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.

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Comments

Amen to Action and Policy

Patrick:

Couldn't agree with you more, here. I have been involved in some political campaigns where the team gets bogged down by the tools, and actually ends up ignoring the enunciation of the mission.  This problem seems to be endemic.

This is why I have decided to try and mitigate it by establishing a small, local, narrowly focussed policy organization dealing with a narrow geograpghy.  The idea is to set the agenda in this center right slice of the world, forcing candidates of both parties-- both incumbent and aspiring-- to take this community into account.

If we lean on specific legislation, status reports on specific projects, and the creation of a narrow, local policy platform those that run the parties will no longer be able to dictate priorities.

That's it?

The great plan to rebuild the party comes down to opening a Twitter account?  Didn't we agree a few posts back that the only way to overtake the Left's present advantage in IT technology is to make a deeper commitment, something the Democratic Party would be unwilling to do while a member of their party is sitting in the oval office?

 And what's going to stop the Left from opening up Twitter accounts, or a DiggLibs account, or whatever other SNS is out there? 

Look, there is nothing wrong with playing games with your internet chummies on an SNS, but we are talking serious business here. Unless the party gets behind, endorses and leads the effort to restructure itself to take full advantage of the internet by empowering it members, we will never, ever overcome, let alone compete, with the Left.

I know there are some who believe the party isn't all that far behind, or that it has come back before from two consecutive loosing cycles. But things have changed. Mass communication using the internet has changed the playing field from twenty years ago. If the party doesn't adapt now to the new rules, we will never get a chance to score.

 ex animo

davidfarrar

Good post Patrick

Whatever is done needs to be focused on motivating people to action. Someone posted that we should not try to mimic what Obama & the Dems do/did, but we should tailor our mechanisms & tools to our base - that is definitely true. In tech it's easy - very easy - to lose sight of the true prize & what truly matters & get into an effort to one-up your competition for the best looking widget, or focus on the home-run application while ignoring the singles & doubles...

Horseshoes, Handgrenages, and the Internet

Those are the places where close counts.

No one expects to reach Obama levels of online participation in 2010 or 2012, but what we should strive to dramatically close the gap between the Right and the Left online.

Part of the solution during the next few years will be the local party leaders and volunteers.  They must realize that the internet can be used to stay in constant contact with your supporters and to reach out to the rest of the community.

I know from local Democratic friends that the local Dems weren't very comfortable with Obama's team after he first won the nomination and started to campaign heavily in the area.  He had so many dedicated staffers and so much money that his campaign just overstepped the local party hierarchy and did it his way.

This probably wouldn't be the case with the GOP.  Republicans would probably prefer an engaged national or state GOP HQ that would teach them the necessity of the internet to campainging and how to best harness technology.

Recruiting young conservatives to join the local GOP is another way to better incorporate and utilize technology.  That would drive politcal reality into the forefront instead of nebulous debate over hashtags and twits.

Great post by the way.

There is no reason why...

...we can't reach and surpass Obama levels of online participation by 2010. Obama's online participation was truly awe-inspiring to be sure, but in terms of the Internet's potential, it was just the tip of the iceberg.

But you are correct in identifying the correct place to start, "...local party leaders and volunteers" (locally registered Republicans). Of course, "Twitter and other SNS can be used to stay in constant contact with supporters and to reach out to the rest of the community," but the party too must have a cyber structure that will give party members a voice, allow them to speak and to be accurately heard by party leaders.

You are also correct in pointing out that with the case of the GOP,  Republicans will prefer an engaged national or state GOP HQ that would teach them the necessity of the internet in o campaigning and how to best harness technology. I, myself, have run just such classes both before and after our local, monthly EC meetings.

Once online, local party officials will soon realize just how easy it will be to reach out into the local community and recruit local conservatives to join their local GOP Meetup.com groups. And from there, the sky would be the limit after leaving Obama's online participation figures in our dust.

Misunderstanding

I think there is a bit of a misunderstanding here as to what's going on with #diggcons, #tcot, and #dontgo or other projects that have been started recently.

Though #diggcons is 'new', it is a side project from my perspective as a member of Dont Go/News Platoon. Our goal is to organize the grassroots at the local level, something called for in the Rebuild the Party plan. Look at http://tennessee.newsplatoon.com and things like http://dontgomovement.com.

We are not promoting the tool over the goal one bit. Twitter has been a nice way to get communication out to people, but for the 2k or so people on twitter communicating by using the #tcot tag, the Dont Go Facebook account has 25k followers, and we're looking to reach up to 5 million true grassroots people in the various states and give them web platforms to communicate to each other through. That's going to take a lot of time, though, whereas the initial infrastructure with the tools is showy and quick, thus more prominent here at the start of this organizational phase.

#tcot has a number of action projects going as well to expand beyond what is being communicated in Twitter. I'm not as privy to their organizational structure, but I know Michael Leahy is not married to just Twitter either. http://tcotreport.com proves that already.

