Building a Rightroots movement

Aaron Shaw at Fringe Thoughts responds to some things Patrick Ruffini and I have written recently.

A few recent posts at The Next Right have confirmed that John Henke and Patrick Ruffini are the only conservative bloggers I know of seriously considering how to build a netroots movement on the right. [...]  The irony here is that Henke’s (and Ruffini’s) analysis mirrors the claims made by Markos Moulitsas over the past five years on Daily Kos as well as in his books Taking On the System and Crashing the Gate.

Actually, I don't think it's ironic at all that the analysis of problems on the Right is similar to the arguments made by the Netroots Left.   For one thing, the "claims made by Markos Moulitsas" are in many ways intentional recycling of the movement on the Right.

The underlying systemic inputs are very similar.  The political/electoral culture and incentives, and the emergence of the internet as an important social and technological phenomenon impacted both the Left and Right at approximately the same time. 

The difference in uptake and evolution is predominantly due to the political cycle.  Democrats went through the wilderness from 1995 to 2003; they found their way from 2003 to 2008.  Republicans entered their wilderness in 2007, though I would argue that the Right has been in the wilderness for longer.  How long the Right wanders in the wilderness depends, in large part, on how seriously they take the lessons they can learn from the Left.

The question I have for Ruffini and Henke is whether a netroots of the right would (or even could) look like the netroots of the left? There’s a great case to be made (and some of us here at The Berkman Center are planning to publish some research in the near future that provides empirical support for this case) that technology usage patterns on the left and right of the blogosphere are significantly different.

Will the Right's netroots movement look like that of the Left?  To the extent that the tools, and the social/political dynamics, are similar, I'd say the Right's netroots movement will look a great deal like that of the Left.  The question is not what tools are available, but how they are relevant to the surrounding environment.  The components will not be identica, but the basic concepts they represent should be very much the same.  Or rather, they will be when the Right regains its footing.

However, the surrounding political environment does have to change in very important ways before that happens.  What Shaw notes here is absolutely correct...

There’s a great case to be made (and some of us here at The Berkman Center are planning to publish some research in the near future that provides empirical support for this case) that technology usage patterns on the left and right of the blogosphere are significantly different.

To some extent, this is a chicken/egg problem.  Does the Rightosphere not organize as well because of the nature of the online Republicans?   Or do the online Republicans not organize as well because of problems with the Republican Party?   I think it's mostly the latter - something that can be fixed - but it will not be changed until a number of other changes happen within the Right and the Republican Party.

Unfortunately, there are powerful, entrenched interests maintaining the Republican status quo.

Your rating: None


Herding cats

chicken/egg...good description.  We can certainly use the same tools as the left, but I don't agree that the same APPROACH will work.

Republicans are, by nature, more independent.  When given 'talking points,' we're as likely to disagree as we are to agree.  Yes, we share common core principles and values.  And we'll find much more agreement with those values and principles on line than we'll find with our elected officials - many of whom have forgotten them.

But the problems within the Republican Party do not prevent us from organizing on line.  Being Republicans, we do not wait for others in order to do things ourselves.  

I see the "rightonline" as the leader(s) most capable of articulating and promoting the core principles and ideals of the Republican Party.  My hope is that, as we learn how to better utilize the on line tools, we will become the driving force setting the policies and approaches that the elected officials will follow. 

still true?

Do you think it's still true that Republicans are more independent? Historically, absolutely, but the past few years have seen a "with us or against us" policy in which any dissent is forbidden. I absolutely agree that the elected officials have led the way, but in my opinion, the far-right base has also followed suit, not allowing any dissent on global warming, immigration, the war in Iraq, etc.

I think there will be a lot of tension over the next few years between the independents and the more hard-core members; mostly due to the Congressional races (not Obama/McCain). You'll have all the local Republicans running and they will have to decide on their own (along with their supporters) what direction to take. I do think the independent Republicans will be taking a firm stand going forward, which would be great because more ideas would be a great thing.

How could you make such a claim?

Sure, I don't support Ron Paul's foreign policy positions but I do agree with him on about 98% of his other positions.  Sarah Palin disagrees with McCain on global warming (much to his own dismay with own base).  There is no such thing as an orthodoxy amongst the right.  The very concept of which is an anathema to our beliefs.

