Like a research team breathlessly reporting a discovery that Thor Heyerdahl made sixty years ago, investigative reporters at the Washington Post have found that online Democrats run circles around the GOP.
“For the most part Republicans are stuck in Internet circa 2000,” [David All, a former Republican congressional aide,] said in an interview.
Another Republican — Michael Turk, who was in charge of Internet strategy for President Bush’s 2004 campaign — puts the problem his party faces more bluntly: “We’re losing the Web right now.”
A series of well-known facts and figures follow – GOP presidential candidates have web operations that range from poor (McCain) to inexcusable (Giuliani), Barrack Obama practically owns MySpace, Subcommandante Markos rules the blogs, ActBlue has raised $3 mil for Edwards alone. ABC PAC, the rightwing Actblue equivalent, has raised the comical sum of $385. Total. How long do you suppose it will take to recoup the cost of designing the site?
With the Olin and Scaife foundations giving as freely as ever we can rule out a lack of seed money as the primary cause for the lack of oomph in the rightwingosphere. Possibly the problem starts and ends with the extraordinarily weird times that we live in today. As the article points out we can only make guesses about what online conservatism would look like if its followers did not have an awful administration that repudiates every core conservative principle. Their Congressional delegation redefines corrupt. Their presidential lineup has less spark than Kodos-Kang and their glorious war against islamonazism has turned into the Athenian invasion of Syracuse. Some days I’m amazed when people like Malkin and the LGF drones muster the enthusiasm to boot their computers.
Then there is the question of sheer numbers. Moderates and every sensible conservative, meaning those who remember when torture and habeas corpus separated good countries from bad, got off the boat some time between abu Ghraib, Terry Schiavo and abu Gonzales’s personal China Syndrome. Even taking morale into account it gets hard to grow when your share of America is 28% and shrinking.
On top of that you can add the institutional differences between Republicans and Democrats.
Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute, a San Francisco-based think tank that in recent months has been advising Democratic members of Congress and their staffs on how to take full advantage of the Web, argues that the culture of Democrats is a much better fit in the Internet world.
“What was once seen as a liability for Democrats and progressives in the past — they couldn’t get 20 people to agree to the same thing, they could never finish anything, they couldn’t stay on message — is now an asset,” Leyden said. “All this talking and discussing and fighting energizes everyone, involves everyone, and gets people totally into it.”
As the old saw goes, ask three Democrats and get four opinions. The flip side of that has long helped to explain the huge popularity of conservatism in the old media. Researchers like Bob Altmeyer have exhaustively demonstrated that conservative followers like being told what to think and conservative leaders don’t tolerate input from the masses. In that way radio is the perfect medium, sending the Party line through a select group of reliable disseminators to the polloi with little chance for feedback, which liberals value but authoritarians hate. It helps explain why few conservative blogs allow comments and why Clear Channel radio often jettisons popular local conservatives to make room for a Limbaugh/Hannity/Savage monoculture. Feedback is a bug and the more mouthpieces you have the harder it gets to control the Party line.
Watch the fun when a leading conservative blog decides to weigh in on a leadership decision like replacing one corrupt pol for another on the House Appropriations Committee. Baffled and a little irritated to find information traveling in the wrong direction, the leadership told RedState to piss off. Meanwhile Daily Kos keeps growing because the Kossacks receive feedback that tells them they matter. Presidential candidates, Congressional leaders and the DNC have all opened themselves up to critical input from the net polloi. With notable exceptions most even seem grateful for it. For some guy with a day job skipping lunch to write some comments or a blog post that feels pretty darn good.
Even more than the dire state of conservatism today, maybe that’s why internets will always belong to Democrats. Conservative leaders view bloggers as tools while liberals/Democrats see them as allies. That bodes especially well in you consider the blogosphere as a talent pool, sort of a huge farm team for the next generation of pundits and political operatives. The wingnut foundations can’t help with a startup cost near zero. More importantly, interesting new bloggers will give up if the best they can hope is to become a powerless apparatchik, and the people who do find that prospect appealing (Mark Noonan) will not do the movement much credit.
Rep. John Linder, a Republican from Duluth and a member of the steering committee that made the Calvert appointment, was the first congressional office targeted for calls by RedState.com. But Linder brushed off the online critics.
“I really don’t pay much attention to blogs,” he said. “You can say anything on those blogs without any attribution and get away with it.”
Liberal blogs have been influential, the Georgia lawmaker acknowledged. But he dismissed their conservative counterparts, saying, “I don’t pay any attention to them.”
Even some conservative bloggers object to the new blog activism.
“If you look at the top tier of right-wing bloggers, they’re almost unfailingly civil,” wrote Dean Barnett for the opinion Web site Townhall.com.
He charged that Erickson was trying to turn right-wing Web sites into “the kingmakers that the left-wing blogs are.”
It is hard to imagine a more trenchant, telling and dispiriting exchange for conservative bloggers than this short anecdote. A Republican lawmaker outright says that the influence of GOP blogs is a pale shadow of their Dem counterparts, and more than that, this subservient position in the political discourse is exactly where he thinks they belong. Even other bloggers like Dean Barnett acknowledge that unlike their liberal counterparts, conservative bloggers like Erick don’t get a place at the table. Barnett argues that a party member like Erick should know his place and stop making so much noise.
But the most remarkable thing about this short exchange is the way that Barnett irrevocably rebrands the word civil in a way that no liberal to my knowledge has thought to do. As defined by Dean Barnett, uncivil liberals get in the way and act like they have a right to speak out of turn. The old-timey word for that behavior is “uppity.” Barnett’s idealized rightwing blogger shows his civility when he passively accepts the party line and passes it on uncritically. Civility means knowing your place.
It’s really a devastating critique of the rightwing blogger mindset. And it came from a Republican.