Old Dogs

Following up the last post — a few rightie bloggers have commented on the Dean Barnett FAQ and the political effectiveness of the leftie netroots. On the whole my quibbles with their analyses are minor, but they all relate to one major point.

Alabama Liberation Front writes,

In the 2005-2006 election cycle, the three major GOP committees — RNC, NRSC and NRCC — collected more than $438 million dollars. How much of that money went toward cultivation of the blogs? Hmmm?

In context, he seems to be implying (without explicitly saying so) that the DNC, DCCC, etc. do give money to cultivate blogs. I assure you, they do not. However, I call your attention to the Garance Franke-Ruta article in the April 2005 TAP, “Blogged Down,” and her account of the Eason Jordan smackdown (emphasis added).

He was brought down not by outraged citizen-bloggers but by a mix of GOP operatives and military conservatives. Easongate.com, the blog that served as the clearinghouse for the attack on CNN, was helped along by Virginia-based Republican operative Mike Krempasky. From May 1999 through August 2003, Krempasky worked for [Morton] Blackwell as the graduate development director of the Leadership Institute, an Arlington, Virginia–based school for conservative leaders founded by Blackwell in 1979. The institute is the organization that had provided “Gannon” with his sole media credential before he became a White House correspondent. It also now operates “Internet Activist Schools” designed to teach conservatives how to engage in “guerilla Internet activism.”

Indeed, Krempasky could be found teaching this Internet activism course one recent February weekend to about 30 young conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. “He advocated that people write from their experience — and not necessarily as conservatives,” a Democratic consultant who attended the seminar incognito told me. For example, Krempasky told “a conservative firefighter” that he should write about firefighting because that would be of interest to readers. Using that angle, he could build an audience. And if push ever came to shove, he could respond to an online dogfight from the unassailable position of being a firefighter — and not as just another conservative ideologue. Krempasky then offered to help all the attendees set up their own blogs. “We’re definitely in serious trouble,” said the Democratic attendee.

The tactics Krempasky promotes are directly descended from those advocated by the late Reed Irvine of AIM, whose major funder was, for the past two decades, Richard Mellon Scaife. “Many bloggers and blog readers might not even know who Reed Irvine was, nor understand the debt we owe him as conservatives,” Krempasky wrote upon Irvine’s passing last year. “But that debt is tremendous.” In the late ’80s, Irvine had started the campaign to “Can Dan” Rather, coining the phrase “Rather Biased,” which became a rallying cry for anti-rather bloggers. Last fall, Krempasky was operating the main anti-Rather site, Rathergate.com, and organized a vast letter-writing and e-mailing campaign “to contact CBS and express themselves,” as he put it in an interview with Bobby Eberle of GOPUSA, an activist Web site founded by Texas Republicans and merged with one now owned by Bruce Eberle (no relation), the proprietor of a conservative direct-mail firm. “Conservatives have operated through alternative media for 40 years, direct mail being the first one,” Krempasky told me, sitting in the food court of the Ronald Reagan International Building as the CPAC wound down. “As far as the Internet goes, conservatives have largely been ahead of the left.”

Also part of the Easongate.com team was La Shawn Barber, who writes a biweekly column for — again, the name pops up — GOPUSA and has written for AIM about “the Bush-bashing media.” Working alongside Krempasky and Barber was another site, RedState.org, “a Republican community weblog” registered with the Federal Election Commission as a 527. Krempasky helped found that site along with Senate staffer Ben Domenech, the chief speechwriter for Bush ally and Texas Senator John Cornyn; and former U.S. Army officer Josh Trevino, a conservative blogger who used to write under the name “Tacitus.” The goal of RedState.org? “[T]o unite … voices from government, politics, activism, civil society, and journalism” in service of the “construction of a Republican majority.”

Power Line, another conservative blog deeply involved in the Rather controversy, helped push the Jordan story as well. Described by Time magazine as “three amateur journalists working in a homegrown online medium [who] challenged a network news legend and won,” Power Line was voted Time’s “2004 Blog of the Year.” In reality, its three writers are all fellows at the conservative Claremont Institute who attended Dartmouth College in the early 1970s and now work as attorneys; two of them have been writing articles as a team for conservative publications such as the National Review and The American Enterprise for more than 10 years.

