Will the Internet candidate please stand?

The recent announcements of changes in the campaign management of the Dean presidential campaign raise some interesting questions.

As political observers know by now, Joe Trippi, the man credited with creating a new political approach by using the Internet, has been replaced at the head of the Dean campaign by Roy Neel.

In: Telecom Insider

The impact of this change goes much beyond a simple change of management. Neel was president and CEO of the USTA, which bills itself as “the voice of the converged telecom industry”.

The USTA and the Internet crowds have often been on opposed end of the political spectrum. Historically, the USTA has been the organization that protects the Baby Bells. For example, the USTA believes that IP telephony should be subjected to the same charges as regular telephone carriers and does not support Wireless Number Portability.

Granted, it is unfair to look at the current record of an organization and use it to paint a negative image of a former president. Maybe the organization changed radically from when he was their president. So let’s look at his record: Neel is against regulations of telephone companies but against sharing lines, which he sees as anti-competitive. Here’s what he had to say:

line sharing create a tremendous disincentive for investment by the local exchange carriers in the deployment of digital subscriber lines and other advanced services

Well, OK… so many he’s pro-consumer and wants to do what’s best to ensure more competition, except…
In March 1997, the FCC was considering a decision on reducing local telephone access charges. Where did the USTA and its president stand? Opposed to it.

Out: Decentralized Internet-based campaigning

Buried in a New York Times story comes the announcement that “Mr. Neel would centralize decision-making in Burlington but would not be dictating to the field offices.” This strikes me as a departure from the previous strategy of pushing power to the edge and creating an open-source presidential campaign.

Does that mean that the distributed nature of the Dean campaign is now breathing its last breath and that the Dean campaign is abandoning the Internet principles that got it so far?

A void in Internet candidacy

With these changes, the Dean campaign seems to signal a shift away from the Internet and towards a more traditional approach. This seems to create a void that could be filled by other candidates but who will step up to the plate? There is an obvious opportunity here for anyone who wants to get an energized base to join them.

At the end of the day, the media went after Dean because he represented something vastly different. His use of the Internet was scary to them because it subverted all the established channels, getting around the traditional media, around the established power-that-be in politics and giving a truly populist campaign back to the people, empowering them through the Internet. Any candidate that steps up to the plate and wants to become the Internet candidate will have to realize that he/she will be attacked for it because it is truly a revolution.

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