Following up on the thoughtful posts by Patrick Ruffini (here and here) and John Hawkins (and by James Joyner, Dan Riehl, Melissa Clouthier and Rick Moran), I think there are a few important points to make about this project of creating online infrastructure. I don't specifically disagree with Patrick Ruffini, but I do think he's omitting some important points.
- Organism: A good netroots movement is not a product of financial support. While money can help elevate important voices, the Right does not lack a general political "noise machine". We don't need to subsidize the Chatterati. That is exactly the opposite of organic and grassroots.
- Resources: Nevertheless, infrastructure is important, and Patrick Ruffini is right that we genuinely do have some human resource problems. For years, this did not seem terribly important. The offline infastructure really was sufficient. But in 2006, a political tipping point arrived. Suddenly, the Left's ability to message, mobilize and fundraise online became apparent and important. In 2008, the impact of that online infrastructure has become overwhelming. In Washington, DC, in the media and on the ground. the Left has learned how to turn an online swarm into offline results.
- Mission: And yet, what the Right really needs is not to have bloggers get comfortable with activism. While we do have human resource problems, we can't improve the game by yelling louder. The people who read blogs are not awaiting a blogger's call to action. That organic energy comes from a unifying grievance and a common mission.
Don't put the cart before the horse. The Leftosphere is not effective because they can fundraise and mobilize activists. They are effective because they can communicate and organize people around a message. Fundraising and activism is a product of communication and organization.
If we have the right agenda, the money and activism will happen on their own; without the right agenda, activist bloggers won't help.
It's very important to understand what the Left has been doing in recent years. They haven't been building websites. They have been building a Movement.
Dan RIehl argues that "the notion that the Left's Netroots grew up organically is a bit of a myth. As I pointed out as far back as July 2006, there was big money and political professionals behind getting that really going."
He's a little bit right and wrong here. The Left did have both organic and cultivated components.
- The organic period (1998-2003) included the emergence of Moveon.org, Daily Kos, Atrios, MyDD and other important Left-of-Center voices (Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Kevin Drum).
- The cultivated period (2003-current) included the emergence of important infrastructure (Center for American Progress, Media Matters), as well as the integration of progressive institutions with the netroots (American Prospect, Washington Monthly, Labor Unions, etc)
Both the organic and cultivated elements were necessary to make the other really effective. A coordinating tool (Center for American Progress/Media Matters) isn't effective without a crowd to coordinate (Kos, MyDD, Atrios). A crowd isn't really effective without coherent, organizing ideas and information around which they can mobilize.
The Right has the crowd (although that can be improved). We're missing the coordinating mechanisms. But even the crowd + coordination won't work unless there is a genuinely relevant organizing agenda; ideas that touch a nerve and capture the imagination. There is a role here for better infrastructure to be built now, but it is first about improved information delivery, story-telling and organizing, not about fundraising and mobilizing.
Without the organizing agenda, the parts are...just parts. There is no fuel.
It's not a matter of the Right not having the money. It's a matter of the Right not having a mission. The political entrepreneurialism that we've seen on the Left will emerge on the Right when the Right begins to coalesce around an agenda.