“As far as the Internet goes, conservatives have largely been ahead of the left.” The VRWC — the conglomeration of think tanks, media, and astroturf organizations that work with the GOP — made Matt Drudge a Somebody back in the 1990s, for example. I believe the VRWC was attached to the unseen hands of Rathergate that took an anonymous post on Free Republic into national media in only 12 hours. The top tier of the Right Blogosphere contains a number of bloggers with long-standing affiliation with movement conservatism — in media, in think tanks, in the GOP. Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, Andrew Sullivan (who has fallen from grace lately, I understand), in addition to the above-mentioned RedState, PowerLine, and La Shawn Barber, were never just disgruntled citizens blogging in their pajamas. They are for the most part establishment operatives. Not always, but often.

And this takes us to the blind spot in rightie analyses (see also Jon Henke and Riehl World View). They do not see the extent to which the Republican establishment co-opted the Right Blogosphere from the beginning. Mr. Henke suggests that the Republicans should “develop strategies and hire experts to engage the blogosphere quickly and bumpily as happened with the successful Democratic engagement of the blogosphere.” The problem is (as Chris Bowers discusses) that the Right Blogosphere already has been integrated into the right-wing message machine. This is much less true on the Left Blogosphere, mostly since the Dems can’t seem to push a message any more than a squirrel can sing.

All along many Republican Party operatives have been using the Right Blogosphere the way they’d use any other mass medium — as a medium to disseminate talking points and reinforce narratives. But like any other mass medium, the conversation goes only one way — from the top of the power pyramid to the bottom.

This doesn’t mean the rightie blogs never go off message. They do, far more than a lot of us on the Left give them credit for. On two issues in particular, immigration and pork, they have been solidly critical of the Bush White House and the Republican Congress. It’s also pretty obvious that the Republican establishment doesn’t care what rightie bloggers think.

Does that mean that the Dems care what leftie bloggers think? A lot of them still don’t, but this year some of the fog between the Dems and the bloggers has lifted, and I know that some people on Dem payrolls really do read us. I credit Peter Daou for much of this development, and the organizational skills of Kos and Co. and the bloggers of MyDD, Swing State Project, and others were essential, also.

This didn’t just happen. If you go back to, say, 2002, the Left Blogosphere was not only critical of the Bush Administration and the Republicans. We lefties also badmouthed the Washington Dem establishment robustly. We wailed when, in October 2002, too many of them paid no attention when we hollered don’t vote for that bleeping war resolution! In 2003 we supported non-establishment candidates, notably Howard Dean and Wesley Clark, for the Democratic presidential nomination. Even though our guys lost, we got our virtual toe in the water. Mostly, we saw that the Dems were sorely in need of a major shakeup. We also realized that if we were going to become effective shakers, we couldn’t do it by marching in the streets with protest signs. What was needed was good, old-fashioned politicking — raising money and volunteers for Democratic candidates we thought would represent our point of view, as well as fighting the rhetorical fight here on the web.

Basically, we figured politicians would listen to us when they understood it was to their advantage to do so. Thus, leftie bloggers took the initiative and worked independently from the Dems to set up ActBlue and various GOTV projects.

The Right Blogosphere, on the other hand … well, check out this MyDD post by Matt Stoller, from February 2006. On the Right, it just ain’t happenin’, and the GOP can’t do it for the bloggers without running afoul of FEC and campaign finance law. (And as Matt says, the GOP sometimes needs tighter message control.)

If the Dems are starting to pay attention to bloggers, it isn’t because the Dems just took a mind to do so or are somehow less oblivious than Republicans. It’s because a lot of bloggers worked their butts off (some since 2002) to make it happen.

It might be that rightie bloggers will begin to organize and go down this same road. If they do, I wish them well. But a little introspection might be in order first.

More minor quibbles: Alabama Liberation Front continues,

They [leftie bloggers] developed an advertising network that enabled more bloggers to go full-time. They got Mark Warner to drop a huge chunk of cash on YearlyKos. And there was not a single significant Democratic candidate in 2006 who began a campaign without first hiring at least one blogger, and sometimes making payments to multiple bloggers.

