The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White Houseby Graff
How the "flattening of the world" has transformed politicsand what it means for the 2008 election
The 2008 presidential campaign will be like none in recent memory: the first campaign in fifty years in which both the Democrats and the Republicans must nominate a new candidate, and the first ever in which the issues of globalization and/b>/b>
How the "flattening of the world" has transformed politicsand what it means for the 2008 election
The 2008 presidential campaign will be like none in recent memory: the first campaign in fifty years in which both the Democrats and the Republicans must nominate a new candidate, and the first ever in which the issues of globalization and technology will decide the outcome.
Garrett M. Graff represents the people that all the candidates want to engage: young, technologically savvy, concerned about the future. In this far-reaching book, he asks: Will the two major parties seize the moment and run the first campaign of the new era, or will they run the last campaign all over again?
Globalization, Graff argues, has made technology both the medium and the message of 2008. The usual domestic issues (the economy, health care, job safety) are now global issues. Meanwhile, the emergence of the Web as a political tool has shaken up the campaign process, leaving front-runners vulnerable right up until Election Day.
Which candidate will dare to run a new kind of race? Combining vivid campaign-trail reporting with a provocative argument about the state of American politics, Graff makes clear that whichever party best meets the challenges of globalization will win the electionand put America back on course.
The First Campaign is required reading for the presidential candidatesand for the rest of us, too.
The New York Times
- Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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- First Edition
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Read an Excerpt
THE RISE OF THE ANXIOUS CLASS
You have to be global in this business to survive.
For every end, there is a beginning. In 1980, the Democratic Party saw the end of fifty years of the proud liberal New Deal–type politics that had defined it since the days of FDR. At the same time, thousands of miles away, a decorated army veteran was laying the groundwork for a movement that would years later reenergize the party and breathe new life into what had become a stale and voiceless opposition.
For liberal firebrand Ted Kennedy, vanquished by Chappaquiddick from his final attempt at the nation’s highest office once held by his brother, the end of his presidential ambitions came August 12, 1980, in Madison Square Garden. There he took the stage of the Democratic convention in New York City and delivered one of the most memorable convention speeches in a generation, and in it made a promise to his party and to the nation.
"As Democrats we recognize that each generation of Americans has a rendezvous with a different reality. The answers of one generation become the questions of the next generation." His booming voice, thick with its trademark accent, filled the hall. "We are the party—We are the party of the New Freedom, the New Deal, and the New Frontier. We have always been the party of hope. So this year let us offer new hope, new hope to an America uncertain about the present, but unsurpassed in its potential for the future."
Later, after quoting Tennyson and rising to a crescendo, Kennedy proclaimed, "For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
Kennedy’s speech marked an end to the aspirations of liberal Democrats, who wouldn’t see one of their own nominated for president for decades.
However, the same year, 1980, in retrospect marked a beginning too, a beginning whose importance we can only now begin to understand. Far away from the crowds, television lights, and confetti of Madison Square Garden, in a dingy working-class bar in Colorado City, David Hughes was talking politics. What made him different, though, was that for the first time he was doing it online.
Dave Hughes is not exactly the typical computer geek: Now closing in on eighty and bearing wispy facial hair, Hughes almost always wears a Stetson. A Colorado native, he grew up in a rock-ribbed Republican family and, having just missed World War II, he showed up at West Point in 1946. A star student, he graduated June 6, 1950, just twenty days before the North Koreans crossed the border into South Korea. Hughes returned safely from the Korean War with a chest full of medals and stayed in the military. Eventually, in 1965, as Vietnam was heating up, he became part of a team of soldiers studying the future of combat. It was there that he began to put together the pieces of the changing technological landscape. "What I picked up was that miniaturization of technology was coming. We invented the Stinger missile that any mujahideen kid could put on his shoulder and bring down a Russian jet in Afghanistan. We and the Germans invented the shaped charge, which becomes the RPG that any damn fool can fire," he says. As he explains it, the miniaturization of technology was a tool for political radicals—violent or otherwise.
Technology allowed individuals to go behind and around the strict century-old political party structure just as individual radical militants could outwit the mechanized corps of a powerful army. A decade later, as he was leaving the military, Hughes made his home in Colorado City, later purchasing the city’s first Kaypro computer and throwing himself into local economic development. Using a then-groundbreaking acoustic modem in 1977, he signed onto the nation’s first national commercial online bulletin board service, The Source, to pick the brains of other commercial and economic development people across the country. Three years later, as Kennedy conceded defeat in New York and as Jimmy Carter lost the general election to Ronald Reagan, Hughes set up his own online bulletin board service with a section devoted to local politics. He named it Roger’s Bar, after the real-life local Democratic Union bar where regulars debated local, state, and national politics. It is widely credited as the first such online political endeavor on the then very nascent internet.
