About the Book

Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope is made up largely of stories by people involved in the internet aspects of Howard Dean's campaign for President from 2002 to early 2004. Together, the essays make up a unique political retrospective, and provide a rich window into the passion, insights, surprises, and complexities of the Dean campaign's use of the internet, which changed the world's perceptions of what was possible in U.S. politics. Scholarly commentary by Manuel Castells and others round out the picture.

From the Introduction:

When looking back at moments of dramatic turmoil and change, there is a temptation to try to package events according to the needs of the present, to boil things down into easily digestible bullet points. In so doing, we tend to exaggerate the intentionality of actions that were successful; obscure our mistakes, confusions, and ambivalences; and thereby risk oversimplifying and misunderstanding what really happened. The bullet-point understanding of the Dean campaign is already out there: The 2006 elections were crowded with techniques from the Dean campaign, from blogs to meetups to personally signed fund-raising e-mails, and as of this writing the 2008 elections looked to be similarly crowded. Yet (with the exception of Ned Lamont’s campaign in the Connecticut Democratic primary), few of these efforts had the same surprising, galvanizing effects as the original. Whatever the Internet’s role in the Dean campaign, it cannot be boiled down to a few slogans. The story is complicated; for all the differences between the contributors to this volume, on this we agree.

Contributors represent a cross-section of Dean activists: authors who were technical experts and technical neophytes, seasoned campaigners and newcomers, those who worked in headquarters, others who worked in the field, and some who worked in both.

This is a book of stories. Authors were asked to provide narratives of their experiences rather than analyses. But they are stories with a serious purpose, selected not for dramatic value but to illustrate a specific historical moment. Authors were asked to focus less on colorful details than on meaningful ones. This book, then, is about both the facts and how the facts felt. It is a record of how and when the experience of the campaign changed individuals’ perception of what was possible in U.S. politics.

Have we nonetheless, by using first-person narratives, risked promoting the stereotype of the Dean campaign’s supporters as merely self-absorbed and out of touch with larger realities? Involvement in the Dean campaign was one of those uniquely intense personal experiences that, like sex or a profound religious conversion, is hard to describe and often looks odd or pathetic to those not sharing in it. This common personal experience, for all its variations, was an objective fact of the campaign. And, we suspect, experiences like this are of a piece with deep social change, and will be a component of any successful effort to build a more democratic society in the future. It deserves its place in understanding what happened.