More on the prospect of a conservative Netroots

October 24, 2008

Jon Henke at The Next Right has replied to my earlier post about the prospects for a conservative Netroots (he calls it the “Rightroots”).

Henke begins by contesting my claim that there are ironic echoes of Markos Moulitsas in his and Patrick Ruffini’s writings:

Actually, I don’t think it’s ironic at all that the analysis of problems on the Right is similar to the arguments made by the Netroots Left. For one thing, the “claims made by Markos Moulitsas” are in many ways intentional recycling of the movement on the Right.

This is certainly a fair point to make (although the link to the TNR article was broken, so I’m not totally sure what evidence he’s using to supoprt his point). While I suspect kos might disagree strongly, I can see how there are some ways in which his strategic push for a populist, patriotic Left powered by mass participation borrows from the playbook of the Right.

Nevertheless, an underlying assumption in much of kos’s work has been the idea that there is something inherent to the culture of the Left which has made it particularly well-suited to decentralized action online. To me, it sounds like Henke and Ruffini don’t agree with this piece of kos’s thinking at all, but I’d be interested to hear more from them on this.

Henke then goes on to build off my argument that the current cross-ideological differences in networked organizing have not been determined by technologies per se:

The underlying systemic inputs are very similar. The political/electoral culture and incentives, and the emergence of the internet (sic) as an important social and technological phenomenon impacted both the Left and Right at approximately the same time.

The difference in uptake and evolution is predominantly due to the political cycle. Democrats went through the wilderness from 1995 to 2003; they found their way from 2003 to 2008.  Republicans entered their wilderness in 2007, though I would argue that the Right has been in the wilderness for longer.  How long the Right wanders in the wilderness depends, in large part, on how seriously they take the lessons they can learn from the Left.

The emphases to underscore what I take to be the key points here. The notion of an evolutionary political cycle is an interesting one that I’d like to think about more. While I am not aware of rigorous empirical research that supports this kind of idea, I agree that it’s an attractive explanation of political dynamics in this country since the mid twentieth century. It would be great to find out if someone’s tested the theory more carefully.

In my offline conversations with Gene Koo, we’ve also been throwing around the idea that a stint in the wilderness may speed up the process of partisan innovation by unleashing some old fashioned creative destruction. Gene frequently uses the metaphor of a political business cycle to describe this and argues for something like a leapfrogging effect as the parties alternately innovate, win power, and then grow complacent until they are forced to innovate again. This is very similar to Jon’s point. It’s also clearly reflected in the recent experience of the Left, which had to overcome the flawed strategies of the Clintonian Democratic Leadership Council to build a much more impressive grassroots machine for the 2006 mid-terms that may be on the vege of delivering a knockout punch two weeks from now.

Finally, Henke concludes by addressing what I see as the greatest obstacle facing an honest-to-goodness Rightosphere/Rightroots movement:

Does the Rightosphere not organize as well because of the nature of the online Republicans? Or do the online Republicans not organize as well because of problems with the Republican Party? I think it’s mostly the latter – something that can be fixed – but it will not be changed until a number of other changes happen within the Right and the Republican Party.

Unfortunately, there are powerful, entrenched interests maintaining the Republican status quo.

Once again, I think Jon and I mostly agree (apologies to any of you who came here looking for rhetorical fireworks – that was your first mistake). The main difference is that where he underscores the opportunity for a more profound break, I emphasize that a great deal of continuity is inevitable.

This same emphasis on continuity underpins my earlier claim that organizational/cultural differences will shape a Rightroots movement into something very distinct from the Progressive Netroots. The communications practices that helped the Republicans achieve electoral success in recent cycles – micro-targeting, direct mail, exceptional party discipline, and centrally-coordinated messaging – have “hardened” into organizations and personnel with a big stake in self-preservation (that’s those entrenched interests Jon’s talking about). New pathways to electoral victory for the Right will, at least in part, stem from the adoption of new organizing tactics. Nevertheless, I suspect that traces of the old institutions (in the form of people and organizational structures) will find a way into whatever comes next.

(Correction: I apologize for adding an “h” to Jon’s name in the original version of my previous post. I have subsequently changed it.)

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One Response to “More on the prospect of a conservative Netroots”


  1. […] Henke posted a thoughtful reply to this piece. I’ve just posted a reply to his reply. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Re-Organizing Posted by aaron Filed in […]


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