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“The Left owns the Internet”

And other observations about building activists and organizers

A number of interesting observations have percolated throughout the Interweb in the aftermath of the 2008 election – arguments about the “youth vote”, the “center-right versus center-left,” pushing aside social conservative issues, etc. But one of the most thought-provoking topics receiving attention is the issue of the presence (or lack thereof) of the Right in the online “Web 2.0″ universe. As a technology geek by trade, this topic is near and dear to my heart.

Much has been made of the aforementioned “youth vote” in the post-election analysis, and within that discussion are implications that the youth were energized by the online presence of the Obama campaign. Tools such as YouTube, Twitter, Friendfeed, numerous blog sites, SMS, etc. were used to not only educate, but to “activate.” A huge portion of Obama’s fundraising was done via the web – small donations that eventually added up to huge numbers (please, let’s not get into the issue of overseas donations, etc. – that’s really not the point). These tools were used to empower activism, through GOTV-type projects, state-by-state campaign events, as well as fundraising. I am not 100% convinced that there is an obvious correlation between the high percentage of the 18-29 crowd that voted for BHO and his online presence…since youth are already steeped in online culture, and youth seem to lean left to start with, it is difficult to assign a direct cause/effect relationship proving that Obama’s leverage of technology led to his success with that demographic. But it certainly didn’t hurt.

This week the Washington Post ran an article by Jose Antonio Vargas titled “Republicans Seek to Fix Short-Sitedness”. It focused on the efforts of Patrick Ruffini and others, including RedState.com’s own Erick Erickson, to move forward with efforts to ignite the GOP and conservatives in leveraging the resources of the Internet. The WaPo article is one of the best overviews of the situation to surface in the post-election mop-up.

The problem we have is illustrated by Vargas:

The right owns talk radio; the left owns the Internet.

For years, that’s been the simplest way to explain the online gap between the two parties. “Of course Republicans are behind online,” says Newt Gingrich, arguably the Webbiest of the party’s elder statesmen. American Solutions for Winning the Future, a group Gingrich founded, uses the Internet to harness grass-roots energy on issues such as oil drilling. “When one of Obama’s senior online advisers is the co-founder of Facebook, when Gore sits on the board of Google and Apple — well, let’s just say the Republicans are not in the same century yet, okay?” (Actually, Gore is a senior adviser to Google, but Gingrich’s point stands.)

The right owns talk radio; the left owns the Internet“. Interesting observation, and mostly accurate. There are many conservative/GOP blogs and related sites on the ‘net, but few are aimed at the kind of “grass-roots energy” to which Gingrich alludes. “Talk radio” is, and will (hopefully) remain as part of our strategy, but more must be done…on the Internet, in particular.

What needs to be done?

Without question, the GOP/conservative world must become more active in the online “activist” universe, much like the Left did in the 2008 election season. Last week, Erick Erickson, RedState’s Editor-in-Chief and face to the world, posted a call-to-action for the RedState community. Please go back and read his posting again (and again) to get a feel for where we must go to succeed in future elections. I believe the most significant recommendation was that we must become “an army of activists“. Ruffini echoes this sentiment in the WaPo article:

Examples of the gap abound. State-by-state online activism was an integral part of the Democratic National Committee’s 50-state strategy, something the Republican National Committee does not have. A handful of congressional districts could have easily gone Republican, Ruffini says, if more conservative bloggers had helped to raise money and to get boots on the ground. “But as it stands, most bloggers in the right see blogging as a communications medium,” Ruffini says. “Bloggers in the right need to look at what the bloggers in the left have been doing and learn to be activists, too.”

Ruffini is kind enough to recognize the efforts that RedState (and others) have made already:

Some of the bloggers Ruffini is targeting write on such sites as RedState.com and TheNextRight.com, which he co-founded. They understand where he’s coming from. Many even signed up on Rebuild the Party, including Erick Erickson, RedState’s managing editor. Erickson says conservative bloggers are more concerned with debating policies and ideologies than with how close “a particular race is shaping up in this or that congressional district.” In the past three years, however — especially in the six months leading up to the election — that mindset has started to change. “There’s been a real shift to not just focus on national races but local races, too,” Erickson says. “But it takes awhile for the ship to turn.”

But we must move even more in this direction. Shortly after the election, Moe Lane called us out to produce more state- and local-focused diaries, and our readership responded brilliantly. That must continue.

This is not to say that we must cease discussing the issues and exploring the policy positions of our candidates. In fact, in the wake of the 2008 loss, it is all the more important for conservatives and the GOP to identify where we stand on the issues – and ensure that we (as many as possible) are singing from the same hymnal. Are we a three-legged stool conservative party? Should we jettison certain policy planks of the GOP platform? But let’s not get lost in this discussion and forget that we must also “go offline” and act outside our online debates.

We can rebuild it. We have the technology.

One of our goals must be to become more adept at using the technology at our disposal to get our message heard, understood, and accepted. I will cover some of this in future diaries, but for now, RebuildTheParty.com has a great summary of what must be done:

The Internet: Our #1 Priority in the Next Four Years

Winning the technology war with the Democrats must be the RNC’s number one priority in the next four years.

The challenge is daunting, but if we adopt a strongly anti-Washington message and charge hard against Obama and the Democrats, we will energize our grassroots base. Among other benefits, this will create real demand for new ways to organize and route around existing power structures that favor the Democrats. And, you will soon discover, online organizing is by far the most efficient way to transform our party structures to be able to compete against what is likely to be a $1 billion Obama re-election campaign in 2012.

RedState.com and our brother and sister GOP/conservative sites will be key participants in this effort. Soren Dayton illustrates how we can do this:

You can make the fundraisers a little more efficient. You can make the GOTV more efficient. You can have a better message and get it out better. These are linear improvements. But political organizations grow exponentially when you improve the organizers. That’s what the Obama campaign did. Everything was focused on making the organizer better.Ultimately, the GOP will have to learn this message. We will have to learn to empower our activists by incentivizing recruiters. The person who recruits 100 volunteers will have to be as important as the person who raises $100,000. When the GOP organizes itself around these principles and deploys technology to make these people better, then the center-right electorate will translate into winning electoral majorities.

RedState and the rest of the conservative/GOP online universe needs to be building better organizers. This can be done with blogs, as well as other e-tools that are out there at our disposal. More on that later.

Better organizing through technology.

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