Crashing the Party?

800px Braeden hacking In the aftermath of the election, there's been a lot of coverage of Obama's compelling Internet strategy, and how he might leverage online links with his millions of supporters while in the White House.

Last week the Washington Post had an article by Jose Antonio Vargas mapping a response from some youthful operatives on the Republican right.

One would think that coverage of GOP strategy would include some examination of issues about which many religious conservatives are passionate: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research. Since the religious right are generally reliable supporters of the Republican party, one might look for some analysis of the role of these "Red Zip Code" folks in shaping future strategy.

Instead, religion makes a brief, startling appearance -- and then is dragged off like an actor who has shown up on the wrong set.

As you might guess from the clever title, "Republican's Seek to Fix Short-Sitedness" focuses on the GOP's plans to bolster their perceived defects and the online political clout evinced by the Democrats.

At 6:50 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 6-- less than 44 hours after the GOP lost the White House and more seats in Congress -- RebuildTheParty.com went live.

Founded by two young party activists, Patrick Ruffini and Mindy Finn, the site proposes to start by rebuilding the often marginalized conservative blogosphere. Its mission statement, a 3,200-word, 10-point manifesto, is aimed at Republicans in general -- and more specifically at whoever takes the helm of the Republican National Committee in the next few weeks. It's signed by a Who's Who of the online conservative grass roots -- the "rightroots" -- most of them in their 20s and 30s, many frustrated by the current state of the Grand Old Party that seems just that: old and out of touch.

"2008 made one thing clear: If allowed to go unchecked, the Democrats' structural advantages, including their use of the Internet, their more than 2-to-1 advantage with young voters, their discovery of a better grassroots model -- will be as big a threat to the future of the GOP as the toxic political environment we have faced the last few years," the site proclaims.

Vargas spends a lot of time dissecting the digital divide between the two major parties -- and how Ruffini, Finn and other Republicans would like to see that change.

The GOP is the talk-radio party -- for the most part, it's centralized, top-down. Even though Rush Limbaugh is "perhaps the best exponent of across-the-board conservatism," as Ruffini wrote, "he has no lists and no way to mobilize his audience directly to donate and volunteer." (But it must be noted that Limbaugh urged his Republican listeners to vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton in Indiana's open primary to prolong the Democratic duel. And Clinton won.)

The Democrats, meanwhile, are the party of the Web: decentralized, chaotic, bottom-up. The bloggers at DailyKos.com, for example, argue about policy and ideology, too. But all that blogging leads to raising money, which leads to organizing, which leads to having a say in the party. When Howard Dean, whose presidential primary campaign was largely funded by online donors, was elected DNC chairman in 2005, there was no doubt that a new Democratic era had arrived.

Republicans are not only the party of Rush Limbaugh, but of Focus on the Family's James Dobson -- and of countless conservative-themed religious radio stations across America.

But the article focuses so tightly on the contrast between the recent success of "netroots" (liberals) and infighting/soul-searching among "rightroots" bloggers that it doesn't stop to ask how powerful a force the "old media" really was in propelling the Republican base.

On the right, you have blogs that focus on taxes and national security, antiabortion blogs and gun-rights blogs, blogs for social conservatives that rarely overlap with blogs for fiscal conservatives. Some of these blogs didn't know what to make of the Paulites, Ron Paul's fervent online followers. Not everyone was happily blogging about McCain during the general election, though his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as running mate galvanized hubs such as ProLifeBlogs.com. They might all call themselves Republicans, but the GOP comes in many links.

As a reader, I'd be very curious to learn more about liberal and conservative religious blogs with wide readership -- and how they might or might not have worked to influence voters.

So here we are wandering around this oddly secular blogfest --when who should show up as a guest poster on the conservative blog "The Next Right"?

Why it's "former Iowa gubernatorial candidate" Bob Vander Plaats --and he's brought a guest.

Jesus Christ, whom many Republicans claim to follow, summoned his followers to be either hot or cold toward Him, because a 'lukewarm' commitment makes Him want to vomit. I believe this accurately reflects the mood of voters in the past several elections where Republicans have witnessed consecutive defeats," Vander Plaats wrote. "We have followed the misguided advice of 'experts' to abandon our principles and move to the middle so we can supposedly win. In essence, we have become 'lukewarm' on life, on marriage, on the Second Amendment, on limited government, on balanced budgets."

To which a reader commented: "How do you get the Independents vote with rhetoric like that?"

Whether independents would rally to that kind of "rhetoric" is debatable -- but that religious conservatives are part of the backbone of the GOP is not. Because Vargas doesn't give them a voice beyond the one implied here, the article starts to sound more and more like the main force for change in the blogosphere is the revolt of the young visionaries against the party fogies.

How the beliefs and power of religious conservatives affect the "soul-searching" going on among Republicans as they craft an online plan to revive the party is never explained -- lost in the din of clacking keyboards and clashing generations.

Picture of young Braeden is from Wikimedia -- we don't know if he's a Republican

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