Case in point, not all conservatives share the same positions on the abortion issue,  even the ones who are pro-life ( and yes I perosnally know of a few slef-described "libertarian-leaning" pro-abortion rights conservatives).  For instance some oppose it in every cirucmstance.  Then there is my view (which is similar to others) that it should only be legal in cases of rape, incest or when life threatening to the mother.  However, we who are all pro-life support overturning the unconstitutional Roe V. Wade decision on order to send this issue back to the states and localities where it rightfully belongs.


not that there arent any independent ideas

i meant more of the reception to opposing ideas. Ron Paul was booed for his views on the war. McCain couldn't even mention immigration during the primary debates, much like Giuliani couldn't mention abortion.

I meant my comment to apply party-wide, not at the individual voter level. i agree with your points, but still think it will be interesting to see how it plays out as the issues are prioritized going forward.

What happens to Democrat who don't tow the party line?

They are often ostracised and "booed".  This has been going on for years.  Just look back at the reception the late Robert Casey got at the 1992 Democrat convention, for his pro-life views and criticisms of Clinton.  That is not just limited to the GOP.

3 points, if I may

1) 1992 was an eternity ago;

2) Casey wanted to give a speech denouncing the platform. It would have been insanity for the Dems to allow him to do so. He wasn't shunned for his views, he was shunned for being hostile to the nominee and the platform. I'd say this is, in a a way, the flip side of the Tom Ridge issue - if he were the VP nominee, PA would be in the bag, but he isn't the nominee becasue he is pro-choice.

3)The Democrats seem very happy, willing and able to work with Jim Webb.

Rightroots will happen

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about it, if John McCain and the Republican Congressional delegation sustain significant losses this November.

The party's corporate rulers will get together and say, "Hey, we've got to change a few things around here. Our people are beginning to suspect the party doesn't reflect their political interests, but ours.  How do we create a new system that will give them the illusion that they are in power?"

From there, of course, they will turn to the internet. Perhaps by creating a GOP browser, with netrooting to from local members to their local GOP offices and state organizations. Throw in a few forums...great for passing down-the-line news releases as if they were personal messages from the leadership  to the party faithful.

In short, the party's corporate rulers will, indeed, use the Net as an especially effective propaganda tool to mask their corporate control of the partyt even more effectively. nothing more. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, if we had a strong, single-minded party chair that understood what People-power really meant and how to get it -- the real thing, I mean -- things could be different.  

ex animo


'roots is a bottom up model

One of the challenges for grassroots organizing on the right is our reverence for leadership. This tendency is on display in David's comments:

Perhaps, just perhaps, if we had a strong, single-minded party chair that understood what People-power really meant and how to get it -- the real thing, I mean -- things could be different.  

The 'roots model is bottom up, not top down. The party chair cannot enable people-power; that's a contradiction in terms. I'm not sure we understand that. 

Who are these entrenched interests, Kemosabe?

You say:

Unfortunately, there are powerful, entrenched interests maintaining the Republican status quo.

Let's quit talking in generalities and start naming names.

Naming names


Let's quit talking in generalities and start naming names.

Elected officials.  Campaign, activism and lobbying consultants and organizations.  Pundits, activists, campaign committees.

 It's not about specific people, so much as an echo chamber and culture that has become path dependent on a way of doing things, and the protection of their own operation. 


As a registered Independent for decades and early Reagan voter who has lived in NYC, the Midwest and SFO, I can tell you that I have watched the last 8-9 election cycles closely from differing perspectives. No doubt that Jon Henke makes several correct analyses regarding the way MCacain & Co have ignored / misused the digital tools on which his competitor has been shown adept.This failure in my mind mimics the differences between several of the two campaign's approaches and is epitomized by such statements as "I'll freeze spending" vs "That's a hatchet, I'll use a scalpel".

The McCain campaign's approach to everything is both archaic and sclerotic. It does not recognize the downward voter age trending of the last 8 years: the change in the way most people under 40 get their info now and basic communication techniques that a 18 yr old could expound upon at length - which the Obama campaign has deployed for over a year now. Worse, the Rep. camp (present company not included) doesn't seem to want to learn either. This could be an inherent age factor in the Rep vs Dem constituencies and the actual voting statistics will be indicative of whether it is an "Old Chicken" and a "Young egg" at the heart of the distance between the two parties on this factor.

However, I would say that even if the Rep Party catches up  (and despite some handwringing here, they will) I disagree that this will spell success in the near future.

How long the Right wanders in the wilderness depends, in large part, on how seriously they take the lessons they can learn from the Left.

After watching each party rise and fall for many years now, I can't agree entirely with the above. It seems that the one most important factor in the large electoral swings from left-to-right is the inability of BOTH parties to control themselves when they get effective control of the WH & Congress. The excesses become so wretched that the electorate is repulsed and out they go.

