Activism vs. Punditry

Dean Barnett

9/27/2007 4:35:21 PM - Dean Barnett

Really, I don’t like being the turd in the punchbowl.  And I really don’t like having Rob Bluey, Erick Erickson and our own Patrick Ruffini throwing darts at my likeness.  But the issue of on-line enthusiasm in general doesn’t get my pulse racing.  At the risk of really outraging some people, I’ll even go one better – virtual fundraising remains a freak-side show compared to its real world equivalent.

It’s not like online fundraising is always insignificant.  In special elections like the one Colonel Jim Ogonowski will hopefully win in Massachusetts on October 16, the funds that online enthusiasts are generating will be vital.  But at the presidential level, it’s a different story.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s really nice that Justin at has raised over $70,000 for our mutually preferred candidate.  But considering that Mitt will spend about $80 million in the primary season, we’re not talking about a relatively huge amount of money here.

You may ask, what about online fundraising being a stand-in for online enthusiasm?  Surely I’m not saying that online enthusiasm doesn’t matter? I am, and stop calling me Shirley.  If online enthusiasm meant a whole lot, we’d be wrapping up the first term of the Dean administration, assuming President Dean hadn’t surrendered to the Islamists and we weren’t part of the Caliphate by now.  Are things much different in the 2008 cycle?  Ask the Ron Paul supporters.  Scratch that – for your own safety, never initiate a conversation with a Ron Paul supporter.  Suffice to say that Ron Paul has generated much more enthusiasm (and money) online than any of the sane Republican candidates, and he still is battling Pasadena Phil for 9th place in the GOP power rankings.

I KNOW RIGHT WING VIRTUAL ACTIVISTS want to be kingmakers like Kos, but to do that they ought to understand Markos’ most important lesson.  He has often said that his most valuable asset is the soapbox that his prominence affords him.  In other words, it’s not about activism, it’s about punditry.

I know that’s counter-intuitive, but work with me here.  Republican candidates don’t care about what we do in the conservative blogosphere; they care about what we say.  They respect our message machine because of what that message machine may say, not simply because it’s there.  All of the Republican campaigns have blog-wranglers who try to give us talking points that will help their campaigns.  Why?  Because if we say something smart enough, original enough and insightful enough here in the virtual media, it will impact the national debate.  Just ask Dan Rather and Mary Mapes.

But just because we say something doesn’t mean it’s necessarily noteworthy.  One of the Netroots’ most charming attributes is their risible self-importance.  Conservative bloggers aren’t the only ones who greet liberal bloggers’ “important action alerts” with gales of laughter.  Congressional staffers do, too.  Democratic congressional staffers.

Like everyone else in the media who relies on the written word, bloggers are only as potent as their ideas.  That’s one of the reasons why Democrats are no longer shying away from giving the Nutroots the shaft when the urge strikes.  Because most members of the Nutroots have no ideas, they are toothless tigers.

Let’s not forget – it was a conservative pundit who drafted the surge plan that is making such a difference in Iraq, and a conservative magazine that gave him the platform to present that plan.  That is influencing the debate.  It’s important to note that the surge plan didn’t profoundly transform the national debate because a media member, neither in the virtual or dead tree division, issued an important “action alert.”

Ideas matter. Online activism and action alerts? Not so much.

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