Rising Rightroots and Declining Netroots Now at Parity (or Better)


Flickr photo by Mike Bryant

Lost in the hubbub about the tea parties, the health care town hall protests, Joe Wilson, and the ACORN sting is the outcome of a long-simmering meta debate about the vibrancy of the grassroots right and its capacity to organize online. Along with a slew of other bad political indicators, the perception that the GOP might be stuck in a permanent Luddite rut reached its peak with the election of Obama and the role the Internet played in his victory.

Nearly a year later, not only have things turned around, but they've done so faster than anyone could have dreamed or imagined in those post-election doldrums.

First, hundreds of thousands of people showed up, flash mob-like, at Tea Parties not even three months after Obama Nation reached its apogee with the inauguration. The left was caught flat-footed and stammered that it must have been the creation of Fox News, although Fox News existed in the latter Bush years and during the McCain interlude and was unable to conjure up a similar display of enthusiasm in that period.

In August, the rightroots gained further velocity with the health care protests. This was significant in that it was the first head to head match with OFA and the unions, and it was no contest.

The third key moment came when Joe Wilson was able to raise as much (if not more) money than his Democratic opponent after the "You lie!" outburst. The left's immediate rallying around Rob Miller was a textbook netroots play, aided by ready-made infrastructure (an ActBlue page ready to accept contributions without crashing and display real-time feedback). For a Republican -- especially one deemed to be on the "wrong" side of a PR war -- to have been competitive in money raised with a netroots Democrat is something that simply would not have happened in the Bush years. This is especially striking given that Markos, Stoller, Bowers et al. made money raised for candidates the sine qua non of the netroots, an outgrowth of the left's 1970s era obsession with countering "big money" in politics.

Finally, the O'Keefe/Giles video bust of ACORN -- the right's biggest media coup since Rathergate -- showed the right to be getting its sea legs in investigative journalism, a space virtually patented by the left in recent years.

What we seem to be witnessing is the Feiler Faster Thesis in action, with a robust grassroots opposition to Obama, aided by the Internet, taking shape far more quickly than anyone could have predicted, and comparatively speaking, in a far more timely fashion than it took the left to gets its act together against Bush.

(The big asterisk in that comparison with the Bush years is 9/11 and the wars, but looking back to August and early September 2001, the Democratic opposition to Bush was weak and defined largely by spineless Washington pols like Tom Daschle rather than a sea of grassroots protest, which became apparent only later when the Internet became a viable organizing vehicle.)

So, the fear that Republicans would be disorganized for months if not years after Obama taking office has proven to be unfounded. The right's rise online (and offline too) has been a pretty automatic reaction to Democratic hegemony in Washington, disproving the notion that there is anything intrinsic to the right or the left driving the use of specific tools. And wrapping this up in a neat little bow, the political environment turns out to be the decisive factor in how emphatically people use the technology, not the other way around.

Understandably, not all of this has been online. Talk radio, and yes, cable news, still plays a role, particularly in the critical task of driving calls to member offices. As I noted on Twitter in August

For all the talk about lefty activism recently, it seems the right has an institutional advantage in contacting Congress... on every issue

From immigration to health care, most of the time you hear about a lopsided disparity with one side shutting down phone lines on Capitol Hill, it's conservatives doing it. While the political climate may dictate how effectively the tools get used, the right and left still have a tendency to focus on different things, with the right jumpstarting its movement in recent months with legislative advocacy and moving bodies to events, and while the left first built the netroots around raising money for candidates.

As a skeptic of the hegemony of money in campaigns and a believer in shoeleather organizing, it's not surprising to me that a newly resurgent right has made such an explosive impact on the national debate in the last two months. All the folks who wondered for five years where our response to the netroots was now have their answer.