The "Monicazation" of Clinton aside, there is little doubt from his job approval ratings at his departure that he likely might have won a third term if allowed to run.IMO that was because he and the Rep Congress were able to manage a sort of disharmonious rapprochement that benefited the electorate.

Hence, I will posit that the length of time the Republican party sits out of power is inversely related to the Democrats ability to overreach the moderates who elected them, if they achieve unilateral control on Nov 4th. Specifically, if Obama finds a way to control the knee-jerk liberal factions at the far left of the Democratic party (and I believe this may be one of the reasons he is looking to run up the score - to cement his own power quotient with the electorate), and learn from the Republican's excesses of the last 8 years, you will see the Dems stay in power for many many years.

Technological advances or not.

[NB: this assumes some return to economic normality - if Bush/Paulson's horrible mismanagement pushes the nation into a depression before Volcker can replace him, all bets are off]

Bottoms Up

..the GOP needs a Jim Dandy to the Rescue in order to function as a 21st Century Party.

Karl Rove's legacy to the GOP has to be assessed as the fracturing and dismantling of half a century of party- and coalition-building.

GW Bush achieved victory not through the efforts of Karl Rove, who slashed and burned the carefully-tended groves and orchards the GOP built before he and GW came on the scene, but because those groves and orchards, the GOP's media reach, grassroots organizations, and robust donor network allowed him the luxury of playing divisive, hateful, and 50+1 politics at the expense and waste of the future.

A few years in the wilderness, meditating on sins of commission and omission, and a reestablishment of the basic purpose and meaning of the GOP's existence are in order.

And a dose of reality. 

Not FOX News, NewsMax, Rush Limbaugh, or Newt Gingrich, who have all self-servingly diagnosed the implosion and collapse of the Republican brand as "Not Conservative Enough."

Seriously now

I can't even get people to go comment at Time:

They won't even make a simple video:

The last got 215 views, and note in the follow-up that an anti-McCain video got around half a million views.

Something's wrong.

Rightroots or rightroots?

Some are beginning to argue that the Democratic party has basically been overwhelmed by all the self-organizing intensity and energy accompanying/creating/created by the Obama campaign. That its not been a party campaign in some ways. The organizing structures are definitely different, not nearly as hierarchical and rigid as in past major party campaigns, lots and lots of initiative left to the roots. So can the Republican party loosen up, and establish a Rightroots (still party driven)? Or is it necessary to talk of just ditching the party, and major party politics all together, in favor creating a bottom up network politics so to speak? Is latter option the only way to get true open political systems? Who wants to take it to that conclusion? Besides me. 


The Big Con

You gotta read The Big Con by Jonathan Chait. 

Lining up is easier in the opposition

The advantage of netroots had nothing to do with with the way left leaning people think as compared to right leaning people, virtually everyone has differences with their own parties in policy questions. The alignment comes with a common enemy. In the 90's, with USEnet and forums like Yahoo Groups, the right was very much in alignment on their antipathy toward Bill Clinton. These people might have had extreme differences on what they would have supported, but they were in virtual lockstep on what they opposed. The ubiquity of the internet grew, but the right had no common enemy to coalesce around, the left had a Republican Congress, and a Republican President who was decidely beligerant and created the axis on which to build a well aligned internet community.

So here we are, on the verge of handing the right a common antagonist to line up, in lock step, against.

The only real question is whether Obama will provide enough fodder for animosity as Bush gave to the left. If Obama follows through on his promises of cooperation and avoids ideological dogma, he may end up making it hard for the right to despise him as much as they might need to in order to develop an aligned community online.

I think the real key is to focus more clealry on what 21st century Republican values should be priority, and what principals they should abandon. If you build it, they will come, but you have to build something worth coming to. Libertarian platitudes are wonderful, but so yawn inspiring among the general public, that a party built around such is doomed to the basement with the big "L" Libertarian Party.

Republicans need to start looking back beyong Reagan and Goldwater, and look at the policies of Ike and Teddy Roosevelt, as well as the Rockefeller Republicans.

I have no doubt that Republicans want the same results that Democrats want, but Republicans have been doing a miserable job of actually creating and implementing policies towards those ends.

Id the entire Republican principal is going to be fairness as opposed to social justice, they are going to have to find a better way of doing that supply-side economics, because that dog won't hunt anymore, it's failed twice now, and people are going to run away from these policies in droves. Republicans USED to favor progressive taxes, and that's not a anti-business position, necessarily.

Evolve, adapt, or go the way of the Whigs.