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It's now clear there is a great upheaval underway in the Democratic Party and the electorate as a whole.

A group I belong to, Democracy For America, along with others, pushed for a progressive win in Iowa, and they got it: Obama-Edwards, first and second, a more than 2-1 victory for progressives.

What has happened is really the continuation of what Governor Dean started five years ago-- to move the Democratic Party back to its roots and away from another "me-too" party of corporate power. Both Obama and Edwards ran smart, 21st century campaigns in Iowa, campaigns based on people power, not money power.

It is very important to note that Republican Mike Huckabee did the same thing and beat a much more heavily funded Mitt Romney. Both Clinton and Romney spent tens of millions for their poor showings.

The days of top-down campaigns, where the goal was to raise as much money as possible, in order to crash a truckload of cash into a TV station, like a suicide bombing, only with an explosion of ads, has come to an end. So, too, the era of overpaid campaign consultants.

Joe Trippi, Governor Dean's former campaign manager, and now John Edward's chief campaign strategist, aptly dubbed that time the era of Broadcast Politics. It started in the 1950s with the rise of television, and it upended our democracy, turning both parties into institutions that represented rich donors, not constituents.

The purpose of television advertising is to "sell the eyeballs" of viewers to advertisers-- that's how TV stations and networks make money. Popular programs bring in more "eyeballs" to be sold. Similarly, the purpose of Broadcast Politics was to deliver voter's attention to a candidate. It was not about finding or getting elected officials to represent constituents in government. This change reversed the direction of accountability in our political system.

Like the companies that bought advertisements, those who could pay for this process actually held power, not the public, the owners of our democracy. This negative transformation, the reversal of the flow of accountability, caused both the corruption and gross trivialization of modern American politics. It's no wonder on issue after issue, both parties failed average Americans as our country steadily drifted to the right.  As American political life degenerated, and also increasingly failed to address people's concerns, tens of millions of Americans, reduced to passive spectators, gradually tuned politics out.  Then they dropped out of the system. Political participation was no longer part of their life.

Governor Dean talked of a Great American Restoration. Maybe now we are going to finally get it, for the Obama-Edwards win is also, in every real way, Howard Dean's victory, for it is his vision of American Democracy that has prevailed. The Governor realized the answer to our political dilemma was to change the dynamics of the "game" by getting discouraged voters who have dropped out to return to participating in the political process.  This is the philosophical basic of the 50-State Program and the new Precinct Leader system, and the antithesis of the political culture of triangulation, which seeks to merely manipulate the cutting of a shrinking pie.  

Dean saw we needed to turn citizens from passive spectators, for whom politics was something they received, back into participants and the joint masters of their own destiny. Bringing in tens of thousands of new people to the caucuses-- over 100,000-- is precisely what Obama and Edwards did. From all the polling, there looks to be a record turnout in New Hampshire Tuesday as well. In this sense both Obama and Edwards are true successors to the Dean campaign.

This political earthquake is also, it should be noted, in good measure a repudiation of Hillary Clinton's votes on Iraq. Democrats expected their leaders to stand up to George Bush and his criminal war of aggression, were furious when they did not get that strong leadership, and are still upset. This failure too, ultimately, owed much to the reversal of the direction of accountability that Broadcast Politics represented, and probably could not have occurred without it, and the belief voters were to be delivered to politicians, and not that politician had to deliver for voters.

Originally posted to tea in the harbor on Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 07:30 AM PST.

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