I doubt that the Advertising Liberally network, of which I am a charter member, enabled any bloggers to go full-time who weren’t already full-time. Certainly it more than pays for bandwidth and the occasional new pair of shoes, but it’s not a living. And yes, Mark Warner threw a big party for us bloggers at YearlyKos, but my understanding is that YK (or DK, for that matter) could not accept money from him directly. Maybe some rightie bloggers are succumbing to the “grass is greener” syndrome, but I can tell you the grass ain’t all that green on this side of the fence, either.

Alabama continues,

Karl Rove’s top-down, manipulative, control-freak style — which he learned from Lee Atwater — is simply incompatible with the New Media regime. A more open, flexible and responsive approach is dictated by the very nature of the multi-source feedback system that the Information Age makes possible.

Exactly, and this is more or less what Joe Trippi figured out during the Howard Dean campaign, but most of the Dem establishment was (and still is) slow to catch on. Karl Rove is not the only control freak in Washington; the DNC and satellite organizations are just as bad, but without Rove’s relentless shrewdness. The only thing worse than a control freak is a control freak with his head up his ass. Bottom line, politicians in Washington of both parties and their overpaid consultants know all about waging mass media, top-down campaigns, but on the whole they haven’t figured out new media. They’re a bunch of old dogs who won’t learn new tricks.

And the moral is, if you want new tricks, you gotta do ’em yourself.

2 thoughts on “Old Dogs

  1. While I try to never check out a right wing websites, I have been linked to a few throughout the past few years by a blog that I have been reading. The leftwing blogs that I read are quite diverse; whereas, most of the righty blogs appear to be the same old, same old. Also, I don’t have a need to read blog after blog that tells me that liberals such as myself are traitors, should be killed, etc. All the left wing blogs that I visit provide me with different things. This one has some of the best analysis of issues any where–something you cannot find in any newspaper. Josh Marshall gives a lot of poll, campaign, and wonky information, such as his effort to keep track of who in Congress supported Bush’s Social Security plan. There are some others that provide political cartoons and good humor; because, the Lord knows we progressives needed to laugh a lot these past six years. I even found myself at Libertarian sites looking for good information and thoughtful commentary. In all, the attributes that the left wing blogs I visit have in common are honesty and the ability to cut through the BS, literate writing, and very little name calling or hateful rhetoric. [It is a given that David Brooks is rightly referred to as a cabbage head.] I always leave my blog reading a smarter person and thankful to find people who can write without namecalling and hatefulness. I think right wing blogs could be described as one size fits all; and, the left wing has many sizes to fit all kinds of people, all sizes and all shapes.

    Additionally, I grew up loving newspapers and still do; but, I hardly read any except when linked by the blogger I am reading. Until the so-called MSM starts reporting honestly, I will not return to my newspaper habits. I will occasionally read a paper if I am in a restaurant that has one laying around. The local paper is The Washington Post and it has saddened me so to see it spiral into nothing but a mouthpiece for the administration. I write WaPo once a year explaining how they have a potential reader if they would only become a viable means of information again. Have yet to get a response; but, it is close to my annual letter writing time. We’ll see what happens.

  2. Another item that’s been generally ignored by the rightie blogsopshere is the power of the blogs who write about LOCAL politics.

    In Oregon (my state), I began a blog in February with a partner where we focus exclusively on local, county and statewide politics. There was already a major lefty blog covering statewide issues in a “water-cooler” type format, written generally by people inside the “beltway” of Oregon politics.

    We began our blog as outsiders…sometimes literally writing in our pajamas. We’re unpaid (except for blogads..where we’ve gleaned a few hundred dollars over the entire span of the blog). We developed a network of folks who will give us information or steer us in a good direction in order to dig up stuff on conservative Oregon politicos. Or sometimes we manage to develop the stories without any steering at all. This is done entirely without any paid assistance from the Democratic Party or anyone affiliated with them (or any other entity for that matter).

    Our little effort has made what I consider a significant difference. We were able to break legitimate stories on local Republican candidates that were picked up by the MSM in the state. Once the MSM picks up those stories and runs with them, they become a part of the campaign–forcing the righties off message and into defense mode.

    The righties have virtually nothing like this in our state. They are rightwing/conservative/GOP blogs, to be sure. But the left is so good at marginalizing them that they have little credibility.

    In my view, this is the future of blogging..or the “new trick”, as it were.

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