Ruffini and Finn Discuss "How Republicans won the Internet"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I'm obviously not on the same side of the political blogosphere as Republican new media consultants, Patrick Ruffini and Mindy Finn. Nonetheless, I find almost nothing to disagree with in their Washington Post discussion this morning of their Sunday Outlook article, "How Republicans won the Internet". A few key points.

*The reluctance of the "consultant class" to embrace the Web is about money and control. Regarding money, Ruffini and Finn argue that "the Internet actually expands the overall pie," that Scott Brown's campaign, for instance, "had more than enough money to spend on TV because of all they raised online." Regarding the "control" issue, Ruffini and Finn acknowledge that "the Internet represents a potential loss of control" but argue that "media consultants...need to get more comfortable with." This is a theme, by the way, that Nate Wilcox and I discuss extensively in our book, Netroots Rising.

*Ruffini says that "Bloggers are the unsung heroes of the Brown campaign." Why "unsung?" In part, I think, it's because the traditional media and political consultant class are each extremely reluctant to acknowledge the efforts of netroots activists. The reason? Very simple: the blogs represent a threat to the corporate media, while the netroots represent a threat to the highly-paid political consultants. No reason to help turn them into "sung" heroes.

*Finn points out that "The definition of campaign volunteer has shifted from someone who shows up in a campaign office to stuff envelopes or make phone calls to anyone who advocates for a candidate in their community." That, of course, includes social networking and blogging.

*I strongly agree with Ruffini that "[t]he right strategy is high tech AND high touch," that "[t]echnology can enable you to reach people you wouldn't have reached before, and reach more of them, but the ultimate goal is to get them involved offline too." That's why it's called "netroots" - internet PLUS grassroots, working together synergistically.

*I also agree with Ruffini that "With the Internet, we can process information faster and register our dissatisfaction with Washington just as fast," which in part means that "[t]he notion that one party is going to get away with unchecked, total control over Washington for years on end is becoming a relic." In short, everything moves much faster online.

*Ruffini has some interesting observations about the Obama campaign:
I could argue that all the tactics that Obama used in 2008 were actually well-worn techniques pioneered by or the Dean campaign before them. For many online politicos, the Obama campaign was actually kind of boring online. Their blog, though certainly successful, was not the kind of hub of frenetic activity the Dean blog was four years before it...
The reason for this, in my opinion, is that the Obama campaign - conventional wisdom notwithstanding - was never really "bottom up" in the sense that the Howard Dean movement, the Draft Wesley Clark movement, or the Draft James Webb movement was. Instead, the Obama campaign used social networking tools while maintaining a top-down campaign orientation that didn't quite exclude the existing progressive netroots, but that particularly didn't bring it into the campaign fold either...

*Ruffini makes an intriguing point, that the recent Supreme Court decision on campaign financing only pertains to paid advertising, which "is getting less and less relevant." I guess I'd say that this might be true, but that it's still not right for corporations to be granted the same rights as "persons," or for money to be treated equivalently to "speech."

*Ruffini reiterates what many of us in the netroots have known for a long time, that the "Internet does not take kindly to canned, processed, prepackaged candidates." To the contrary, online, it's all about authenticity. If you don't have that, you're pretty much toast on the blogs. If you do have that, you might very well be in business.

*I agree with Finn that "no one party has the advantage online in electoral politics," that it's much more "environment dependent" (e.g, which side is energized) than about mastery of technology (I'd rank that extremely low in importance), and that "[t]he party who opens up their organization, responds to the people, taps into their concerns ... they have the advantage online, and right now, that's Republicans." I'd add that Republicans seem more comfortable with their conservative activist base than Democrats do with their progressive activist base. Why that is, I'm not completely sure, but it most definitely needs to change.