From the earliest days, the promise was clear: "This is going to diminish the influence of special interest groups. The dominant economic interests have influenced media, but BBSs bypass the press and don’t stand to lose advertising dollars. With BBSs, special interest groups cannot control where people get their information," Hughes told a computer publication in 1992.1
"Two can argue or fight. It takes three to politics. Each side tries to convince the third," Hughes says. "We got consensus that way, through dialogue—what screwed it up was . . . we aggregated our dialogue to news anchors. They do the dialoguing for us." The internet opened the first chance for people to debate and discuss in the television age. "The heart and soul is people being able to go back and forth, challenging the facts that they throw out—because the public had a hell of a time challenging anything that came out of the television."
Roger’s Bar was a big success, or at least as big a success as something could be when it existed on a technology platform—the internet—that only a relative handful of people had ever heard of. Hughes went down to the actual namesake pub and convinced the staff to install a telephone jack in one of their booths so that patrons of the bar could log on to his online bulletin board to talk politics using Hughes’s laptop and an acoustic modem—this long before most people had a laptop, let alone even understood what a modem did.
With the internet, people don’t need to collect a paycheck from a major media conglomerate in order to share their opinions. They don’t need to worry about offending corporate advertisers. And people on the local level who care about a particular issue can connect with others across the country to share thoughts, opinions, and ideas—just as Hughes first did with economic development thirty years ago. During one local argument over a proposed zoning ordinance, Hughes, helped by debate on his bulletin board, managed to get 175 people to show up at the planning board meeting and contest the new rules. The board, surprised by the passion and the turnout, relented. Hughes immediately understood the power the internet could bring to bear on politics, especially given the speed at which dialogue and debate happened online. "Washington is a great soggy log floating down the Potomac with a bunch of ants who think they’re steering." Hughes guffaws. "This is a grassroots nation. Anything that’s worth a damn in this country starts on the grassroots level. In a future-shock, accelerated-change society, by the time it gets to Washington, it’s already obsolete."
WASHINGTON, AT LEAST the Democratic parts of it, certainly seemed obsolete by the 1980s. During the middle of the twentieth century, a period of liberal ascendancy and institution building stretching from 1932 to 1968, Democrats built a strong social network that helped lift the country out of the Great Depression, win World War II, educate a generation with the GI Bill, spread civil rights, and put a man on the moon. Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson were strong internationalists, big thinkers, and great institution builders. They opened up global trade, founded institutions like the World Bank and NATO, established the Bretton Woods financial system that stabilized the world economic markets, and rebuilt Europe with the Marshall Plan. At home, they got America working during the Depression, established Social Security and Medicare, offered up a New Deal, a Fair Deal, the New Frontier, and a Great Society. Through this period, only a single GOP candidate won the presidency, and he—General Eisenhower—was considered for the Democratic nomination as well. No small government conservative, Ike built the interstate highway system and founded the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.2
The social revolution of the 1960s, with its civil rights successes and LBJ’s Great Society, should have been the crowning achievement of liberalism, but instead the party began to see the first cracks that would lead it into a lengthy identity crisis. As a new wing of the GOP, born from the ashes of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, laid the groundwork for future supremacy, the Democrats’ ruling coalition, too comfortable with power, began to break down.
Nationally, Democrats began to be seen as too beholden to their constituencies—a term best captured by Theodore Lowi as "interest group liberalism" in his seminal 1969 work, The End of Liberalism. By 1972 and George McGovern’s loss, though, the party had begun to slip badly. Carter won in 1976 by positioning himself as a Georgia peanut farmer running against the Democratic Party establishment, but four years later the 1980 disaster of a campaign in which Senator Ted Kennedy challenged the weak incumbent president saw Carter lose, as well as the GOP capture the Senate for the first time since 1952. The Democrats, meanwhile, began grasping for a message as the party sank into a decade-long morass of special interests and "liberal fundamentalism." Lacking a unifying message, the Democrats lost any hope of their presidential candidates seizing the nation’s highest office.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders had thought long and hard about their party’s weaknesses, and beginning in the 1960s the GOP underwent its own silent transformation as power switched hands from a moderate bastion to a conservative, faith-based elite that established a plan for a new era. Ray Bliss took over the RNC after Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 defeat, and his planning would lead to Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968 and, arguably, everything that came after it. He put together a new model, financed through a powerful small-dollar direct mail program, that emphasized technology, donor outreach, and a united conservative message for state organizations. RNC chair Bill Brock picked up the mantle after Watergate and helped assemble a message and return his party quickly to power.
