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Unlike the original radical libs, who clashed with the blue-collar Dems, Dean has cleverly embraced Gephardt's lunch-pail populism. To do so, he had to delete Howard Dean 2.0, who was a militant New Democrat. He abandoned his support for free trade. He now opposes the New Democrat impulse to reform traditional liberal programs like old-age entitlements, public education (Dean is even skeptical about charter schools, a New Dem staple) and affirmative action. Indeed, about the only Clintonian remnant that Dean supports is fiscal conservatism.
But it is style more than substance that distinguishes Dean Democracy from its predecessors cyberstyle. When the Supreme Court upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law last week, it was a ratification of New-New fund-raising practices. Soft money that is, giant corporate contributions to political parties is out; giant personal contributions to nonparty activist organizations like MoveOn.org are in. "The irony is, the Democratic National Committee could use soft money to run positive ads about our candidates," a prominent Democrat told me last week. "The law says MoveOn.org isn't allowed to promote individual candidates. They're limited to informational ads, like the ones they're running now about Bush. In other words, this is a reform that will result in a tidal wave of negative ads."
That seems a perfect fit for Dean's ad hoc bellicosity. But negative ads appear to be the only traditional consultant-pollster black art in which he is willing to indulge. "We've used polling differently from every other campaign I've been involved with," Trippi told me. "We didn't use it at all until a few months ago. When Gephardt spent two weeks banging us on TV in Iowa, we wanted to see if that hurt. And I think we've done one focus group. We ran a 3-min. tape of Dean at his most passionate to see if people thought he seemed angry. They didn't, by the way. They said he seemed strong. Anyway, we've got better ways to find out what people think. When we do step in it like on the Confederate-flag comment we know it immediately. Our supporters let us know by e-mail: 'Governor, you've gotta apologize.' The day Gore endorsed us, we were getting 30 comments a minute on our weblog."
There is, however, another statistic that may put the Dean phenomenon in perspective. On Sept. 30, Dean had approximately 452,000 Internet supporters. Trippi said the goal was a million by the end of the year. Last week they had only 515,000. The New-New movement may have reached a plateau. Then again, doctors have been known to change their diagnoses. The devotion of his followers gives Dean the leeway to take the movement in any direction he wants. One can only wonder what the next New-New thing will be.