Socialism, Scrota and Tea Party Ridicule

Mainstream media personalities have begun making a sport out of ridiculing “tea parties.” If you’re living on Mars, tea parties are spontaneously formed groups of activists disgusted with just about everything the federal government is doing. But in the marble bosom of the socialist salon, teaparties would seem to be the stuff of humor:

On Replacing One of the Three "Pillars of Conservatism"

Consider this definition of social conservatism:

Traditional values, customs and ways of viewing the world have withstood the test of time, hence they should be given deferential treatment over newer values or customs that have not survived the same level of temporal scrutiny.  Moreover social change often leads to unintended consequences, most of the time deleterious ones, so change by itself should be regarded skeptically and, if deemed beneficial, should happen slowly, cautiously and methodically, so that any unintended consequences can be recognized and overcome.  Finally, individual liberty is only beneficially meaningful when it is conjoined with a moral people; hence policies that promote moral clarity should be favored over those that create moral obfuscation or relativism.

Where in this definition do you see the word government power? In other words, if there is social freedom, won't the rewards and punishments of cultural markets be enough to let some behaviors/traditions “survive” and others fail? Won't cultural evolution proceed by Darwinian processes, rather than Intelligent Design (read: inculcation by bureaucrats with a bible under one arm and the Complete Works of Edmund Burke under the other?) 

Customs survive or go extinct in one of two ways—either a) they’re protected by the force of powerful elites (witness slavery, Jim Crow), or b) because they ‘work’ within the environment in which they attempt to function. You may call b) relativism. So be it. But a) gets to be called “moral” by those who hold the power. It’s no different from leftish moralists with some “social justice” bee in their bonnets.

In any case: nothing under a liberty umbrella precludes social conservatism from being a personal cultural disposition that we all, as members of a free society, must tolerate -- like any other disposition or form of expression.

Can Sarah Palin Supporters Elect the Next American Idol?!?

I have the perfect project for conservatives looking to make inroads in popular culture.  Considering the importance pop culture has in shaping political narritives, we need to make inroads here beyond 24As Rush said last week:

if conservatives do not find a way to dent the pop culture, it isn't going to matter what happens in Washington.  It's unrealistic to expect that every bit of entertainment culture the American people are exposed to is a hundred percent dyed-in-the-wool liberal and then expecting on Election Day to go vote for liberals.

That's why we need to rally to elect Emily Hughes the Next American Idol.  She's the girl who sang "Barracuda" in her Audition; she was AWESOME!  Unfortunately, her audition tape isn't anywhere to be found on the web, but I did find this preview clip on AOL; she's also in this commercial.

Why is this a good idea?

1) The Popular Culture - I mentioned this above and it bears repeating: We Need to Make Inroads in the Pop Culture.  This is the perfect opportunity in which to do so.  Idol already has the largest audience on TV.  Idol's audience already skews to the right.  Is there any better place to begin?

2) She Rocks - Paula said she could make it into the top 5.  Paula's right.  With a committed fan base, she could win the whole thing.

3) She'll get Sarah Palin covered in the Entertainment Media - This is an essential step to reaching low information voters.  It will keep Sarah in the public eye, without exposing her to the jackals in the drive by's.  5 minutes on Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, or TMZ will net far more votes than sucking up to the drive by's by going on Meet the Press.  Force the drive by's to cover TMZ!

4) E-mail addresses and Cell Phone #'s - We can collect them, a la Obama, for use in a future political campaign.

5) She Looks Cool - She has pink hair and tats up and down both arms.  That can only help us in the 18-29 year old crowd.


Rules, Tools & Best Practices

I got a lot of feedback on this post. Seems like people are eager to Reboot. Rebuild. Rebrand. But one thing folks told me they’d like elaboration on is the following: “Rules, tools and best practices give rise to all the good stuff that comes from the bottom up.” So let’s elaborate.

Reboot. Rebuild. Rebrand.

There have been a lot of great posts on this site about the future of the Republican Party and the Freedom Movement. I want to add mine to the pile, but do so in a way that offers a clear framework and three-step process going forward: 1. Reboot, 2. Rebuild, 3. Rebrand. 

