Since I am relatively new to politics online, although neither politics nor technology, I followed the conversation last week between Patrick Ruffini, Rob Bluey, David All, Michael Turk (here and here), and Matt Stoller, with comments from Conn Carroll, with interest but I did not jump in. But between that an a conversation sponsored by Rob Bluey last week, a nagging feeling has emerged that I am going to talk about here.
It is taken as self-evident that the right is behind on online political activism. The evidence is usually taken in numbers. More contributions, more readers, more bodies showing up in Iowa without instruction about what to do. Is that what the right should be trying to achieve? When we achieve that, have we reached parity? I do not think so. Michael Turk points out that there are real reasons why Republicans give less online.
When I worked in technology and on Capitol Hill, I was continually presented with the proposition that information (or numbers) without organization is nearly worthless. This is well known in other spheres:
The left has better ideas about how to use technology and organize themselves. Let me give some examples:
- TPM Muckraker. This is a website devoted to exposing corruption at the national level. That has meant, while Republicans were in charge, skewering Republicans. (Now, I grew up in Chicago, and I believe that corruption is part of the fundamental DNA of the Democrats, so don’t get harsh on me) Both the capacity and the niche provided by TPM Muckraker during the 2006 elections was phenomenal. Without that, I wonder if the Democrats would have been able to make corruption an issue.
- Rightsfield. Several lefty bloggers are following what is happening on the right side of the Presidential election. I do not believe that neither the right nor the left has any significant blogs focused the left side of the Presidential election. But both have blogs following the right. Which side of the blogosphere is going to be better equipped, in terms of structured organization, when the nominees are selected? The left. Hands down. (I was reminded of this the other day when I was linked to by TheGarance.com, a lefty blog with a section in the blogroll, "Finding 44" in which all the sites were from the right.
- Huffington Post’s video project. I don’t know if this will work, but it is a worthy experiment. This will destroy Republicans. Destroy.
- BlogPAC. Fundraising is great. But remember the Edwards blogger story? Remember this post from MyDD in which Matt Stoller, mentioned above, urged readers to send letters to reporters to "fix" stories? It happened. This was a relatively minor story, in the grand scheme of things, but they were able to mobilze 1,525 people to take action against a reporter.
- State blogs. National blogs have readers. State and local blogs do not so much. But they can define the press in determinative ways. Partly because the reporters tend to have fewer resources for state and local stories.
- Too many other ways to mention.
The left dominates converting enthusiasm to activism online. Republicans basically don’t show up. The left dominates message control online. The right probably is better at converting activism to votes, but we are off-line too, so that’s not surprising.
Right now, the enthusiastic on the right have very little to do. They even had little to do in 2006. The options were to stew in their juices about Lincoln Chafee, ultimately, to my mind, a counter-productive activity, or talk to each other about how bad the Democrats were.
My point is not that we need to get more enthusiasm, although we do and that is hard, but rather than we need to think much more deeply about how to channel that enthusiasm in productive ways. Once that happens, the money will almost certainly follow, especially if we are able to give young professionals, a generally busy lot who won’t go knock doors but have cash to burn, something to do.