The Future's So Bright

Alternet's Editor Safir Ahmed caught up with Joe Trippi in San Francisco while he was promoting his new book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Ahmed spoke with Trippi about the book, the future of the Internet, and the prospects of the Democrats in 2004.

Safir Ahmed: The Dean campaign is history, so what are you up to now?

Joe Trippi: I just got done writing the book, so I am out there spreading the word about it. I've also got two or three candidates. The Dean campaign was over so late that most of the candidates already hired their people. There were a couple of candidates who didn't fire me when I did the Dean campaign – Tim Holden in Pennsylvania, which is going to be a real tough one, Jim Moran in Virginia – those are the two Congressionals I have. And I just signed up to help Bob Hertzberg, who's running for mayor of Los Angeles in 2005, doing Internet and media. And other than that, I'm doing MSNBC and Change for America, really trying to keep that side of getting people involved and active.

Ahmed: Are you involved in any way with Dean's new venture, Democracy for America?

Trippi: No.

Ahmed: Reading through your book, what I find striking is your optimism. You have an incredible amount of hope and optimism about the Internet as a tool for democracy, for change in general.

Trippi: I believe that it's the last hope. If we are held hostage to broadcast politics, there is no hope. I really believe that. The only hope is for the American people, or enough Americans – we need two or three million Americans – to get connected enough.

Ahmed: Are you talking about electoral politics, or beyond that?

Trippi: Yes, way beyond that.

Ahmed: You talk about everything in your book from corporations to online companies like eBay...

Trippi: eBay is not an auction site, it's a community. I think that's what we need to do – build an an active community, a community that's actively involved in policy and the future of the country. I mean, if we had two or three million Americans that were active, just look at the money! If they each gave $100, you'd have $200-300 million, which would totally turn upside down the way politics is funded. We are already seeing that a little, Kerry having brought in $182 million. But it's not just the money. It's bringing politics back into our civic community. Because television took people out of it – it was about raising money to fight TV ads to pound on each other, which gets people disengaged and fed up. And when you whack one politician who is sleazy on TV, it makes everybody think all politicians are sleazy, which isn't true. It's true of a lot of them, but not all, and it ruins democracy. One attack TV ad on one politician hits the whole system in a way that makes people not want to get involved, not want to make a difference. Now, I think for the first time you've got the Internet. And the Internet has matured; that's the other thing. You needed eBay and AOL and Amazon to happen, people needed to know that they could use their credit card and the book would show up, people needed to know that they could make a contribtution to campaigns and that their credit card wasn't going to be stolen.

Ahmed: Talking of optimism, you're on the record saying that you think the Democrats are going to win the White House and Congress this year. Why do you believe that?

Trippi: Well, we are competitive. The most important thing that happened this year was when thousands of Americans went to DeanforAmerica.com and voted to have him opt out of the public financing system – 300,000 of them voted to let Dean opt out. Karl Rove didn't plan on that. He was planning on the Democrats doing the goodie-two-shoes thing and staying within the system, having $45 million dollars, being broke because of their own primary, having spent $45 million on just winning the damn nomination by March. Karl Rove planned to hammer the bankrupt nominee until the conventions. We opted out because the people gave us the go-ahead to do it, and without that cover, I don't think we would have been able to do it. But once we had that cover, John Kerry had cover too, so he opted out.

That was the most important thing that happened this entire year. Because once John Kerry opted out with that cover, he's now raised $182 million to George Bush's $214 million. There's parity. They are competitive dollar-for-dollar. We have for the first time a competitive Democratic Party. I believe that there will be two or three million Americans who are active, making a big difference in the House and Senate races, and I think Democrats are going to take the whole thing; the presidency, the Senate, and the House. People have misgauged what year this is. It's 1994 the other way around. People are disgruntled; most of Americans really want change. A lot of that comes from the energy on the Internet.

Ahmed: In your book, you come across as a populist, so I have to ask: A significant number of people who form the Democratic Party's base – the low-income people and a lot of people of color – do not have access to the Internet. How do you bridge that divide?

Trippi: We have to close the divide. We can get five PCs in the basement of every AME church in this country. We can teach kids and adults how to use the net. We can do that. I don't think that it's too far-fetched. As soon as I get done promoting this book, I'm going to go to the AME church and say, let's go to Apple computers. There's a business reason for it, all those people learning to use computers. I agree it's a huge problem and I plan to help solve it. There's got to be a logical and reasonable way to do it.

Ahmed: The Internet is a value-free medium. It can be used by someone like Howard Dean, but it can also be used by someone like Newt Gingrich. What's to keep the Right from using it the way you have?

Trippi: There's something that argues against that. The Right, and the Newt Gingriches of the world are the most top-down, command-and-control institutions in our body politic. Everything is disciplined, it's all orders from the top – state director to the county director to the precinct captain, and you don't step out of line. Their whole message system is top-down. That's anathema on the Internet, so they suffocate their growth. They can learn and grow, but they've got to let go, and these are the last people to let go of their control.

To get where I am coming from, and why I am so optimistic, is because I don't believe we are in the information age, we are in the empowerment age. The Internet distributes information democratically, equal access to everybody, and the information goes to the bottom. The folks at the top can't win once the bottom is empowered with information. The Dean campaign was the first tremor of the bottom-up empowerment shaking the body politic. My fear is, that we are at the moment in time that Jefferson and Madison warned of. The day that economic power seized control of the government. I think we are living in that moment. The Bush Administration is their worst nightmare; where ever they are, the founding fathers are rolling in their graves. As individuals we didn't have the power to fight it, now with the Internet, we do.

Ahmed: But maybe you are underestimating the enemy, the dark side, if you will, about their ability to use the Internet to advance their causes.

Trippi: Yeah, the Dean campaign was the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, and we woke up the sleeping giant Republicans who didn't know the Internet was there. And now they decide to throw tons of resources at it, like they did with direct mail, and radio, and cable. I fear that too, but like I said, their structure delays their ability to do it, before the Luke SkyWalkers can create something big enough to defeat them. In terms of the Internet, we're the Rush Limbaughs, and they are starting Air America years later. If they do capture the Internet, it's all over. We need the young folks to help reinvent democracy with technology.

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