same weekend, the campaign set the Guinness world record for conference calls, connecting 3,557 different phones in all fifty states. By early fall, Dean got his wish, and the campaign hired organizers in the states following Iowa and New Hampshire on the primary calendar: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Michigan, Washington, Wisconsin, and Oregon.
Along with attempting to reshape the political map, the Dean campaign strived to reinvent the everyday practice of politics, fusing thebirth of the new with the renaissance of the old. In many ways, grassroots organizing dates back to the beginning of the American Revolution and formed the bedrock of political campaigns until the spread of television. But during the TV era, old-school organizing went out of style. Political consultants who made their fortunes off thirty-second ads--and politicians and pollsters who loved the instant gratification of television--now dominated the landscape. Then-journalist Sidney Blumenthal called these consultants "the new political bosses." Paradoxically, it took the emergence of the Internet--a medium everyone thought would turn its users into antisocial automatons--to make old-school organizing relevant again and reestablish the sense of community that TV destroyed. Few people knew this storied world better than Marshall Ganz, a rotund, mustachioed sixty-year-old lecturer of public policy at Harvard University and expert on community organizing who became a key figure in the Dean campaign.In the summer of 2003, Karen Hicks, the state director for Dean in New Hampshire, went to see Ganz in Cambridge. Hicks--a thirty-four-year-old native of Concord and a live free, die hard veteran of Granite State politics--had been running a pretty traditional campaign, relying on underpaid college students to knock on doors in support of Dean. Unfortunately, even though New Hampshire bordered Vermont, few voters in the first primary state knew who Dean was back then or were prepared to commit to his campaign. After knocking on seventeen thousand doors during the spring and summer, the campaign netted only three hundred new supporters, a horrendous return rate.Hicks had thrown her support behind Dean, and not an established candidate like Kerry or Gephardt, in part because she wanted to try something new. She'd spent the 2002 cycle working on the Senate campaign of former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen, who ran against freshman incumbent John Sununu. It was a nasty, multimillion-dollar race, with attack ads on both sides. Shaheen lost by twenty thousand votes, and a GOP political operativelater went to jail for jamming the phone lines in Shaheen headquarters on Election Day. When it was all over, Hicks realized, "we had increased the bar on cynicism rather than invite more people in." After the election, she went to India for six weeks and lounged on the beach in Goa, detoxing. Shaheen became national cochair of Kerry's campaign, and most of her campaign staff followed suit.When Hicks returned, she heard all the candidates speak, but only Dean moved her. She first heard him at a house party in Concord hosted by Gary Hirshberg, the president of Stonyfield Farm yogurt, a local New Hampshire institution. "I remember being just shocked," Hicks remembers. "Literally, I went ahhh"--she grabbed her throat and inhaled deeply for emphasis--"when he was speaking. At that time nobody was saying anything close to what he was saying." She wanted to run a campaign that matched the unconventionality of the candidate and the grassroots energy he'd unleashed. "I knew I wanted to do something different, but I didn't really know what or how."That's how she and her deputy Tom Hughes ended up having coffee with Ganz at Henrietta's Table in Cambridge."We're not getting the numbers we need," she told him. "What if we tried community organizing?""Oh, that would be interesting," Ganz responded. "We haven't done that for a while in electoral politics."Not since the 1980s, when he'd helped elect a promising California liberal named Nancy Pelosi to the U.S. House of Representatives. Phillip Burton, his brother John, and his wife, Sala Burton, had represented San Francisco's Fifth Congressional District since 1964. In 1987, before Sala passed away in office, she named Pelosi as her designated successor, though she still faced a stiff challenge from San Francisco supervisor Harry Britt, a mainstay in the city's influential gay community. Pelosi had no organization, so Ganz and his partner Paul Milne decided to hold house meetings in the city to spread the word of her candidacy, a grassroots model pioneered by César Chávez and the United Farm Workers. "We had eighty-one house meetingsin three weeks, and she went to seventy-nine of them," Ganz recalled. Pelosi won the special election narrowly, by 4 percent.The idea of house meetings came from Chávez's mentor, Fred Ross Sr., a protégé of legendary Chicago community organizer Saul Alinsky. At the time, Ross and Chávez were trying to get Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles to join the Community Service Organization, a precursor to the United Farm Workers of America. The predominant organization in the area, the Catholic Church, opposed the union. So Ross and Chávez started holding house meetings "to go direct to the people," Ganz said. In a sense, house meetings created a social network long before so-called social-networking tools, like Facebook, existed. That's what Ganz wanted to do in New Hampshire for Dean.Ganz grew up the son of a rabbi in Bakersfield, California, and headed east to Harvard in 1960. He dropped out in 1964 and became an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the campus arm of the civil rights movement, in McComb, Mississippi--the site of SNCC's first voter-registration drive. He lived with a black family in a KKK stronghold near the Louisiana border, registered voters for the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (the reigning state Democratic Party was aligned with segregationist Dixiecrats), and taught Sunday school at the Sweet Home Baptist Church. The Klan in Mississippi famously lynched three college students that year, and there were twenty-four bombings in McComb alone. Ganz had a front-row seat to the violence and injustice that marked the struggle for political power in America, forever changing the way he saw the country. He called it "Mississippi eyes."In 1965, he returned to Bakersfield. Thirty miles north, thirty-eight-year-old César Chávez was leading striking farmworkers, agitating for a union and basic political rights. Ganz joined Chávez as an SNCC representative. In 1968 they organized East Los Angeles for Bobby Kennedy in the California primary, proving that long-disenfranchised minority voters could be a force in electoral politics.Ganz helped transform the United Farm Workers into one of the most politically astute unions in California, then started his own organizing institute, but soon became dismayed by the rise of the "consultocracy." In 1980, for example, Democrat Alan Cranston spent $2.5 million on a winning Senate campaign in California. By 1986, Cranston had unloaded $20 million on his reelection. Pollsters and admen dominated the process, squeezing out organizers like Ganz, who made a living the old-fashioned way, talking to people. Ganz quit politics altogether in 1991 and went back to Harvard to resume his studies and teach. There was no place for him in the money-infested Democratic Party of the 1990s. "I never got Clinton," he said. "It was just never there for me."It wasn't until Dean that he became reengaged with politics and the Democratic Party. In 2003, he kept hearing his students talk about the insurgent governor from Vermont. "It was clear there was this kind of energy that, to me, resonated with my experience back in the sixties," he said. When he asked his students why they liked Dean so much, it was all about one thing, he remembers: courage. "Dean was the one guy who said the emperor had no clothes," Ganz said, "and everybody else was chickenshit." He agreed to help.On a scorching weekend that July, Hicks, Ganz, and all the principals of the Dean campaign in New Hampshire gathered for a retreat at the Browne Center in Durham, a bucolic town on the Oyster River. Campaign staffers slept and worked in small, spartan wooden yurts in the woods and showered at the local gym. Standing in an exceedingly warm, thirty-foot-wide circular room, Ganz plastered the walls with a series of large charts describing the building blocks of community organizing. He told his own story and asked those assembled to tell theirs, explaining how the campaign would be different from now on. "Organizing is not about marketing an idea as a cause or a service to customers," he said. "It is about entering into a relati
ARI BERMAN is a political correspondent for The Nation and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at the Nation Institute. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, and he is a frequent commentator on MSNBC and National Public Radio. He lives in New York City.