Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Driving to work with Christopher Lydon. Howard Dean has showed how technology can change the way we choose a president -- or at least a Democratic presidential nominee.

Christopher Lydon may be changing how we learn about such things.

I've been aware of Lydon's weblog for a few months. Last week, while I was talking with him about something else, he mentioned an interview he'd done with Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, as something he was particularly proud of.

Lydon has written up the highlights, but I wanted to hear the whole thing. The interview consists of three MP3 files, totaling about an hour -- just about the length of his old Connection show on WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). I saved them on my hard drive, burned them onto a CD, and popped it into my car stereo.

It was a terrific interview, with Lydon prodding Trippi to talk about this odd marriage between the Dean campaign and the Internet. I don't have any direct quotes -- hey, I was driving! -- but Trippi offered considerable insight, comparing the Dean online campaign to Linux, which is an open-source alternative to Windows and the Mac OS to which anyone can contribute.

Trippi also disdained the "command and control" orientation of traditional candidates, including Wesley Clark, who smothered the Internet enthusiasm that had originally fueled his entry into the race by seeking to replace it with a top-down hierarchy.

Trippi was especially good on fundraising, observing that if the Dean campaign can achieve its goal of getting two million supporters to contribute $100 each, it will have managed the unthinkable feat of matching George W. Bush's $200 million campaign stash. Dean has taken a lot of grief for opting out of the voluntary public-financing system. But it strikes me that what he's trying to accomplish is actually a much more profound reform than sticking to an outmoded patchwork of special-interest contributions, Byzantine spending limits, and matching federal funds.

As you will see, there's a lot of good stuff on Lydon's blog. Lydon -- whose daytime home these days is the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, at Harvard Law School -- sounds just as sharp as he did on the radio.

Of course, Internet audio is nothing new. But I wouldn't have listened to the Trippi interview if I'd had to be chained to my computer. What's great about what Lydon is doing is that he's taking advantage of the fact that technology has continued to improve.

When Lydon left WBUR in 2001 in the midst of an incredibly nasty contract dispute, most Internet users were still stuck with dial-up connections, and CD burners were rare. These days, broadband is widely available, and many users can easily transfer audio files to CDs or to portable MP3 players.

The fundamental problem with the Internet, of course, is that no one knows how to make any money from it. Money's not the key to everything, but people have to eat. Lydon's online interviews are generating no money -- they're free, and there are no ads. That's great for you and me, but not so good for anyone looking to follow his path.

If you miss hearing Chris Lydon -- and you know you do -- check this out.

The Queen of Sheba smears Howard Dean. I'm a day late, but I didn't want to pass up the chance to comment on New York Times columnist David Brooks's deeply stupid piece. Here's his Tuesday lead:

My moment of illumination about Howard Dean came one day in Iowa when I saw him lean into a crowd and begin a sentence with, "Us rural people...."

Dean grew up on Park Avenue and in East Hampton. If he's a rural person, I'm the Queen of Sheba. Yet he said it with conviction. He said it uninhibited by any fear that someone might laugh at or contradict him.

It was then that I saw how Dean had liberated himself from his past, liberated himself from his record and liberated himself from the restraints that bind conventional politicians. He has freed himself to say anything, to be anybody.

Well, my moment of illumination about how the right is going to try to destroy Dean came yesterday, when I read this tripe by someone who normally comes off as a conservative of the sensible, non-mouth-foaming variety.

Dean moved to Vermont -- one of the most rural states in the country, if you don't count the big empty ones out West -- in the late 1970s, shortly after graduating from medical school. He served as a Vermont legislator and lieutenant governor for most of the '80s, and became governor in 1991.

If any candidate has the right to describe himself as a "rural person" in this race, it is Howard Dean. Brooks's outburst is so plainly, obviously wrong that I can't believe he wrote it.

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