It seems that every couple of months, there is a discussion about the state of disarray of the righty blogosphere. This time it is mostly a different crowd moving it. Dean Barnett of HughHewitt.com writes, ironically, in the Weekly Standard. But then, in response, we get both Dave Wiegel at Reason and Sh+Sh from Newsbusters. Yesterday, Patrick Ruffini got into the game too.
I am consistently struck by the wrong nature of these questions. Especially in media contexts which are subject to very strong network effects, you can usually find the source of relevance in history. The guys at Newsbusters capture this:
First, both of these articles ignored how Daily Kos got its start virtually at the same time America was discussing going to war with Iraq in 2002. Irrespective of the poll numbers at the time favoring an invasion, the anti-war crowd is always active, vocal, and easily incited.
However, the press, understanding the public sentiment and eager for a sensational high-tech story, used to be far less skeptical of the war than they are now. This left quite a vacuum for anti-war expression in the media. ABC News filled it in the television world — its ratings went up while it was the lone ardent anti-war establishment media voice.
In other words, at an important moment, the Democratic and progressive establishments failed to connect to substantial portions of, at least, their base. Kos spoke to it. Kos organized it. Kos grew because it created a way for a group — namely white, rich, anti-war liberals — to communicate at critical moment. As this has gradually become a dominant force in Democratic politics, you get things like John Kerry and Harry Reid participating. But let’s be clear. This is an effect, not a cause. In some sense, Kos is not interesting because it so no longer growing. The question should be how and why it grew.
Ultimately, the answer is that Kos filled a gap that was experienced by a sizable constituency. It solved a concrete problem for a substantial market. There are certainly lessons to be learned about its open framework, but those are, to a great extent, atmospherics rather than fundamental. In some sense, it has maintained its relevance because it has become the primary way for the Democratic party to communicate with its base.
So let’s ask a similar question for the right? What (probably unorganized) mass constituency is there that the party or the movement is not communicating with or does not have a mechanism to communicate with? Perhaps this would be organized around a negative principle (anti-Clinton like Free Republic oranti-Bush and anti-war, like Kos did) or, hopefully, something more positive. And then, what form or forum is the appropriate way to harness the energy and power of that constituency to activism? But, even if we don’t answer that now, it will probably be answered with various forms of experimentation when the time comes.
Right now, I don’t have answers to either part. In the meantime, there are important, incremental things that we can do. We can build local and state blog networks to move information around. We can build tools, etc. But we will not be able to achieve anything disruptive online until there is something disruptive to achieve off-line.
So, back to a fundamental question: Where is this party and this movement going?