Tuesday, December 13, 2005
BOOKNOTE: Joe Trippi: "The revolution will not be televised"
"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," by Joe Trippi
Reviewed by Sara Smith
Joe Trippi served as Howard Dean's campaign manager when he ran for the
Democratic nomination in 2004. He currently works as a political and
technology consultant. He wrote The Revolution Will Not Be Televised after
Howard Dean conceded from the 2004 presidential election. The book
recounts his extraordinary experiences working on the Dean campaign and
other presidential campaigns and concludes with his own personal message
to the American people - that message being "You Have the Power."
Trippi asserts that the American people have been lulled into a political
passivity since televisions were introduced into their homes in the late
1950s. He cites a study which asserts that "every hour of television
watching translates to a 10 percent drop in civic involvement." Not
surprisingly, with Americans watching more television than ever before,
the percentage of people showing up at the polls is lower than ever.
Trippi watches television - he is an admitted Sopranos and Law & Order
fanatic. He thinks TV is great - for entertainment.
He believes television causes people to disengage and become lazy. The box
tells us what to think, what to buy, how to act, etc. He sees the Internet
as doing the opposite - we tell the search engine what to look for.
Internet users are active - television viewers are passive. He sees the
Internet Revolution as a backlash against 50 years of political
uninvolvement. And, with the way our politics have gone in the last 50
years, we are paying the price for passivity.
For various reasons, the old media has fallen down on the job. And for a
long time the public could do nothing about it. But now we have the tool
we need to restore democracy to this nation - the Internet. The Internet
is the last hope for democracy. Some say it has ushered in the Information
Age, Trippi believes it is the Empowerment Age. Think about it ... through
the Internet we have access to all kinds of information and we have a
place to get together and discuss important issues and create change.
Old institutions had a top-down dynamic - those at the top hoarded
information, told us how to run our lives. The Internet allows that
information to be equally distributed. And in this day and age,
information is power. So, if we all have equal access to information and
the Internet allows us to share a free-flow of information, what we are
really doing is sharing power. The Internet returns the power to the
people. All we have to do is take it.
In the beginning when Internet access was more expensive and less
accessible to the average American, the Republicans or political right had
the strongest voice on the Net. But as time went on, accessibility
increased and costs decreased and more middle- to lower-class Americans
logged on. And, now, 75 percent of Americans have Internet access. It is
the tool that has aided the American people in becoming involved in
politics again. The September 11th terrorist attacks awakened young
Two-thirds of young adults polled said they are more likely to participate
in politics and voting because of the attacks. Many polled said they
wanted to make a difference but didn't know how and felt powerless. Trippi
saw these youths as the swing voters. He knew they were silently wishing
for a way to engage in civic affairs again and he gave them a venue in
which to do that.
Trippi decided to work on Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign because
he respected Dean for sticking his neck out and publicly criticizing
President Bush. Dean's stance mirrored Trippi's beliefs about what this
country needed to do to get back on track. Dean's message was simple: Take
back the country and give it to the people. Take the power back from the
politicians and place it in the hands of the people.
Trippi knew that Dean was more than a long shot - he had less than 500
supporters one year before the Democratic caucus. He had no experience
running a campaign and a ridiculously small staff. Yet, something in
Trippi connected with Dean and he could not keep himself away from this
campaign. He signed on to work as Dean's campaign manager and moved to
Vermont where he worked alongside a group of Dean's insiders who had been
with him for years as he was Vermont's governor.
Immediately, Trippi urged Dean who was a self-proclaimed technophobe to
start a web log. The blog drew thousands to Vermont - Trippi realized
there were thousands of people out there wanting to make a difference they
just didn't know how. The blog (and the Internet) gave them this
opportunity. And so they came. Trippi got a Internet management team
They consisted of Gray Brooks, a 19 year old who researched Dean on the
Internet, decided he was "a good man" and drove to Vermont to volunteer
for his campaign; Mat Gross, a 31-year-old, married blogger from Utah, who
didn't even pack any clothes, just hopped on a plane for Vermont to help
the campaign; Zephyr Teachout, a young death penalty lawyer. The team set
up a deal with the company who ran meetup.com to start organizing Dean
supporters on that site.
The site created a place for Dean supporters to get together and organize
a meeting once a month to discuss the campaign. At its height, the site
drew 170,000 supporters. Eventually, the supporters took control of the
campaign and it became their movement. The monthly meetings were drawing
so many supporters that meetup.com could not find venues large enough to
In mid-May 2003, eight months before the Iowa Caucus, a very slow time in
campaigning, Dean arrived in Seattle, Washington, to attend the monthly
meeting organized on meetup.com. Trippi was concerned there wouldn't be a
lot of supporters there this early in the campaign season. His concerns
were valid but he underestimated the support of the Dean movement - there
were 1,200 people there to support Dean. While Kerry and Edwards and the
other Democratic candidates held small gatherings and gave away food to
compel supporters to attend, Dean was talking to well over one thousand
supporters who showed up without the promise of food or anything.
