They saying showing up is 90 percent of life. For a long time, for my entire life actually, people haven't been showing up in politics. Voting has gone down, money in politics has gone way up (from corporate or recycled political money though) and we have continually been separated from the people that make decisions for us.
As political parties and the entire process has become more commercialized and less personal, we have become distanced from them. Less people vote and give money, but even fewer actually participate in party politics.
Here's a great data set that actually illustrates this trend. Also, read Bowling Alone, or at least chapter 2 on participation in political parties.
The fewer people that actually work for candidates, attend local political meetings, and PARTICIPATE in politics, the worse off we are. Watching Crossfire, writing a check and voting on election day (while all good things) aren't good enough.
Dean's candidacy and his DNC chairmanship, especially the 50 state campaign, is a great start to countering this trend. I got into politics because of Howard Dean. I was always interested in politics, and thought I was an above average consumer of the process, but before Dean, I didn't realize how insignificant just being a consumer of politics was.
Its great to vote, its even better to write a letter to the editor or read news a lot. But, to really make a difference, you have to show up. Since then, I've helped out on a campaign, door-belled and started organizing a Dem meetup in my town. I also worked the Demo-burger booth yesterday. Hmmmm... yummy.
Anyway, People Powered Howard is the first national figure that I've seen talk about and address the problem of lack of civic and political participation in America. That the media titters about every time he says something like a party where 80 percent of the self identified members are Christians and white is a "mostly white Christian party" is pretty pointless to me.