Tag Archives: The Next Right

Contradictions

Some clever fellow at The Next Right observes that while the Left’s style of governance remains top-down, its activist base has embraced bottom-up organizing. This is undoubtedly true, which makes it all the more ironic that the Right’s “grassroots” network is run by a cabal of obsolescent managers.

UPDATE: The Times has an excellent story on Obama’s social-networking platform. In light of his campaign’s success, I’m surprised we haven’t seen a Facebook-esque website for political organizing.

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No, Sarah Palin is not Howard Dean

Patrick Ruffini at The Next Right:

I’m rooting for Sarah Palin, and in temperament she is nothing like Dean. But she is situated similarly politically, and this is worth exploring further.

Howard Dean emerged when the Demcoratic Party was in full capitulation mode. Dean was the only semi-sorta-mainsteam candidate who said “no” on Iraq. This in-your-face style galvanized the Democratic base, but party mandarins gasped. Dean couldn’t have been more different in style than the “seven dwarves” running against him.

The party elite seemed vindicated when Dean self-destructed. But a little over a year later, Dean was elected DNC Chairman with surprisingly little fuss.

How was this comeback even possible? Whatever Dean’s faults, there was a sense that the party elite had bankrupted itself by running a series of poll-tested me-too triangulators. Dean’s easy victory at the DNC was the precursor of the grassroots’ long-term victory over the elite, culminating in the evisceration of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Does any of this sound familiar?

And who seems to be the flashpoint in this elite-grassroots war currently raging in the GOP? Like Dean, it’s Sarah Palin.

Hmmm. Some of the leftist netroots were undoubtedly attracted to Howard Dean because of his campaign’s atmospherics. But Dean was best known among the anti-war left for his strident opposition to the Iraq debacle. In other words, his campaign embodied progressives’ disagreement with the Democratic establishment over a substantive issue. Aside from some rhetorical bomb-throwing, what really distinguishes guys like David Frum and David Brooks from the rest of the National Review crowd? What policy disputes do the pro-Palin and anti-Palin wings of the GOP argue over? What critique of the Republican establishment fueled Palin’s sudden emergence on the national scene?

Brooks and Frum hail from the party’s reformist faction insofar as they’ve made their peace with the welfare state, but Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker, and Peggy Noonan aren’t exactly known for their big-government proclivities. So after surveying the field, there seems to be little actual disagreement between Palin’s supporters and her detractors. Does Ruffini really think this sort of thing will define the future of conservatism? Perhaps we should turn our attention to more substantive matters . . .

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Filed under Conservatism, Participatory Democracy, Presidential Politics, The Media

The Debate, Take Three

Didn’t watch it. My gal on the street says Obama won. The focus groups say Obama won. So I guess Obama won.

UPDATE: The Next Right says McCain crushed. I think this proves Isaac Chotiner’s point – if you’re stuck inside the GOP bubble, you have no way of measuring the salience of partisan attacks. I’m sure the Republican party faithful found the Ayers nonsense incredibly persuasive – but these are the same people who are arguing over Obama’s Maoist sympathies. On the other side of the fence, the last few decades of conservative dominance have forced liberals to tailor their talking points to an unfriendly media environment. I wouldn’t go to The Daily Kos for post-debate analysis, but websites like TNR and The American Prospect do a decent job of evaluating liberal arguments in light of actual public opinion. As a purely tactical matter, the GOP will continue to lag politically so long as Rush Limbaugh and National Review define its electoral approach.

UPDATE II: See also James Fallows:

Here’s why the third debate, and all three debates, helped Obama so much more than McCain.In general-election debates, it’s a losing strategy to “rally the base.” That’s what your own campaign events, and your fund-raisers, and your targeted ads, and your running mate are for. Especially by the time of the second and third debates, the job is to “rally the center.” That’s where most of remaining persuadable and undecided voters are.Everything about Barack Obama’s approach to this debate, and all debates, was consistent with this reality. Almost nothing about John McCain’s approach was.

I imagine it’s pretty difficult to “rally the center” when your targetting reticule is aimed squarely at the radical fringe.

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The Last Gasp?

Over the past few months, I’ve occasionally read The Next Right, the group blog of several young Republican strategists intent on revitalizing the conservative movement’s tired infrastructure. Because I’m not a mainstream conservative, I can’t say I’m terribly sympathetic to their goals, but I do enjoy the occasional wonky post on Republican electoral strategy.

On the other hand, the site rarely (if ever) discusses the core tenets of the movement’s governing philosophy (an oversight that prompted John Schwenkler to dub the project “The Last Gasp”). This has always struck me as rather short-sighted, and not just because I’m frustrated by the conservative movement’s ideological uniformity. Here, for example, is John Henke on why Republican activists should emulate the Left’s new infrastructure:

These outside groups have long existed, but the rise of the new media has accelerated the Left’s political machine. The organic elements, such as Moveon.org, Daily Kos, MyDD, Atrios, Talking Points Memo, etc, arose between 1998-2003, and they have been reinforced since then by very savvy, cultivated elements, such as the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, the Center for Independent Media and many more.

The Left has taken their existing coalition and grassroots-based infrastructure, and combined it with this new internet-based Progressive Infrastructure to move messaging, mobilization and money into more effective channels.

Now, I don’t mean to romanticize (or exaggerate) the Left’s ideological vigor. The websites and organizations Henke mentions are all undoubtedly partisan, and their output reflects a distinctly liberal political bent. But the failure of the Bush years, the Iraq War, and any number of other policy disputes have provoked an ongoing dialog on the Left that encouraged the development of ideological institutions like DailyKos, the Center for American Progress, and the Center for Independent Media. Had you mentioned the term “progressive infrastructure” to a knowledgeable political observer circa 1999 or even 2001, you probably would have been met with a blank stare. Now, however, even conservatives grudgingly concede that liberals are ahead of the curve when it comes to cutting edge political organization.

The competing diarists at Kos, the open threads hosted by Atrios, and organs like the Center for Independent Media’s Washington Independent are all part of a broader political environment that helps foment not just electoral strategy, but actual policy. I doubt the Democratic Party’s current progressive incarnation would have developed had liberal activists not received both ideological and tactical ammunition from a nascent progressive infrastructure.

For the purposes of this post, the empirical validity of progressive policies is irrelevant. My point is simply that the Democratic Party’s ideological shift has allowed it to develop more effective political messaging to react to changing circumstances (a prolonged economic downturn, the Iraq quagmire etc.). The Right’s own political infrastructure, on the other hand, can barely survive without a compelling central message. The Republican Party has been riven by serious ideological divisions, from the libertarian revivalism of Ron Paul to the economic populism of Mike Huckabee. McCain’s nomination (and Palin’s subsequent emergence) may have papered over these differences, but their campaign has quickly degenerated a referendum on Barack Obama’s cultural “otherness,” not a serious debate on the merits of limited government. What’s worse, this was obviously the only plausible strategy for a Republican victory. If the Democrats had nominated a less objectionable candidate, would any of these tired cultural appeals have resonated with the general public?

So by all means, argue over campaign organization, “micro-targeting,” and “selection bias.” But remember that your competitor’s gleaming infrastructure emerged in the wake of real ideological turmoil, a process that resulted in both strategic and policy shifts within the Democratic Party. Until Republicans re-examine their approach to governance in the wake of Bush, I fear that The Next Right is little more than a rearguard action.

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Filed under Conservatism, Presidential Politics, The Media