Technology Is Not The Solution For Republican Problems

In discussions of rebuilding the Republican Party some have been distracted by concentrating on technology as opposed to their fundamental problem of promoting ideas which are unpopular and often contradictory. Patrick Ruffini at NextRight points out  both the value of technology to match that used by Democrats along with the need to concentrate on message. He also notes that the message desired by grass roots is often quite different from that of the national party:

Were MoveOn.org and the netroots primarily about technology or ideology? The answer is both. They were instruments for the ideological “reformation” of the party that just happened to use technology. They were both successful because they tied technology to sense of political purpose, direction, and action. I understand we won’t “be like” the left, but this is a very useful lesson for the right.

Without technology, the Democrats’ path to power would have looked very, very different. Their purpose-driven use of technology sped up the process of giving the grassroots an ownership stake within the party and feeling like they could safely get involved in official Democratic politics again. Right now, there is a poisonous divide between the official Republican Party and the grassroots. This is the inevitable consequence of the bailouts, spending, and Medicare Part D and probably couldn’t be any other way after eight years in the White House. But over the next few years, it has to be a goal to get the grassroots looped back into the party and in fact get them in the drivers’ seat shaping the ideas and priorities of the party. For an opposition to be effective, it must be united. This means breaking down or rendering irrelevant the elitist mindset of the political class that divides it from the grassroots, and working as one united Republican Party in the think tanks, on the ground, and online to be an effective foil to the Obama Administration.

One problem faced by conservatives is that there are vastly different views not only dividing the grass roots and the party but dividing conservatives in the grass roots. Julian Sanchez at Ars Technica discusses both the question of technology as well as pointing out the same problem with the conservative coalition I discussed here yesterday.

Conservatism has much bigger problems right now than a paucity of Twitter skills. (I say this, for what it’s worth, as someone who’s often classified as part of the broad “right,” my frequent criticisms of this administration notwithstanding.) Front and center is that the end of the Cold War and a governing party that made “small government” a punchline has left it very much unclear what, precisely, “conservatism” means. The movement was always a somewhat uneasy coalition of market enthusiasts and social traditionalists, defined at least as much by what (and who) they opposed as by any core common principles. The Palin strategy—recapturing that oppositional unity by rebranding the GOP as the party of cultural ressentiment—is just a recipe for a death spiral. Conservatives don’t need to figure out how to promote conservatism on Facebook; they need to figure out what it is they’re promoting. To the extent that a new media strategy is part of opening up that conversation, great, but it had better not become a substitute for engaging in some of that painful introspection.

That brings us to Erickson’s essay, about which I wanted to say a few more specific things. First, I understand all too well why he insists on getting outside the beltway and talking to technologists rather than political operatives who know a little tech.  Washington is absolutely crawling with snake-oil salesmen who’ve discovered that you can make a tidy living extracting cash from credulous politicos who didn’t learn anything from the last dot-com bubble, provided you’re able to sling Web 2.0 jargon passably. “Go outside the beltway” is probably a decent heuristic for anyone who isn’t confident they can spot the hucksters.

Robert Stacy McCain at The American Spectator shows that it is possible for a conservative activist to both understand the importance of ideas but also support ideas which are a political dead end. He quotes the above passage from Sanchez and responds:

This is true, and as John Hawkins pointed out, the current wave of Republican technophilia is based on a profound misinterpretation of the Obama phenomenon. The high-tech stuff didn’t drive the enthusiasm, the enthusiasm drove the high-tech stuff. And, uh, who has a growing online army of more than 60,000 enthusiastic supporters? The same person who is odds-on favorite for the nomination in 2012? It seems to me that a fairly obvious plan of action is at hand, if only the damned snobs would stop whining about it.

While I disagree with his support for Palin and his belief that backing people like Palin will lead to anything other than continued disaster for the GOP, McCain is correct that it is support for the candidate which is more important than the high-tech stuff. If technology alone was the key to victory, Howard Dean might have won the 2004 Democratic nomination and Ron Paul might have at least done more respectable in the 2008 Republican race. Taking advantage of technology will help Republicans promote their ideas, but first they must come up with ideas beyond the social conservatism and anti-intellectualism of Sarah Palin which have turned the Republicans into little more than a southern regional party.

