To the majority of uninterested Americans, the name Howard Dean probably continues to conjure images of that red-faced night in January when the former Vermont governor’s dreams of victory in the 2004 presidential race evaporated in the wake of one ill-timed scream. However, ignoble ending aside, Howard Dean’s campaign for the presidency in 2004 was the backdrop for numerous lessons about the highs and lows of netroots campaigning. In their book “Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope: Lessons from the Howard Dean Campaign for the Future of Internet Politics”, former Dean ringleaders Zephyr Teachout and Thomas Streeter lead a gaggle of their fellow Dean staffers in a semi-narrative, semi-analytical examination of why the Dean campaign mattered both then and now.

If you had to take just one idea away from the Dean experience, it might be the notion that the primary force that drives any authentic political movement is a sense of purposeful action. The authors spend a substantial amount of time reminding the readers that, for all of the “Internet candidate” labels that were bandied about in the press throughout Dean’s campaign, the message only really found footing because it was tied to fundamental citizen involvement. The Dean campaign didn’t simply use the Internet as a cash register or a bulletin board; they identified the desire for community-based action and set about using the tools at their disposal to create such a system in a digital environment.

I was refreshed by the lack of irrational, starry-eyed optimism exhibited by the book’s contributors (not that I was expecting any, really). No one confuses the Internet with a strategy in and of itself; rather, they regard it as a powerful tool that, under the right set of circumstances, can circumvent traditional media roadblocks (name recognition, the “money primaries” of the early fundraising months), establish digital word of mouth buzz, and give voice and purpose to a large community of potential supporters. At every turn, however, the authors stress the importance of the circumstances rather than simply the tools themselves.

If Howard Dean’s message had been different, or come in 2007 instead of 2003, or if the United States hadn’t been gripped in the fog of post-9/11 hysteria that didn’t seem to dissipate until after the 2004 election, the campaign could’ve taken a very different turn in regards to both strategy and respectability. In the end, you get the sense that the relative successes of the Dean campaign were as much a product of the moment in history as it was of the new netroots revolution. Today, many of the Dean campaign’s risky innovations have become required, if overlooked, campaign tools. However, most candidates in the current field continue to exhibit an unhealthy lack of understanding when it comes to Internet campaigns. Ultimately, it seems that the Dean campaign’s legacy will be respected only when these tools receive the same consideration.

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James L. Bonville, International Journal of Communication 2 (2008), Book Review 295-296

Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope is an interesting culmination of narratives from integral members of the Howard Dean 2004 Democratic Party Presidential Primary campaign and the candidate himself, with a specific focus on the role of the Internet and new technologies. Each chapter contains the story of the Dean campaign, or some portion thereof, from the unique perspective of its author(s), thus allowing the complete text to provide the reader with a rich and thoughtful, but less scholarly or analytical, overview of the campaign and its footprint on American politics.

Myriad common themes appear throughout the various perspectives. For instance, many of the players who would inherit major Internet-related roles in the campaign were inspired to get involved either by the energy initiated by this grassroots movement or by the words and actions of the candidate himself, or more specifically, his February 2003 Democratic National Convention speech.

The use of technology in the Dean campaign to build a strong community of supporters, not only for fundraising efforts, but perhaps more importantly for mobilization and organization for a truly grassroots, uniquely decentralized campaign was the combined focus of the individual chapters. The intense reliance on volunteers and their atypical influence on campaign activities was another recurring theme. Many of these narratives detail the importance of the plethora of Internet applications that the Dean campaign employed, such as blogs, meetups, social networking tools like Deanster and Deanspace, organizing tools like Get Local, and a host of others. How these tools were used to inspire and organize supporters, allow for bottom-up communication between supporters and the campaign, and achieve more well-known fundraising milestones, were all discussed at great length throughout. . . .

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