Last week, as the mighty national MSM wagged its finger at Nancy Pelosi over the Murtha-Hoyer flap, another House leadership fight was being ignored. This was the fight between the Right Blogosphere and the Washington Republican establishment.
Oh, it wasn’t much of a fight. Rightie bloggers and other conservative activists put up their fists, and the establishment Republicans ignored them. But it reveals something about where the Right (and the Left) might be going.
Last week House Republicans kept John Boehner (Ohio) and Roy Blunt (Missouri) as their respective Leader and Whip, albeit changing from Majority to Minority in January. This was a rebuff of the bloggers, who championed Mike Pence (Indiana) and John Shadegg (Arizona). (For an explanation of the blogger position, see this article written before the House vote by Dick “The Other Dick” Morris.)
McQ at Q and O wrote,
The Arizona Republic pretty well expressed my feelings with their endorsement of Shadegg (who is, of course, a favorite son):
We’re going to learn very quickly, likely this week, whether a lick of sense has been pounded into the craniums of congressional Republicans following their midterm disaster last Tuesday….
…If House Republicans leave either of those gentlemen – Boehner or Blunt – in charge when they vote for new leaders later this week, they will be declaring themselves even more blithering than voters thought. And voters thought Republicans were pretty blithering this election cycle, if you hadn’t noticed.
A lot of times when you hear the coach of a losing team explain how he plans to get his team back on track, he says “we have to get back to basics”. Well that’s precisely what Republicans have to do. And that requires leadership which is actively committed to those basics and steering its members that way.
The results were even more lopsided than in the Hoyer-Burth contest. Boehner bettered Pence 168 to 27, and Blunt beat Shadegg 137 to 57. The Washington Post editorialized,
The results marked a setback for conservative activists who tried to wrest control of the party by arguing that it had lost its ideological moorings and that voters had signaled they wanted Republicans to renew the energetic, activist style that swept them to power in 1994. …
… Rather than retooling political concepts, GOP strategists say, they will focus on strategies that will promote their agenda of making tax cuts permanent, appointing conservatives to the federal bench, and making select spending cuts, while trying to foil many of the Democrats’ domestic proposals, to the extent that the Republicans’ new status allows.
Remember the GOP motto: It’s not what you do, but what you say, that counts.
While researching this development I found this intriguing FAQ by Dean Barnett at Townhall. It begins:
1) How could this have happened? The entire weight and heft of the right-wing blogosphere stood behind a campaign to change the House leadership and nothing happened. Kos holds a putz-fest in Vegas and virtually the complete Democratic establishment comes to kiss his ring. Is the right wing blogosphere only capable of getting congressional types to give us a few minutes of their time on conference calls?
The FAQ answer is “The right wing blogosphere has to deal with the facts. The politicians just arenâ€™t that into us.” But this perception from the Right turns old leftie conventional wisdom on its head — we think they’re marching in lockstep with the GOP while we’re outsiders, crashing the gates of the Dem establishment. So which is it?
I think you can find part of the story in posts by Chris Bowers at MyDD. In fact, the titles of the posts in chronological order tell the story:
September 12, 2004: “Top-Down Right-Wing Blogosphere Growing Powerful.”
June 12, 2005: “Aristocratic Right Wing Blogosphere Stagnating.”
March 21, 2006: “There Is No Right-Wing Blogosphere Anymore.”
Although the title of that last post may seem a tad premature, the point he makes is about the different natures of the Right and Left Blogosphere and the fact that the two halves of the blogosphere brain are not mirror images of each other.
In a nutshell — in the first post, Chris looked at traffic patterns on both sides of the blogosphere and explained why the Right was better at pushing that “one big story” and getting that story into the headlines than the Left. Back in the glory days of Rathergate, for example, we saw a story travel from an anonymous comment on Free Republic to national media in 12 hours. “The right-wing blogosphere has become integrated into the Mighty Wurlitzer,’ wrote Chris, “while we remain a loose confederation of outrage, analysis and action.”
In the second post, Chris noted that the righties were still better at getting and keeping the attention of news media than we were. But, under the radar, the Left Blogosphere was busy with other matters:
We raised well over a million dollars for Democratic candidates in the 2004 cycle whereas they did not even come close to 100K. We crushed Roemer’s candidacy for DNC chair and are on the verge of basically selecting the new DNC chair, whereas they said nothing about the RNC chair. We changed a law in Virginia, but I have never heard of them contacting lawmakers. We organized a challenge to the electoral vote certification, but I can’t remember the last time a Republican Senator did something on the urging of the right-wing netroots. We have significantly whipped our own party into line on Social Security, and there is nothing comparable on their side.
In the third post, Chris wrote about the growth of community on the Left Blogosphere and the lack thereof on the Right. On the Left, it’s much easier for new voices to join our discourse and introduce ideas that will be noticed throughout our side of the ‘sphere. The Right Blogosphere, however, is far more hierarchical, with a relatively small pool of Ã¼ber-bloggers dominating rightie web conversation.
And in the fourth and last post, Chris noted that those Ã¼ber-bloggers had mostly been absorbed into the conservative establishment.
Most major right-wing bloggers have now been incorporated into the established news media apparatus. Glenn Reynolds is a columnist for MSNBC. Andrew Sullivan is a columnist for Time. Michelle Malkin is a frequently published columnist in a number of offline outlets. And now, RedState co-founder Ben Ben Domenech has a regular column in the Washington Post.
We all remember that Ben Domenech didn’t last long in the WaPo position, for which he was colossally unsuited. Still, the fact that a 24-year-old pedestrian writer and college dropout was given such a position at all is wonderfully illustrative of how the Right is becoming a tad inbred; for more on this see DHinMI at Kos.