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8 Comments

  1. 1
    Friar_Zero says:

    My own personal anecdotal evidence is rather contrary to the traditional wisdom.  I notice conservatives making full use of web 2.0.  I see them across the blogosphere and in comments on damn near every liberal blog, I see them making use of social networking sites, and even organizing via twitter.

    Of course the plural of anecdote is not evidence but if I were to derive any conclusion from my experience it would be that the republican party’s failure is not due to a lack of technology but from an often crass presentation combined with poor ideas.

  2. 2
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    Let me ask you something Ron.  You advise us Rightwingers that Sarah is not a good choice for us for 2012.  Then who is? 

    Can you think of another Republican who can get crowds of upwards of 70,000 to one rally as she did in Florida?  Can you think of another Republican that can inspire activists to get out an walk precincts, knock doors, and such?

    I like Mark Sanford.  Love to see him be our Nominee.  Guy’s totally libertarian.  But even I recognize that he’s not the most gifted speaker in the world.  And he doesn’t have nearly the Celeb that Palin’s got.  Nor her style. 

    Palin is someone who inspires deep down love and inspiration among us Republicans.  That’s something Liberals can’t quite grasp. 

    There’s nobody else out there like her. 

    She’s our gal for 2012.  And if we lose with her, so be it.  It will be like Goldwater ’64 Redux. 

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Eric,

    Sara Palin can bring in large crowds, but she only appeals to a narrow segment of extremists who share her authoritarian views and anti-intellectual mind set. The problem is that while she excites a narrow segment of the country, she is unacceptable to the vast majority and cannot win a national election. She certainly helped McCain bring excitement to the ticket, but in the process she guaranteed that he could not win.

    If she gets the nomination in 2012 it will be like 1964 in terms of losing badly, but there would also be a major difference. It was the emergence of Palin-type conservatives late in Goldwater’s life which led to Goldwater repudiating such conservatism and calling himself a liberal.

  4. 4
    Friar_Zero says:

    Mike Duncan on Republican use of technology (via WashingtonPost):

    We have to do it in the Facebook, with the Twittering, the different technology that young people are using today,” Duncan ventured.”

  5. 5
    Friar_Zero says:

    Sorry, here’s the link:

    Link

  6. 6
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    I think you meant to say Anti-Authoritarian views.  She is the complete polar opposite of an Authoritarian.  In fact, you can’t get any more Anti-Authoritarian in politics than Sarah Palin.  Maybe Mark Sanford?  Maybe Tom McClintock or Jeff Flake.  But that’s about it.  Oops, I forgot to mention Butch Otter. 

    They are the most libertarian Republicans in the entire country.  And as you may know libertarian is the exact opposite of authoritarian. 

  7. 7
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    You seem to think Sarah Palin is somehow tied in with the religious right.  If that were the case, than why is it that the religious right so vehemently opposed her for Governor in 2006, even starting rumors that she was “not a Republican, but rather a Libertarian,” cause she had attended a few Libertarian Party meetings that year.

    They also opposed her as Mayor.  Palin led the opposition to the Social Conservative efforts to shut down all the bars and taverns in Wasilla.  She stopped them dead cold on that. 

    I think you need to do more research on Sarah Palin.  You seem hopelessly ignorant on her background. 

    BTW, I’ve spent a great deal of time in Alaska, working in politics up there.  Have you?

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    Eric,

    I definitely meant authoritarian, considering her efforts to ban books which offended the religious right, her support for even more power for the Executive Branch and the vice presidency than Cheney grabbed, and her lack of understanding of First Amendment rights.

    Her attempts to ban books which offended the religious right, her support for teaching creationism, and her belief in young earth creationism have solidified her standing with the religious right. The religious right and others on the far right make up her main base at present.

    It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve spent in Alaska. Your propensity to twist any information to “confirm” your beliefs and ignore all other information would prevent you from coming to an accurate assessment of Palin regardless of whether you were in Alaska.

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