SAN DIEGO—Listening to former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, I kept hearing the echoes of John Edwards "Two Americas" theme. The occasion was the Digital Democracy Teach-In, a conference track appended to the third OReilly Emerging Technology Conference here.
Trippis keynote was a free-form post-mortem on the fading Dean campaign, but the audience of technologists treated it more like a call for renewed action than a wake.
In this political season, technology keeps cutting both ways. Productivity is up, keeping the market moving forward, corporate profits up and interest rates down. But that same efficiency also maintains the jobless recovery. So too does broadband, virtualization and outsourcing.
Where Edwards Two Americas are classic Democratic haves and have-nots, Trippis are The Onlines and The Offlines. And the same dynamics that brought Dean to prominence also served to accelerate his decline. The transparency of the network that allowed rapid fundraising and bubble-up communications within the campaign also allowed Kerry, Edwards and Clark to cherry-pick voter lists and redirect them to their own volunteer corps of handwritten letter authors.
Trippis somewhat defensive tone was reminiscent of the reaction by tech-industry captains to Nicholas Carrs "IT Doesnt Matter" story in the Harvard Business Review. Carr suggested that commoditization of technology neutralizes the competitive advantage of information technology investment. Gates and McNealy countered with the argument that R&D trumps commoditization and that history shows innovation inevitably produces new winners.
Trippi didnt have the luxury of waiting out the down cycle. The Dean campaign was primed to counter the front-loaded primary schedule designed by DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe to wrap up the nomination by early spring. If anything, Trippi was too successful, peaking too soon. Though an experienced operative, he violated the fundamental rule of salesmanship: Once youve closed the sale, shut up.
We all know how quickly things fell apart once the campaign went off the rails. But Trippi made it clear he understood from the beginning the fundamental disconnect between the Internet and political crowds. "The Internet community doesnt understand the hard realities of American politics," he said, and the political press doesnt get the Internet.