The many ties between conservative institutions (including media, think tanks, and the Republican Party) and the Right Blogosphere were documented by Garance Franke-Ruta in The American Prospect; see “Blogged Down” from the April 2005 issue. Please do take a look at this, because I don’t want to repeat it all here but it makes an important point about how the conservative establishment has been using the Right Blogosphere all along. There is little parallel with the Left Blogosphere. While some of us have received occasional media attention and gigs with campaigns after we got into blogging, only a handful of people on my blogroll had media exposure or establishment connections before blogging. Of course, what little progressive/liberal media-think tank infrastructure exists is no match for the Right’s.
And then go read (or re-read) Peter Daou’s original “Triangle” essay from September 2005. “[B]log power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment,” Peter wrote. Bloggers become effective at pushing a story or addressing an issue when blogs, media, and the political establishment form a power triangle and work together to promote that story or address that issue. And, until recently, the Right was a whole lot better at that than we were. Even before the political blogosphere took off, the establishment Right was incorporating the web into the triangle; think Drudge and the blue dress.
The right wing tends not to build independent online communities, using their existing offline communities to generate web sites that reinforce their politics and their ideology.
Their web presence is nurtured by institutions and is part of the conservative, right-wing media machine. The Drudge Report, for instance, is one of the largest conservative sites and frequently receives its information from Republican operatives.
Most right-wing blogs reiterate talking points that are generated from inside formal conservative institutions; conversations center on feeling victimized for being right-wing, attacking and hating progressives, and attacking and hating the media….
… I feel it has developed to such a degree that the right-wing blogosphere itself has been all but annihilated … there is almost nothing in the way of an independent right-wing blogosphere operating outside of existing, established news media outlets. The days of the rise of Free Republic have long passed.
By “annihilated” Chris isn’t saying there is no Right Blogosphere, he’s saying there is no community of activist rightie bloggers independent from the conservative establishment that can effectively challenge the establishment. And that takes us back to Dean Barnett’s FAQ.
2) But how come the Democrats are so into the blogosphere and the Republicans arenâ€™t? How come we donâ€™t generate fear and respect like the Kosfather?
Because all we do is opine, and often in an annoyingly independent way. While all of us root for the Republican Party, weâ€™re also pretty expressive when members of the party let us down. We might carry a little water, but as a group, I bet the Republican establishment thought of us as more as a pain in the neck than an asset during the last campaign season. I know I wonâ€™t be on George Allenâ€™s Christmas card list.
3) And Kos is different?
Yes. Although he rips Democrats when heâ€™s of a mind to do so, he also brings something else to the party. He brings volunteers and money and buzz. Although my modem might well explode as I type these words, Jon Tester would not be a senator starting in January if it werenâ€™t for the Daily Kos. Same for Jim Webb. He never would have made it out of the primary.
It’s true that, all along, plenty of rightie bloggers have bucked Washington establishment opinion. Most of them hate President Bush’s immigration plans. Many have complained about Congress’s out-of-control spending. But they’ve done very little [*] counter-organizing or activism. They complain, and the establishment ignores them.
[*] One of the few independent rightie blog initiatives that has generated some heat is the Porkbuster project founded by NZ Bear and Glenn Reynolds.
Leftie bloggers on the other hand, began as outsiders, and we have been fighting our way in. A couple of years ago few in the Democratic Party gave us the time of day. Now we’re a force, although how much of a force is a matter of opinion. But the realization that it’s not wise to ignore the bloggers is slowly dawning in some inside-the-beltway Democratic heads.
Dean Barnett wrote of rightie blogs, “I bet the Republican establishment thought of us as more as a pain in the neck than an asset during the last campaign season.” Possibly less of a pain in the neck than dead weight. The Right Blogosphere did plenty of water-carrying for the GOP in the 2004 campaign. They were practically the right arm of the Swift Boaters, for example. Last month they worked mightily to inflate John Kerry’s flubbed joke into a substantial issue, and certainly they helped make it a bigger deal than it deserved to be. (Too bad for them that John Kerry wasn’t running; he would have lost again.) But they couldn’t sustain a power triangle strong enough to hold back the blue wave. This is not the fault of rightie bloggers alone, of course, but rather is symptomatic of a systemic weakening of the entire Right versus a rising tide of discontent across the land.
On the other hand, until recently most of the Democratic establishment did think we leftie bloggers were a pain in the neck, and some of it still does, and we leftie bloggers regard much of the Democratic establishment in the same light. This is an alliance born more of pragmatism than loyalty, although perhaps we’ll get chummier as we get to know each other.
The Right Blogosphere from the beginning was seamlessly integrated into the establishment Right’s message machine, whether the bloggers realized it or not. As long as rightie bloggers can be counted on to support the message or swift-boat attack du jour, the establishment can tolerate (and ignore) their grumblings about Roy Blunt as majority whip. It’s not their independence from the GOP but their lack thereof that makes them ignorable.
On the other hand, the Left Blogosphere did not sit around and wait for direction from the Dems, but worked independently from the Dems to become activists and organizers and influencers in our own right. The point of this is not to be tools of the Democratic Party, which overall has displeased us mightily in recent years. The point is to make the party a better tool for effecting a progressive agenda. And this is just part of a larger effort to heal America’s sick political culture. This effort has only just begun, and we’ve got a long way to go. But we’ve made a good beginning.
The challenge for us going forward is to work more effectively with the Dems without being absorbed into the existing Democratic Party establishment. The Right Blogosphere faces a different challenge, but that’s something they’ll have to figure out for themselves.