October 7, 2003

Philosophical differences  

Wesley Clark's campaign manager just quit:

Donnie Fowler, 35, told associates he was leaving over widespread concerns that supporters who used the Internet to draft Clark into the race are not being taken seriously by top campaign officials. Fowler also complained that the campaign's message and methods are focused too much on Washington, not key states, said two associates who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A lot of folks have criticized the Clark campaign for being too much informed by Washington insiders, with particular attention to the Clintons. The idea is that grassroots support and networking should be the motivators behind a successful campaign. In principle, it's pretty hard to argue with this. Since we (apparently) live in a democratic society where citizens can influence their government and its policies, we have to get involved in the political process, and campaigns that facilitate our involvement are better than those that don't.

What's less clear is whether a grassroots campiagn can win a presidential elections. The approach has worked for the Dean campaign because they've managed to tap into Democratic outrage. But a campiagn built on outrage is unlikely to win the general elelction, since it doesn't court the all-important independent voter. It's true that a Dean candidacy would electrify the Democratic base, but Bush would clean up in the middle. If a grassroots campaign somehow targeted independent voters, that might change the picture somewhat. The problem is that grassroots campaigns are usually built from the undiluted political ideologies on the wings, not the wavering ambivalence of the independent voter.

Anyway, I'm not arguing that Clark should spurn his grassroots supporters, and I don't necessarily think seasoned political operatives are better equipped to handle strategy than grassroots political operatives (although the Clintons do have a hell of a track record). I just think it's a little naive to assume that grassroots organization is necessarily better than a command and control structure, in terms of winning the election.


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