New Guards

MSNBC's First Read acknowledges the truth...

The left-wing blogosphere is MUCH more powerful than what you see on the right this cycle and it reminds us of the advantage Bush had in '04. While we all know about that so-called right-wing voice machine, don’t forget that there is now a left-wing noise machine (on the internet) as well. And it has found its voice.

The Politico's Ben Smith points to the media bulldozing on the Left and says "It's just a small glimpse, I think, of the level of heat the media is going to take in the general election, and John McCain doesn't seem to have any equivalent." That's true. The Right has what might informally be called a "noise machine", but it is a product of the time in which it was created: the 70's, 80's and 90's. It has never really evolved. Meanwhile, the Left - in particular, the Progressives - have built a very powerful, very effective noise machine and they have built it both online and off. There are many cultivated (funded, strategic) elements to it, but the base - the underlying elements that make the cultivated, funded elements really effective - is basically organic.

The Right, I fear, is going to try to reproduce those organic elements through cultivation - or, worse, by funding the existing infrastructure to "do something online" - and they're going to fail. Miserably. I'd be glad to change my mind about this, but almost everything I've seen suggests that the Right just doesn't understand why the Left has been successful at this, so they're throwing their resources at misguided projects.

Meanwhile, the Leftosphere continues to have an impact, with the Leftroots effectively (and regularly) pressuring politicians and candidates to adopt the agenda they create and promote. So why - with very rare exceptions - can't the Rightosphere do that? Fundamentally, the Rightosphere can't do that (effectively) because the Right doesn't have the gravitational pull to draw candidates to its agenda. The Left has a well-organized blogosphere that can do three things for Progressive candidates:

  1. Messaging - between Moveon.org, the blogs and the many issue-advocacy outfits, the Leftosphere has a very powerful communication mechanism for candidates and issues. They have messaging and distribution capacity and it is well-coordinated with advocacy and awareness elements of their coalition.
  2. Money - the Presidential money is high-profile and not every candidate gets a lot of online money, but the Leftroots can move significant sums of money to the challengers that hit the right notes, make the right friends, and jump into the hot progressive issues. They have succeeded in tapping the long tail to move fundraising - and the financial incentive machine - outside of the establishment channels.
  3. Mobilization - the Progressives are passionate, energized, over their ideas. They have a story they're excited about, they have effectively tied their stories together and they're tightly wedded to the (dangerous) tactic of populism. They're unified around that mission, so they can and do mobilize people. Again, that moves significant power outside the traditional channels.

The Leftroots can deliver messaging, money and mobilization, so Democratic candidates become path-dependent on them. They have sufficient power to move politicians to their ideas. The Right does not. Meanwhile, what is the Right passionate about right now? Not much.

To build an online infrastructure as effective as the Leftosphere, the Right must find its own story to tell - an organic story, relevant to current grievances, with politically viable solutions - about which people can be passionate, around which a coalition can rally. The Right can accomplish the same thing, but it cannot start on third base. The Right has to develop the gravitational pull before it tries to pull the political system into its orbit. That may be complicated, but I don't believe it is actually difficult to do.

However, it is not something that can be done simply by funding more of the same Old Guards. If the Right is to do something about the current long train of abuses and bad government, it must, to borrow from the Declaration of Independence, "provide new Guards".

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