Last week in Las Vegas, an ideological showdown occurred in the political backyard of embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as the left-wing Netroots Nation Convention and conservative RightOnline Conference squared off for the third year in a row.
The competing online activism conferences once again returned the media spotlight to an issue that dominated President Obama’s post-election coverage, the important role of the Internet in our political and public policy process.
Quite a bit, however, has happened since November of 2008.
Obama’s much vaunted 13 million member email list was rolled into the Democratic National Committee to establish Organizing for America, a grassroots arm of the DNC aimed at sustaining support for the president’s legislative agenda. This list proved quite valuable during the election, serving as the backbone of Obama’s campaign, and conventional wisdom at the time held that it would persist as a powerful force, helping to sweep the administration’s agenda through Congress quickly and with wide margins.
Despite such high expectations, Organizing for America has fallen flat on its face. As the Democrat rank-and-file was overtaken by internal squabbling between idealists and pragmatists, they lacked the grassroots support to marshal their policy agenda to victory, forcing Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid into backroom deals and strong-arm tactics that just barely gave them the razor thin margins needed on their largest legislative priorities.
While Democrats have been lauded for their mastery of technology and online politics, this perception has been met with a starkly contrasting reality. Speaker Pelosi, who promised the “most open honest transparent Congress ever,” has failed miserably at keeping her pledge to post all legislation online at least 72-hours before a vote. In fact, with regard to Obamacare, she went so far as to say “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
At the same time, conservatives have found incredible success in leveraging online tools to organize, mobilize, and emerge as a force that can go toe-to-toe with the Left online.
To realize this you need look no further than conservatives’ success using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to organize the nation-wide, ground-up Tea Party movement, or their success on YouTube by individuals like James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, who exposed the fraud and corruption that single-handedly brought about the downfall of ACORN (even if in name only).
Whether it’s the money bombs that helped lead Scott Brown to victory, or bloggers exposing the so-called “stimulus” funding in phantom Congressional Districts, conservatives are reemerging online, and in a powerful way.
As the momentum shifts in such a commanding way heading into this November, while the left is focused on vicious attack politics and demagoguery, conservatives are leveraging the Internet in powerful ways to not only mobilize, but to foster a real discussion about the issues we face as a nation.
The fact of the matter is, the more the left talks about their disastrous agenda or their failed vision for America, the more ground they lose in public opinion polls.
They don’t want to talk about their failed government takeover of health care that is leading us on a devastating path toward higher costs, lower quality, and less access to care. They don’t want to talk about their pursuit of a disastrous Cap-and-Trade scheme that would constitute the largest tax increase in human history and drive American jobs abroad. And they certainly don’t want to talk about their failed record on bailout after bailout with no end in sight, and a complete inability to deliver on jobs and the economy.
It’s no wonder that reporting from the left-wing Netroots Nation Convention highlighted a dispirited mood among their attendees.
As The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund noted, “over at Netroots Nation, you could walk through their deepest optimism and not get your ankles wet.” And a recent column in Politico further observed the Netroots to be “immature,” “impetuous,” and “averting their gaze” from the midterm elections.
If there is one message that emerged louder than any other this year from across the Vegas strip at RightOnline, it’s that conservatives are energized, motivated, and poised for victory.
Erik Telford is the Executive Director of RightOnline, a project of Americans for Prosperity Foundation.