VERMONT — When Howard Dean stepped onto the stage in Iowa on that cold January evening in 2004, he removed his coat, handed it off, and rolled up his sleeves. Then, it happened: the “Dean Scream.”
In a moment, the presidential candidate had re-defined himself to the mainstream media, which then milked the sound byte to portray a cartoonish image of Vermont’s former governor. The impression would reverberate across the country and become bound to the Dean campaign, at least outside the friendlier Green Mountain State.
But the impact of that campaign cannot be confined to a single sound byte or video clip. Well before the Scream, the campaign’s grassroots use of the Internet to raise money and galvanize supporters changed how campaigns have been run since.
“Every campaign — including Republican campaigns — has a blogger, is soliciting money with email, is doing list building . . . Nobody did that before Dean with any effect,” says Thomas Streeter, co-editor of a new book out this month from Paradigm Publishers entitled Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope: Lessons from the Howard Dean Campaign for the Future of Internet Politics.
The book explores the impact Dean and his team had on national politics through the eyes of those closest to the campaign. Its pages are filled with essays written by supporters at various levels.
“What this book does is take it beyond those few little sound bytes and tries to get a much richer understanding,” says Streeter. “[The campaign] changed what people imagined was possible in politics in the United Sates in a rather profound way.”
Co-edited by Duke Law School Assistant Professor Zephyr Teachout, who was Dean’s Vermont-based director of online organizing during the campaign, Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope describes the almost-magical effect the winds of political change can have on those caught in the breeze. Teachout describes her realization of the power of Internet politics as a sort of fairy-tale epiphany. “You feel like you’re sort of stumbling around the woods and you come across this strange town or strange land,” she says. “I didn’t know America was there. A lot of us didn’t.”
Thanks to Howard Dean, now everyone knows.