Patrick Ruffini wants a "Movement 2.0." While I agree with the sentiment, I want some specifics. Ruffini starts with:
A common thread is that the other shoe won’t likely drop until we have Hillary to unite against. I’d like to pick apart that assumption.
The basic assumption is sound. The online right was ascendant in the Clinton years, just as the online left was in the Bush years. Opposition galvanizes political movements, and not just online.
Is that a movement? Ruffini answers the question at the end:
And, finally, is there any way this gets started without Hillary Clinton? I’ve read the same history books, and I don’t think the New Right was built on personal animus towards JFK and LBJ — and it thrived in power in the ’80s.
As I have tried to point out repeatedly, the online left is really more about basic politics, constituencies, etc., rather than technology. Sure, the technology was innovative, but if you were designing a tech-savvy movement today, you would do what they did, just better. After all, if you started a business today, you wouldn’t use Windows 95, you’d buy Vista. (I recognize that using a desktop operating system analogy when talking about infrastructure, is poor, but it is comprehensible to everyone) What the online left did is:
- Organized a new voting bloc into activists. The voting bloc is upper-middle-class, mostly white, mostly social liberals. Often, they are former Republicans (Kos?) who left the GOP for particular reasons (war, social conservatism, secularism, etc.) and harp on those reasons.
- These people were organized using tools that are relatively more appropriate to their context. The New Right did this with direct mail, which was both innovative, but it also opened up avenues of political participation for people who couldn’t participate for a lack of time, mobility, etc.
- It organized around a certain ideological position. (opposition to Bush and, to some extent, the war) I shouldn’t go so far as to call this an idea so much as an organizing principle.
This has had a dramatic effect on the party. The voices have gotten even more rich and more white and WASP. (Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, was replaced by the WASP Howard Dean, scion of an investment banking family from the upper east side)
So what would it mean to have a movement in the GOP? Certainly, we can develop tools to do our jobs better. The GOP is better at that than Democrats anyways. That’s just productivity, lowered transaction costs, etc. But it won’t be transformative until we can attach these tools to a constituency. What are our options?
- New pro-war voters. Recall from the Elephant in the Mirror that 1/4 of the base is now basically pro-war voters. This would be a clear base for a Rudy Giuliani or John McCain nomination. (in the case of Giuliani, that is a base that could, perhaps, overcome his potential losses, in a primary at least, amongst social conservatives, another important part of the base. More on this later) While this is probably not a complete answer, as long as there is a war on terror — and perhaps diffuse security threats in the context of globalization and various clashes against modernity — this will probably be part of the answer.
- There might be a special subset of these, people who politically came of age and conservative with 9-11. I bet an awfully large number of those are using Facebook…
- Yesterday, one of the stand-ins at Andrew Sullivan’s blog argued that perhaps we could add African-Americans through railing on immigration. I, personally, find the idea both morally repugnant and unlikely to succeed. We want to get African-Americans back by increasing racist sentiment? Probably not a winner. Nevermind that we would lose our Hispanics, so it might not even add votes. And business wouldn’t tolerate a protectionist agenda.
- Another option would be to continue to play for the working class, as Bush so incredibly succeeded in 2004, with "the party of capital" winning the white working class vote by 23%. The problem is that we lost a bunch in 2006, and we are unlikely to succeed in 2008. However, that would be the strategy of the Sams Club Republican advocates.
- Another would be to try to organize and reach out to Hispanics. Bush tried that with immigration, and the party revolted. (wrongly, in my opinion)
- Another option would be the resurgence of a reformist movement in the GOP. This would be a strategy for holding on to the upper-middle class and appealing to students. There would be process reforms like earmark reform, which is clearly a Republican issue, and ethics reform, which could be. There are more complicated parts like redistricting, which is a Republican issue in California, but Democratic in places where GOPers lose from it. There’s actually a natural technological niche here with things like the Sunlight Foundation, Ruffini’s open API stuff, etc. There is a historical antecedent in the TR Progressive movement, and it doesn’t damage the existing coalition too much. Right now, this is a post-partisan issue rather than a partisan one. But once the Democrats take charge, it will quickly become a partisan one. It is already starting. In fact, we could use the cover of a Hillary Clinton presidency to co-opt the anti-Hillary anger into a constructive direction.
I am most inclined towards the last, but it is, perhaps, too post-partisan for many. I am sympathetic to the first, but I am not sure how it works politically.
So perhaps we need other ideas. But you can’t organize a movement without bodies or ideas. You can cheat, as the Democrats are doing, with anger directed at a person, but it only works for a little while. What are they going to do when they have Hillary Clinton to defend?
In the end, I could see a future clash in the party between potential reformers (Bobby Jindal and Charlie Crist) and future Sams Clubbers (Tim Pawlenty) over this question.
In the meantime, the technologists in the Republican Party either have to pick an answer or build tools and add productivity.