  1. Reboot – Coalesce around a Vision

Like many large, powerful organizations, the Republican Party began to suffer from inefficiency, mission creep and stagnation. Why does this happen? These organizations become victims of their own success. They lose their way because they lose site of the Vision. Losing site of the vision means paths diverge, the organization splinters—all of which can lead to dissolution. But isn’t it possible for an organization to get its footing back? Remember when Steve Jobs returned to Apple? He brought the Vision back. Now we have iPhones. Luckily, we already have what Jon Henke calls an “organizing principle” around which to coalesce. It’s called liberty. Or, if you like, the Vision of the Founders. Rebooting requires getting the vision back in the manner of a Thomas Jefferson circa 1774, or a Ronald Reagan circa 1979. In case anyone here needs a refresher, here are the Top 5 ingredients of that successful Vision, already given to us by the Founders:

  • Freedom is good for its own sake. (We don’t like tyrants or nannies.)
  • Freedom gives rise to prosperity. (It helps us to be prosperous.)
  • Freedom can only be guaranteed through limiting government. That may mean “going local” (federalism), checks and balances (constitutional reform), or financial constraints (tax & spending reform). As Madison warned: There are no angels in Washington.
  • Freedom must never be auctioned off. (That means must never be sold to special interests, politicians, corporations—even for short term political gain).
  • Freedom’s protection and preservation is the sole purpose of government. (Freedom sacrificed to equality (or “crisis management” or “pragmatism” or X) gives us neither.)

Once everyone has bought back into that Vision, things get a lot clearer. People remember why they were doing any of this in the first place. They have a both a beacon in the darkness and a reason to fight. Right now, we’re still in reboot phase. But with a President-elect and Congress that is both Keynesian and Machiavellian, we have a perfect opportunity to re-embrace the principles of the Founding and define ourselves by way of contrast. (They, after all, are but sloganeers, demagogues and opportunists.)

The Rightroots Needs Less Meta and More Purpose

Aaron Marks asks if we are on the verge of a rightroots movement. The answer to that question depends on what we're organizing around: new tools or specific political objectives?

The last couple of months has seen a flourish of conservative organizing on Twitter. Now, we have DiggCons, complete with hashtag.

As someone who just crossed 3,000 followers on Twitter while writing this post, I'm just as thrilled as anyone about these developments. But I feel compelled to add a caution.

If these new movements don't evolve beyond efforts to colonize insert-Web 2.0-property-here, reacting to perceived liberal dominance of these spaces, we will not move the ball forward. That's because strategy must always precede tactics. A unifying goal to organize around is inevitably more compelling than cheerleading for specific tools. The end goal should not be to dominate, or keep ourselves from getting buried on Twitter or Digg. The goal should be to (eventually) dominate the American political system through the strategic use of all the tools at our disposal, including e-mail lists, fundraising, blogs, social networks, Twitter, or tools that don't even exist yet. In terms of how we communicate to the outside world, blog / Twitter / Digg triumphalism should be kept at a minimum, and a statement of our ultimate political objectives -- delivered in clear, non-technical language that even late adopters can understand -- must be in the foreground.

If you want a great example of goal-based online political organizing, look no further than Chris Bowers' call to his readers to pressure Democratic members of Congress to support no-name liberal legislation that would normally die in committee. This is actually a useful and serious political objective the realization of which just happens to be made easier by technology. But there is no tech-triumphalism in this -- just a hard-nosed political goal.

In many ways, the Open Left example mirrors the initial development of the conservative and liberal blogospheres. Conservative blogs in their early days featured a lot of blog-triumphalism, with "Carnival of X" serving as the precursor of a hashtag. This self-referential activity was good at building lots of interlinking between blogs -- but meanwhile, the left was beating us by organizing around concrete political objectives outside the political blogosphere. Raise Money for Candidate X. Defeat Bill Y. There is a lesson there. Anyone, whether an existing user of the tools or not, will be drawn to the goal, and will eventually latch on to the tools as a way to achieve the goal. The netroots was not self-consciously about dominating blogs. It was about routing around existing failed power structures to achieve concrete external goals, and blogs just happened to be the readiest tool in the arsenal.

