What’s your Point?

Malcolm Gladwell lifted the phrase “tipping point” from epidemiology and ensconced it in the cultural lexicon:

If you talk to the people who study epidemics–epidemiologists–you realize that they have a strikingly different way of looking at the world. They don’t share the assumptions the rest of us have about how and why change happens. The word “Tipping Point”, for example, comes from the world of epidemiology. It’s the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It’s the boiling point. It’s the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards. AIDS tipped in 1982, when it went from a rare disease affecting a few gay men to a worldwide epidemic. Crime in New York City tipped in the mid 1990’s, when the murder rate suddenly plummeted. When I heard that phrase for the first time I remember thinking–wow. What if everything has a Tipping Point? Wouldn’t it be cool to try and look for Tipping Points in business, or in social policy, or in advertising or in any number of other nonmedical areas?

Gladwell’s 1996 Tipping Point explained his, well, point by showing the similarity in the mechanisms behind the drop in NYC crime, sales of Hush Puppy shoes, contagious yawns and Paul Revere’s ride.

Morris Less

Dick Morris is another visionary and Bill Clinton’s indispensable political guide until he was forced out of the White House by his own Clintonesque scandal, got religion, went on Fox News and started vote.com. As you’d expect from a Clinton confidante, he understands the detailed history of what works and fails in Presidential politics. In the current Chris Lydon interview, Morris tells us that the Internet is bigger than we have imagined in politics as in everything else, and that the Dean campaign has changed politics forever by routing around the cynical mechanisms the DNC designed into the primary system this cycle…

…and that Howard Dean is dead meat.

Listen to the interview and come back for more revealing insights and colorful graphics. Now.



You can hear the shock and dread in Lydon’s dulcet tones as Dick Morris tells him that Karl Rove and the Republicans have been gathering 20-30 million email addresses while Dean’s grabbed a half million or so. Lydon’s summary:

“The essence of the Internet,” he said, “is not that it provides a new set of eyes and ears, but that it gives the voters a mouth, which they’ve never had in the media. The impact of that is absolutely historic.” 

But Morris makes it a mighty Republican tool in 2004, especially in the hands of Karl Rove, a direct-mail master. With email, Rove simply saves the postage. ”Let’s remember,” Morris observed, “that the Internet is more male than female, more right-wing than left-wing, more upscale than downscale.” The vast right-wing conspiracy which grew up outside the mainstream media is savvy now about spontaneous on-line community building. Not all the grassroots on the right are Astroturf. ”The Republican base is seething with activity,” Morris said. ”Also, c’mon, you can’t think of any community that is better connected, and better wired to itself, than the religious community. There are all kinds of prayer groups around the country, and the fact is that people who attend church regularly vote Republican by 2 to 1, and those who don’t vote Democratic by 2 to 1. The gay marriage issue is going to accentuate that divide. So I think this kind of viral bottom-up growth (which is what the Internet is all about) will be as much Republican as Democratic.”

… and that it will be a battle of the extremists the presumptive Dean “liberals” vs. the real rightists.

We Deaniacs, according to Dick Morris, are living in a naive echo chamber where bad news is unwelcome and our breathless enthusiasms insulate us from the harsh realities of the political marketplace.

He’s saying that the Dean campaign is Netscape and the Republicans are Microsoft. Done deal. Next question.

That doesn’t mean that old-time politics will carry the day because the Internet is irrelevant, but that the new tools are agnostic and that the Republicans understand them as well as or better than the Deaniacs. When Chris asks him how he responds to people who don’t get it, who don’t know what a blog is, he turns Rosenesque:

How do you think Bill Clinton survived impeachment but blogs and MoveOn and all of that? Where did the anti-globalization get its strength from? Certainly not the mainstream media. Where did the right wing get its strength from and the anti-Clinton stuff? Where is the Dean candidacy from?

If you just read the New York Times and the Washington Post, you get blind-sided by all of this stuff. It’s the new age in which everybody is the publisher of a newspaper, and they can circulate it to anyone who’s interested in reading it. And that period of freedom – that free exchange of ideas, unmediated by who has the station license or who can afford paper and ink, is the essence of the Internet era.

Pointing the Way

So Morris agrees that this election cycle is a tipping point and that some sort of smart mob has formed around the Dean campaign and that there’s an analogous Second Superpower waging peace around the globe. But we’re still not giving up and letting the force take us where it will. But what are people fighting for? Let’s look at our available tipping points:

My work for the next year is to take the Green Line, and anything else will be a sorry disappointment, since it may be the only way to win the presidency. This is far more possible than it seems, if the Dean revolution does what it would in any earlier age, which is to form a new political party with a broader political spectrum. Thanks to the Internet, we don’t have to go to all the trouble to form an actual party, with offices and budget and staff and cronies and a cigar box. What we can do is form a virtual party and give a hat and a kazoo to every American who’ll hold still.

If we succeed in forming the GCP–Great Centrist Party, we can reduce the Rs and Ds to mere labels
, as irrelevant to politics as your hair color. I’d like to see those tired allegiances useful for one thing: keeping congresscritters from all sitting on one side of the room. As Dick Morris says, the politicians will follow the voters, who are their food supply. He describes how true democracy is on the cusp and how he imagines politicians will interact in a seemingly 1 to 1 way with voters, but his is a technical contrivance, a parlor trick of indexed sound bites.

It’s the Community, Stupid!

What people want is to reach out to their neighbors and have an agreeable conversation. A real connection with a human trumps Morris’ vision of mechanical intermediation by his own Internet startup, vote.com. His analysis is spot on, but his vision is a business plan. I’m searching for the web applications that, like meetup.com, connect me with you so we can find agreement on the issues that matter and discover how trivial are the things that seem to divide us.

The Revolution will be Engineered

Tomorrow I’ll suggest some web applications so the experts can have some specifics to dismiss out of hand.

9:08:20 AM    

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