Joe Trippi at SXSW: ‘It’s not possible for [Obama] to change things’ in Washington

Stephen Robert Morse Tow-Knight Fellow in Entrepreneurial Journalism , The City University of New York
Font Size:

On Monday at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi defended Barack Obama against charges that he is presiding over a dysfunctional political system that rewards money and partisan loyalty.

“You can’t just send one guy into Washington, thinking he can change all that,” Trippi shot back. “Whether you think Obama did or didn’t try, it’s not possible for him to change things.”

Former George W. Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon had said that in recent years Washington, D.C. has become “completely corrupted by money and changed significantly by hyper-partisanship.”

McKinnon, who co-founded the anti-partisan group No Labels, also cited redistricting, talk radio and technological evolutions as causes for a decline in the quality of government Americans get for their tax dollars.

He said he had worked for Democrats for 15 years, and then for Republicans during the following 15 years.

The panel event was a discussion about social media in politics. Most of it was dominated by the panelists’ desire for a broader political system that no longer reflected only two parties.

“It’s odd that in the greatest democracy in the world we are making a binary choice and people are taking the better of [just] two options,” McKinnon said. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Obama presidency)

“Look at the primary system. A couple of states in odd places get to determine the future.”

Citing Americans Elect, on whose advisory board he serves, McKinnon said American elections were already undergoing a dramatic shift. “In ten years,” he predicted, “we will look back and say this was the start of something that radically transformed politics.”

Americans Elect has proposed an online presidential nominating system in which “every registered voter can be a delegate [and] any constitutionally eligible citizen can be a candidate.” It hopes to place a single independent candidate on ballots in all 50 states in November.

“The blue and red choices are getting narrower and narrower.” McKinnon added. “People want more choices.”

“I hope there’s ten parties in ten years.”

Moderating the panel, New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai asked if a third American political party could be viable, or whether the American political landscape would be scrambled by a string og independent political revolutions.

Nathan Daschle, who founded the political organizing site Ruck.us, credited the tea party and “Occupy” movements for disturbing America’s political waters. The two, he said, “were the most powerful movements of the past ten years.” He predicted “swarms and clusters of people in the future.”

Daschle is the son of former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and a former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. He said he is now registered as a political independent.

“We have to stop looking at ourselves by one team or the other,” Daschle told the audience.

“Independents and moderates are not the same thing,” he declared. “We are the only two-party democracy but there are more independents” than there are either Democrats or Republicans.

“Seventy-five percent of Occupy Wall Street supporters were independents,” he said.

PopVox CEO Marci Harris blamed political fundraising for producing a system that disenchants and alienates Americans. “The fundraising process is detrimental to everything,” she said.

It’s more important, Harris insisted, to “actually measure public input” instead of just counting dollars.

“You can measure money or you can measure people.”

Trippi suggested that it’s possible to do both. Referring to his success in raising money online from small donors with Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, he said, “It took four years before the concept of small donations really took off. They used to say ‘it’s the economy, stupid.’ Now, ‘it’s the network, stupid.’”

And that network, said McKinnon, is full of disenchanted voices — many of them dissatisfied with “either-or” presidential elections.

“A lot of people,” he claimed, “are hungry for a bipartisan ticket in this country.”

Follow Stephen on Twitter