People like Justin Hart are working to convert the right's energy on Twitter into dollars for candidates and organizations. And #TCOT has a whole slew of action projects, including a campaign to realize the 435 District Strategy and pressuring RNC members to get on Twitter. Given that Twitter is best used as a person-to-person medium, this is actually not a bad way to personally influence the 168 who elect the next Chairman to make sure our concerns are heard.

As someone who conspired in the creation of a hashtag around the wedding of one of The Next Right's founders last night (Congrats, Soren!), I know what great fun they can be. But if our goal is to exert real-world political power and convince the late adopters to follow, we might want to think about organizing our movement around things that are more serious, and less meta, than another hashtag.

Are We On the Verge of a Rightroots Movement?

It’s been a while since I’ve heard chatter on the blogosphere about building a Rightroots movement (I last commented on it at the end of October). However, over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a number of major developments that suggest we might be on the verge of establishing a true and effective Rightroots movement.

When John Hawkins wrote about this topic, he noted that (emphasis added):

One of the biggest problems online — and this extends outside of the blogosphere — is that there are far more liberals online than conservatives and they’re much more enthusiastic.

Because of that, huge websites that can drive a lot of traffic like Digg, Fark, and YouTube have come to be dominated by liberals, even though they aren’t liberal per se.

Over the past few months, some great minds on the Right – people like Patrick Ruffini, Mindy Finn, Eric Odom, and Michael P. Leahy – have taken the lead in organizing conservatives online. As a result, I believe we’re witnessing a substantial increase in both online participation and enthusiasm among the Rightosphere. Although we haven’t fully established ourselves on Digg or YouTube (yet), we have taken Twitter by storm – and establishing a significant conservative presence on other websites may be coming very soon.

And so without further ado, I wanted to take a highlight a few fantastic websites/projects that have come to fruition since the election that are helping to organize a Rightroots movement. If you’re not already active with them, you should definitely check them out and consider getting involved.

  1. Rebuild the Party – When Patrick Ruffini and Mindy Finn initially started Rebuild the Party, it was simply a forward-looking plan for the Republican Party (albeit a phenomenal plan that I have enthusiastically endorsed). However, it has since blossomed into a substantial movement. Over 7,000 people, mostly ordinary citizens, have endorsed the plan. All but one of the candidates for RNC Chair has publicly announced their support for it. And over 2,100 folks have jointed the Rebuild the Party Action Network. This is a very strong showing of the Rightroots who are clearly looking to rebuild after the devastating results of the 2008 election.
  2. News Platoon and DiggCons – A number of folks, led by Eric Odom, launched the #dontgo Movement in response to the Congress’ unwillingness to pass offshore drilling legislation in August. And although #dontgo remains the umbrella organization, Eric has recently released a number of notable new spin-off projects. One of them, News Platoon, is building a state-by-state grassroots network that offers “REAL news stories across” a given state. New Platoon’s first state, Tennessee, is in beta. The other project that Eric just today released, Diggcons, is aiming to even the conservative hand on Digg, where for the most part the Right is held to a whisper.
  3. Top Conservatives on Twitter – Michael P. Leahy started Top Conservatives on Twitter as “a rallying point for conservatives on Twitter.” The #tcot hash tag has been one of the top 10 trending topics on Twitter for weeks now. The list started out with no more than a few hundred names; it has since ballooned to nearly 2,000 users, and 15 RNC members have signed up on Twitter.

With websites and projects like these springing up across the nation, I truly believe that we are witnessing a new conservative online movement. We may not yet have established a true Rightroots movement, but I am starting to think that we are getting very close. A critical next step will be using peer production and mass collaboration to our advantage.

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