Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Thursday | September 25, 2003

Tensions between Draft Clark factions erupt into open

I've obviously had a problem with Clark's entrance into the race, but it has nothing to do with how he affects Dean or any of the other candidates.

I've said time and time again that all the candidates pass my ideological litmus test. My concern is with process -- building the concept of netroots and open source politics, using technology to allow people to become engaged in the political process to a degree that was never before possible.

That's why I support Dean, and that's why the Draft Clark movement used to excite me. I used to say -- "There are two campaigns that make extensive use of netroots tactics -- Dean and the hypothetical candidacy of Wesley Clark. Those are also the only two campaigns that have generated a groundswell of excitement and buzz. That's not a coincidence."

We were witnessing two examples of net-based participatory Democracy. And the more obviously successful the tactic was, the more future campaigns would be goaded into opening their campaigns to this more decentralized model.

But it was obvious from Day 1 that Clark's new organization was hostile to the netroots effort that had driven the campaign. People I had worked with in the Draft movement were up in arms, and hires like Fabiani pointed to a disappointing return to old school political management (top-bottom).

Two pro-Clark sites, ClarkRecruits.com and DigitalClark.com, have already been shut down, and a third, DraftWesleyClark.com, is slated to be disbanded within the month, according to its founder. ClarkRecruits.com had helped would-be volunteers link up with other Clark supporters in their areas; now volunteers have to fill out a form on the candidate's official site (Clark04.com) and wait for the main campaign to figure out what to do with them. And on Saturday, DigitalClark.com was shut down at the behest of the Clark campaign. "Our apologies -- this website, and its content, is no longer available. For information about General Clark and his presidential campaign, please visit www.clark04.com," read a message on the site. DigitalClark had provided visitors with downloadable video files of past Clark media appearances; that information is no longer available. According to Ellen Dana Nagler of Santa Barbara, Calif., who maintained the video archives, the campaign was concerned about the possibility that the site violated copyright laws and prevailed upon its managers to shut it down.

"They are destroying the parts of the draft movement that worked really well and they are transforming the draft movement into people who want to lick envelopes," says one worried member of the movement. "They are rebuilding the Kerry campaign with a better candidate." [...]

The tensions between the two groups had been building for months, ever since DraftClark2004.com split off from DraftWesleyClark.com late this past spring. By the day after Clark announced his candidacy, John Hlinko, DraftWesleyClark.com's founder and the man who held the keys to the single most valuable property the draft movement could bring to the campaign, was reportedly ready to walk.

Hlinko had worked since April 10 to build a package that included 40,000 e-mail addresses, $1.875 million in pledges and $30,000 to $40,000 in cash that he was now ready to hand over to the campaign, depending on what Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules allowed. He'd started the relationship between the Clark movement and Meetup.com, now 27,000-members strong; his group had paid for the radio and TV ads the movement has run; and he'd hired Zogby International to conduct a Clark-friendly "blind bio" poll to encourage the former general to enter the race. (A blind-bio poll compares candidates by résumé rather than by name.) But like many members of the draft movement, Hlinko is a little quirky. Dedicated, well-spoken and skilled at what he does, the last presidential bid he worked on was the joke campaign of actor John Cusack for president. In his spare time, Hlinko runs Act for Love, an online dating service for liberals; the site's motto is "take action to get action."

But now, after all his hard work, he found the nascent Clark campaign overflowing with territorial members of DraftClark2004.com, led by veteran campaign operative Jason McIntosh, a protégé of Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, whose assistant he'd been for three years.

The press and political world look at the Dean phenomenon and all they see are dollar signs. Sure, Dean is raising a lot of money online, but to me, that's a side benefit of a successful netroots effort.

Any marketing expert will tell you the best form of marketing is word-of-mouth. The movie industry, despite its million dollar marketing budgets, is wholly dependent on that word of mouth. It can make or break any movie.

Each one of those Dean supporters is a walking billboard for Dean, evangelizing to his/her friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, people they meet at parties, or farmers markets, or wherever. Given the choice between that hard-core supporter and $58 (or whatever the average donation may be), I'd take the evangelizing supporter in a heartbeat.

The Clark campaign had that with the Draft movement. Yet they aligned themselves with the wrong draft group (at the end of the day, the story notes that the DraftClark2004 people only had a mailing list of 200 people, compared to 40,000 collected by Hlinko), and then they set out to dismantle the very netroots operation that helped create the impetus for the Clark candidacy.

I've got nothing against Clark. I was an early supporter, and I've seen nothing to change my mind about his fitness to be an effective nominee and president.

But I've got everything against his organization. If nothing else, why would they so visibly piss off their online supporters? Now, like spurned lovers, they are working hard to undermine the Clark candidacy, talking to the press (the Boston Globe is also on the story) and creating discord within the ranks. And the Clark campaign is fueling this hostility by systematically dismantling the sites that collectively formed the backbone of the Draft movement's effective netroots effort, dissing the people that built them, and even sending daily talking points to Clark-friendly sites, trying to impose some sort of message discipline (which is the antithesis of a true netroots operation).

And for who? Fabiani? Kym Spell, who counts Chris Lehane as her mentor? Jason McIntosh, a protege of Terry McAuliffe?

They traded real and genuine grassroots excitement for more of the same-ol'.

Does that mean the Clark candidacy is doomed? I wouldn't say that. The Fabianis and Lehanes are real pros and can be effective (though they failed misrably with Gore and Davis). But it's not a candidacy that can get me excited the way I would've been had the Clark camp build a Dean-like campaign structure.

Posted September 25, 2003 07:20 AM | Comments (230)


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