Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Dominion, over at A Skeptical Blog posted a letter that he was forwarded from an anonymous friend. The letter, written by one Richard A. Viguerie, calls for a "select group of highly motivated activists to become nationwide leaders of the new CONSERVATIVE INTERNET TASK FORCE.".

Here's a great passage:

You will be able to reach tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people from coast to coast because we'll drive them to your site. Plus you'll have the opportunity to affect real change in Washington and across the country.

So, if you feel like you have something to contribute to the conservative cause but you don't have an outlet, this is it!

No one knows better than I that the conservative cause has its share of problems. In my 40 years of experience, I've learned that the biggest one, by far, is leadership. It was a problem back when I was fortunate enough to help pioneer ideological direct mail and level the playing field for conservatives through alternate media. And it is still a problem today as we get in on the ground floor, and move up to the next level, in pioneering online activism.

What amuses me about this email is that it's utterly unnecessary and entirely too late. There's already lots of conservative and libertarian voices online... in fact, there are so many that they tend to drown out any dissent through sheer weight of numbers and verbiage in any situation where ideological opponents are placed together. More than that, however, they're pretty tightly integrated, and "leadership" isn't really that big an issue (although isn't Instapundit and the crew over at NRO performing that job admirably?) This would have been a great cause to champion were the Internet popular, say, 20 years ago, when Newt was reforming the Republican party and Libertarian/Neoconservative ideas were utterly fringe phenomena. Anybody who knows about Grover Norquist's "Wednesday get-togethers" knows that leadership and integration on the right is hardly a problem- the biggest rift is between the fiscal conservatives and religious right, and they're a heck of a lot less divided than they could be.


Here's what's interesting about that letter. Grab that letter. Copy and Paste it into your favorite word processor, and sub in "left" for "right" (and vice versa) and "liberal" for "conservative" (and vice versa). Then all of a sudden it makes a hell of a lot more sense. Change the ideologies around, and there's a statement that I imagine most liberals would agree with:

No one knows better than I that the liberal cause has its share of problems. In my 40 years of experience, I've learned that the biggest one, by far, is leadership. It was a problem back when I was fortunate enough to help pioneer ideological direct mail and level the playing field for liberals through alternate media. And it is still a problem today as we get in on the ground floor, and move up to the next level, in pioneering online activism.

Leaving aside the "liberal media" canard (most liberals would give their eyeteeth for media as friendly as the conservatives claim), this becomes a far more convincing argument for the left than for the right. The right, since Scaife (and corporate America) started funding them and supporting them, have had an unequal amount of money, resources, and power vs. the left, and have effectively used that in order to drive the agenda in both Washington and around the world. Frankly, this isn't going to change. As I said earlier, those defending those with wealth and power are practically always going to have more wealth and power to work with- shutting our eyes, putting our fingers in our ears and singing loudly isn't going to change anything, and yet that's pretty much what liberals and the left have been reduced to.

I mean, look at the claims he made about conservatism, and look at liberalism. Lack of leadership? Pretty damned obvious- there's certainly nobody I can think of in politics who qualifies as a "leader for the left". Even when Clinton was around he hardly fit the role, and who else can we claim, Ted Kennedy?

And as for division... he has no idea what division truly is. The left is more divided right now than the right has ever been. The division between the radical left and the liberal left is so debilitating that the two are too busy criticizing each other to notice that the right has stolen the real public discourse out from under them.

There's a division between academia and the political left, when the universities should be the single best resource the left has both to empirically and theoretically support its ideas and develop new ideas. Rightists are forever whining that academia is unfriendly to them, and yet the left seemingly refuses to acknowledge that academe exists, and when it does it shies away because of the fear that it will be seen as too "far left". (Since when has the right cared about that?) There's no way that the left will be able to support the kind of alternative academia (aka think tanks) that the right takes for granted, and the entire reason that the right developed them was because it thought that the left had a scholarly source it could exploit and the right didn't. So why isn't it being exploited? Are liberals afraid that they might get called socialists? It's happening anyway!

As for the Internet.. it's a gold mine waiting to be tapped. One of the great things about the Net is that publishing (and, yes, proselytizing) is relatively inexpensive, and the weblog phenomenon has made it so utterly simple and cheap that pretty much anybody who wants to say something can do it quickly and easily. Ol' Richard is absolutely right... the Internet affords the opportunity to reach rather a lot of people, and creates possibilities of integration and coordination that could neatly check the financial advantages of the right (to some extent, anyway) and create a powerful new tool for the Left, one that is immune to corporate influence and (to some extent, anyway) the overwhelming financial advantages of the right.

And yet whose positions dominate in cyberspace? Which way does the echo chamber lean? Rightward! Not even rightward... libertarian! A fringe philosophy that most people off the Internet think ended with the Gilded Age is the de facto standard here, for no other reason than the willingness of the right to sit down and bloody well use it! I think what annoys me the most about the right's dominance on the Internet is that it's a tool that the Left could be using, should be using, and I believe must use in order to even the playing field and get its ideas out- and yet, somehow, we remain little islands in a sea of conservative/libertarian sites, posters, boards, users, and blogs.

One more division of note, and possibly the greatest one of all. There is a lot of power and energy out there being pretty much wasted. It's the power following leaders around and running around with placards and knocking over mailboxes and breaking windows, thinking that will somehow change the world. Yes, I'm talking about the protest movement. I honestly wish somebody would sit down with these people and explain to them that although social movements are important, electoral politics are equally vital, and they are no more likely to bring down the American government (or British, or Canadian, or whatever) using these sorts of cheap theatrics than Al Qaeda is. Less, actually, because at least Al Qaeda strikes me as inclined towards a little planning and foresight. Whenever I see one of those protests, I see unbelievable amounts of energy and passion on display, but wasted... used for ultimately meaningless displays of chaotic anarchic rage. The right has been able to channel the equivalent of that on their side and turn it into support for their leadership, but the left has to watch as some of its best, brightest, and most passionate are wasting their energy and youth flailing away at shadows when the people they should really be fighting just use them as tools to further their own goals. Heck, they are already showing the rest of us that the Left can use technology to its own ends... the protest movement has depended on Internet communication and coordination since before Seattle.

Where is the left here? Why is it letting these people go to waste? Is it, again, the fear that it will be seen as "too far left", once again missing the point that by necessity a movement has to include both moderates and radicals, and that the right has been exploiting that for electoral and political gain for over a decade, checked only by the skill of Bill Clinton and the reality that their positions are not as universal as they'd like to think they are?

Richard, I say again: you have no idea what divided is. The left is terribly divided. Awfully divided. So divided that it's a wonder it still exists, and no wonder that its ideas are ignored by both policy makers and public. The awful irony of your letter, though, is that I believe that the Internet (now that the stupid e-commerce hype is over and it's returning to its real role as a communication medium) will eventually be the best thing that has ever happened to the left, if the left would just summon up the courage and energy to use this powerful medium to its full potential. It's time for the left to take back the Internet (and, yes, the Blogosphere) from "conservatarians". It's the most powerful tool the left has at its disposal, the left needs it, and I believe that the left has the ability and the courage to do so. All it requires is the willingness to do so, and the realization that if the left doesn't do something soon, its current holding action against the combined forces of the right will crumble, and the right will finally hold the monopoly over the the ideas, concepts, and politics in both America and around the world that it has been seeking since FDR died.

The divisions need to end. Now.

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