The GOP was swimming with ideas. Bliss led the Republican Coordinating Council, which included everyone from former President Eisenhower to freshman congressman George H. W. Bush. Its 1966 book, Choice for America, helped define the landscape that the party would run on in the next two decades. Brock created five advisory councils that spanned the policy gamut and would help give Ronald Reagan a blueprint for leadership when he took office in 1981.
Money started to pour in. During Brock’s four-year tenure, the party’s income jumped from $8.9 million raised from 300,000 donors in 1975 to $77 million from 1.2 million donors in the last year of the Carter administration. By the first few years of the Reagan administration, the RNC had built a powerhouse machine of 1.8 million donors that fueled an annual budget of $97 million, two and a half times the Democrats’ paltry $39 million. When Brock left office in 1980, the RNC’s national headquarters had a staff of 350, more than four times what the anemic Democratic Party had.3
More impressive, perhaps, than the official party machinery was the shadow organization that the Republicans had assembled to recruit, train, and develop conservative leaders, the idea factories that would fuel those leaders’ policies, and the network of media outlets and pundits who would promote both the leaders and the ideas.
The first stop for Republican thinkers was the more than a dozen journals published by conservative think tanks and organizations— four put out by the American Enterprise Institute alone—the most famous of which was Irving Kristol’s Public Interest. Writing in 1986, The New Republic’s Robert Kuttner outlined the arc of a young new party leader. "A graduate student could submit a manuscript to Irving Kristol, be certified as the latest neo-conservative find, have the article distilled on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, be quoted in the Mobil Corporation’s op-ed ads, appear before sympathetic congressmen, do a stint in a think-tank, and later go to work for the Reagan administration."4
It has been well documented now that the conservatives’ impressive network of think tanks, training seminars, research organizations, and media outlets—one completely without peer on the left—began in the 1970s when six wealthy businessmen and families—Harry Bradley in Milwaukee, Joseph Coors in Denver, David and Charles Koch in Wichita, John Olin in New York, the Richardsons in North Carolina, and, perhaps most notorious of all, Richard Mellon Scaife in Pittsburgh—began to invest what ended up being hundreds of millions dollars, perhaps well over a billion, in such efforts. David Brock, himself once a part of the conservative machine before he "reformed," labeled it the "Right Wing Noise Machine," and there’s no doubting that through vehicles like the American Enterprise Institute, Rush Limbaugh, and Judicial Watch, the right has managed to build an infrastructure that can dominate, direct, and shape the public debate.
To get an idea of just how rigorous a network the conservative wing of the Republican Party created while the Democrats were asleep at the wheel, look at what Scaife alone was able to build during the 1970s: He gave $3 million to the Law & Economics Center at Emory, $4 million to help found and launch the Heritage Foundation, $2 million to boost conservative media outlets like the American Spectator ($900,000) and "watchdog" group Accuracy in Media ($150,000). He even paid $500,000 to underwrite a television series on Pennsylvania’s WQLN starring Milton Friedman.5 Scaife’s money was a drop in the bucket nationally—at the time businesses spent nearly half a billion annually on "advocacy advertising"—but it represented critical investments in a generation of conservative leaders and thinkers that would shape policy well into the twenty-first century.
The GOP’s groups all sounded innocuous and civic-minded: Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Pacific Legal Foundation, Institute for Justice, Washington Legal Foundation, National Legal and Policy Center, Landmark Foundation, Rutherford Institute, Free Congress Foundation, and Moral Majority, among others.
The Heritage Foundation’s 1,077-page book Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Administration became the bible of the newly elected Reagan administration in 1981 when the president presented each cabinet member with a copy of the book at their first meeting. Covering every topic from taxes to crime to national defense, the book had a huge influence in the 1980s. By the end of the Reagan years, nearly two-thirds of its two thousand recommendations had been implemented.
As Jon F. Hale wrote, coming out of the 1980s "the Republicans were perceived as the party of ideas, the party with a sense of mission, an agenda, and policy alternatives ready to implement under the Reagan administration."6
It wasn’t that people within the Democratic Party didn’t notice what was going on in the GOP—it was that no one acted. Writing after the disaster of the 1984 elections in their influential work Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics, political scientists Joel Rogers and Thomas Ferguson outlined the millions the right was pouring into organizing and concluded, "To reverse the right turn of America and the Democrats, some set of investors would essentially have to replicate the work of the center, and particularly the right, over the last fifteen years or so, pouring millions of dollars and person-hours into political organizing at all levels."7 From the time Rogers and Ferguson wrote their call to arms, it took nearly twenty years before the Democrats prepared an answer.