Dean supporters came through in another tight spot. When Trippi and Dean
were faced with the conflict of whether or not to accept federal funds,
they turned the decision over to their Internet supporters who clearly
voted to forgo the funds and responded by donating $4.5 million in one
day! For the most part, mainstream media did not take much notice of the
extraordinary support Dean was drawing from the Internet. Trippi was
criticized by those in mainstream media - he was called an "eccentric who
wastes precious campaign time e-mailing obscure bloggers and hanging out
with political oddballs."
The Dean meet-ups were charactericized as "the bar scene from Star Wars."
They were missing the point - possibly the biggest story of the decade.
The campaign had drawn 170,000 supporters from the Internet. It was a
grassroots effort of extraordinary proportions. Not only did the
mainstream media miss the point, but the other candidates did as well.
They knew Dean was doing something right so they started up their own
sites as well.
But they approached their blogs the same way they approached their TV ads
- as a way to talk down to the public, provide them with only the
information they wanted them to know and called for no feedback or
comments from their supporters. Trippi said they missed the boat.
He quotes Thomas Jefferson "Unless the mass retains sufficient control
over those entrusted with the powers of their government, these will be
perverted to their own oppression, and to the perpetuation of wealth and
power in the individuals and their families selected for the trust." We
see this happening with the Bush administration (and other Republican
administrations before it) who get their campaign money from $2,000 checks
from the top one-quarter of 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans. Bush
raised $125 million in his campaign in 2000 - 59,279 donations of $1,000.
Charles Lewis, executive director for the nonpartisan Center for Public
Integrity wrote, "A contribution check of $1,000 isn't something the
average American can write; most often, those who open their checkbooks
are lawyers, lobbyists, or the vested economic interests they represent
who want something in return from the government." Trippi asserts that,
"in effect, 60,000 rich white guys determined who would be president for
the rest of us three hundred million people." Trippi goes on to describe
how the lobbyists who donated the most money to Bush's campaign were
appointed high-ranking positions in Bush's administration or somehow
benefited monetarily from their donations.
As we all know, Dean did not become our Democrat nominee in 2004. He went
down in flames in Idaho. In fact, in his book, Trippi says that the
beginning of the end for Dean started when Al Gore endorsed the governor.
That put Dean in the spotlight and he was attacked from all sides by all
three of his opponents. He was attacked in the worst possible way - with a
Negative campaign ads are the most damaging attacks because they reach
millions of people and have a profound effect on their perception of a
candidate. Gephardt and Kerry both went after Dean and his numbers dropped
dramatically in Iowa; by the time they got to New Hampshire it was all
over. Trippi quit the campaign and went home to sleep for a year.
Even though Dean lost, Trippi sees the campaign as a huge success. Dean's
campaign involved the public on a grassroots level. The response from the
public energized Trippi and he sees this as possibly the last generation
under the thumb of television, and into the active world of the Internet.
In the final chapter of the book,
Trippi moves away from the Dean campaign and speaks directly to the reader
about how the Internet is the tool we have to embrace to bring
participatory democracy back to this country. He lists examples of how
this is already going on. For example, at Strom Thurman's 100th birthday
party in 2002, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott gave a speech in which
stunned the audience with a racist comment. The next day, the major
newspapers and broadcast news outlets did not mention the comment in their
coverage. They claimed it did not fit in with the tone of the birthday
party and rendered the comment irrelevant.
Only one media outlet mentioned the outrageous comment - ABC News. Five
years ago, that would have been the end of the story. But the blogosphere
picked the ball up right where the media dropped it. Two of the Net's most
influential blogs jumped on the story and the controversy and conversation
about Lott's comment spread across the Internet. More traditional websites
picked up the story and Slate put out an 1980 speech in which Lott said
essentially the same thing.
By December 20, Lott resigned his leadership position. All because of a
handful of bloggers. Throughout the book, Trippi refers to our founding
fathers and their 200-year-old wish for this country. He quotes James
Madison: Knowledge will forever govern, and a people who mean to be their
own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
He closes with this: "This thing that connects us is more than a mesh of
wires and optic links, more than a world of web sites and blogs and e-mail
addresses. We are connected by our birthright as Americans and by the very
fiber of democracy .. Together, I believe we can accomplish anything, if
we just keep one idea in mind. One principle. Four simple words that still
echo across America: You Have the Power.