 

You have a goal. The Rebuild the Party has a goal. I have a goal

We all have goals. I am interested here in the goal of the Republican Party. Call me insane, but I would hope the goal of the Republican Party is to win back Congress in 2010, and do so with Congressional leaders who understand and are willing to support the party's fiscal conservative platform.

It is perfectly fine to have as many SNS working towards advancing the Republican cause as can be established. But what I am afraid of, and beginning to suspect, is that party leaders are going to use this kind of activity as a placebo for adopting a real party Internet structure. A cyber structure that will give all Republicans a voice within the party, an opportunity to speak within the party and an opportunity to have their voices accurately heard within the party. Without such a true party commitment in this regard, your SNS members will quickly realize they are simply being patronized by party officials through its use of the internet in order to set them up as easy marks for the next round of political donations. When this realization occurs, as it surely will, participation in your SNS will decline or never reach the kind of mass numbers required to overwhelm the opposition.  We need to get beyond this type of old-style, Duncan-type, Rebuild the Party-type of thinking. We need to realize that with the power of the Internet and an effective internet party structure, we can do what Obama has proven can be cyberly done: forgo fundraising altogether and go directly for the votes.

ex animo

davidfarrar

Precisely

I've seen the same thing in higher ed.  People become enamoured of the tools, which become an end in and of themselves rather than a means to an end, or faculty try to use their favorite tool for everything even if it's not the best one for that purpose.

Training time

One reason that the use of internet tools looms out of proportion for some campaigns is because of the lobbying and training time involved in getting the campaign staff up to speed on a particular online function.

If you're the new media strategist for the campaign, you may just want several people on the staff to use, say, Twitter several times a day--no more than 10 or 15 minutes of their time.

But to bring this about, in many cases, you end up talking about Twitter, lobbying for its use, explaining it to people, arranging staff training events, and doing follow up...all of which takes an inordinately disproportionate amount of time versus the relatively small amount of time you need or want anyone to use the tool.

When everyone on a typical campaign staff understands the use of basic new media tools and is able to use them well without orientation, this won't need to happen anymore and the illusion that all the new media guy ever thinks about is Twitter will dissipate.

 

training time involved in

training time involved in getting the campaign staff up to speed on a particular online function

 

Then get rid of them and get ones that already know what they're doing.

Right on, DMac.

But the issue at hand is not the integration of the Internet  within a political campaign, but the integration of the Internet into a political party.

ex animo

davidfarrar

True, but frankly, Repubs

True, but frankly, Repubs aren't going to get the internet integrated into the party until they figure out how to appeal to young people and people who live in the internet culture.  At this point, those are the people Rs are driving away.

I don't see the connection

It's all true, the Republican Party has to appeal to everybody, including the younger generation. But I find it had to believe that if the Republican Party re-structured itself around the internet, thereby giving all of its members a voice within the party, allowing them to speak and to be accurately heard by party officials, young people wouldn't participate. Indeed, if our party allowed all of it members to speak and to be heard, all would participate, even the younger members, because we would be the only party that had the political courage to ask for their opinions.

 

ex animo

davidfarrar

 

I do see a tendency by many

I do see a tendency by many who are sucked into this trap. "Oh, the campaign/RNC Chairman candidates/RNC members/etc. MUST use Twitter, etc."

No, they MUST not use any one tool. What they MUST do is communicate. It is the lack of communication that is the problem, not that you aren't using a specific tool to communicate with. When I'm getting emails from the party wanting me to buy some sort of stuffed elephant, while elected officials who claim to be in the party are implementing socialism, there is a major disconnect.

You are exactly right.

During this sellout by our own Republican members of Congress (not all of them, mind you), it was the people in overwhelming numbers who quite plainly told them not to sellout to Wall Street and to the banks, and yet they did. I am not sure even if we had been far more collectivized as one voice using the party structure and the internet, it would have stopped the bailout -- after all, the bailout was more about Congress mitigating its own political exposure than actually doing what was best for the country -- but doing so in the face of a much stronger voice of the people would have definitely made it harder for them to face their constituencies back home at the ballot box.  This is exactly the type of power-shifting from the political class to the people our party leadership is afraid of and why it is far more inclined to have us all open up a Twitter account rather than to actually consolidate its own membership's voices.

Yet far more than just simply opening up a Twitter account -- something the younger Left can do, is doing,  and is far better at doing it than we are -- the party must adopt an Internet strategy  that will allow its older membership to quickly move into the Age of the Internet so they can successfully compete with the Left in this increasingly vital area of the democratic process.

Lastly, restructuring the party is something done only when it is out of power, never while it is in power. This is precisely the kind of change the Democratic Party will not seriously undertake at the present time and is exactly why we, as a party, must.  So go ahead and open up all the Twitter accounts you like, but If the party fails to act decisively now in this regard, it will stand little chance of achieving its goal of overtaking the Left's internet advantage and, indeed, stands a very, very good chance of falling further and further behind by 2010 and beyond.

ex animo

davidfarrar