As the GOP united, the Democrats splintered. Cracks appeared as the national party, long comfortable in its ascendancy, began to break down from a national coalition into individual interest groups— women, blacks, gays and lesbians, and labor unions chief among them. Over the coming years, the debate in the party would become more focused on which issues, individual groups, and constituencies would get the most attention.
After the disaster of 1980, new party leader Charles Manatt arrived with a mission to regain the party’s footing. Manatt was a powerful California attorney who had chaired the state party and watched the national rise of Governor Ronald Reagan. In the wake of the Democrats’ disastrous campaign in 1980, the party turned to Manatt to lead it in the era of now President Ronald Reagan. Manatt, a lifelong Democratic operative, was horrified by what he found when he arrived in Washington.
The Democratic Party didn’t even have its own permanent headquarters. The party was leasing cramped office space from the airline pilots’ union on Massachusetts Avenue a few blocks from Dupont Circle. Manatt explains that party regulars told him that the only party headquarters required was the White House. "We were told not to have a space without the White House, but arriving in 1981, I wasn’t sure when we’d win the presidency again," Manatt says. "The job that came upon our merry band of Democrats that was fighting our way back was modernization, computerization, media, etc." He set about securing a new permanent office for the party and looked to the model set by his counterpart, RNC chair Bill Brock, who was stepping down after an incredibly successful four-year run in the shadow of President Jimmy Carter.
More and more, Republicans were the only ones showing up at a public debate with a message and a plan. They had their bumper sticker slogan: Lower taxes. Strong defense. Less government. Six words in total. Democrats had nothing of the sort. Most party leaders would be hard-pressed to explain their party’s ideology in ten times that.
By 1984, the party was well off the tracks. Its platform that year was forty-five thousand words long—50 percent longer than the 1980 platform and a testament to just how badly the party lacked direction. (The GOP’s platform, by comparison, was just twenty-seven thousand words.) Splintering the party’s backing and underscoring voters’worst fears that the party was nothing more than a unique collection of narrow special interests, the DNC officially recognized no fewer than seven different caucuses: Asians, blacks, business leaders, gays, His-panics, liberals, and women.8 "Groups such as these—and others with narrower agendas—fight word-by-word battles over platform items small enough to be labeled splinters instead of planks," Timothy Clark wrote in the nonpartisan National Journal.9
Mondale’s 1984 campaign by almost any objective measure was another disaster for the Democratic Party. A prenomination poll found that voters believed Mondale was more beholden than Ronald Reagan to special interests.10 In the end, he was defeated in one of the largest landslides in U.S. history—famously winning only the District of Columbia and his home state of Minnesota, and that by only some four thousand votes. Reagan won more than 60 percent of the vote in every southern and border state except Tennessee. Democratic candidates across the country found themselves tagged as "Mondale liberals," and moderate Democratic figures like James Hunt and incumbent Senator Walter "Dee" Huddleston were crushed at the ballot box. Afterward, Senator Lawton Chiles told Fred Barnes in The New Republic, "Most of us had been running away from the Democratic Party for years. But we were beginning to see you couldn’t enjoy the luxury of that anymore."11
Each election cycle proved a challenge for the Democrats to raise money and not sink further into debt. George McGovern—the first Democratic presidential candidate not chosen by the party elites— had once upon a time built a grassroots fund-raising apparatus, but it was quickly abandoned by the party establishment. Alabaman direct mail expert Morris Dees had engineered for the South Dakota senator a massive direct mail base of small donors. Nearly six hundred thousand people contributed, and ten thousand eventually became "sus-tainers," donating $10 a month for the duration of the campaign. The effort netted a surprisingly large $4.85 million with just $650,000 in mailing expenses.12 Whereas Goldwater’s massive conservative direct mail list had become the centerpiece of the Republicans’ fund-raising efforts, the new chair of the DNC after McGovern’s campaign, a conservative former FBI agent named Robert Strauss, refused to adopt the McGovern list because of its left-wing activist bent. With that single decision, the Democratic Party began a generational shift further and further away from the Democrats’ traditional blue-collar base to a party dominated by a handful of wealthy elite donors based in New York and Hollywood.
Senator Paul Tsongas laid out the landscape similarly during a speech in the 1980s to the liberal Americans for Democracy Action:
Excerpted from The First Campaign by Garrett M. Graff.
Copyright 2007 by Garrett M. Graff.
Published in 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
A Vermonter, Garrett M. Graff was Howard Dean's first webmaster; at FishbowlDC.com, he was the first blogger to be granted credentials for a White House press conference. He is now an editor at Washingtonian magazine.
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