The Power of the Keyboard
Conservatives have a lot to learn from Ron Paul, at least when it comes to his pull among young voters. Paul was able to garner a massive Internet following that bred a bevy of YouTube videos and other promotional columns to form the foundation of his campaign. It amounted to free publicity, spurring donations in excess of $30 million. Obama’s ilk took the right cues, tapping the Internet’s myriad caches of free liberal publicity. McCain hasn’t done badly on the Internet either, but more is certainly in order.
One problem McCain faces is that sites like YouTube and Facebook are part of the liberal media network. There is a subtle but concerted effort to sweep conservative media under the rug on these outlets, not unlike the leftward lean of television and print media.
I have some evidence for this from my own experience. A few weeks ago, the media circled the wagons to protect Obama when McCain released an ad mocking Obama as “the one,” a celebrity no different than Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I wanted to see what the ad said, so I tried searching for “new McCain ad” on YouTube. I simply couldn’t find the ad itself, despite running other searches such as “McCain celebrity,” “McCain the one,” “Obama celebrity” and “McCain Hollywood ad.”
The first result on most of these searches was either a news report from one of the left-wing networks deeming it an unfair personal attack or some such tripe (as if that wasn’t the daily business of every news network), or another YouTube user giving his or her inane response.
Then Hilton responded. All you had to do was put “Paris Hilton” into YouTube and bam, there were 50 different users’ posts of Hilton’s response as well as news reports calling it a brilliant PR move. Similar documented incidents have occurred: Barnes and Noble had a neat little trick a few months back when the first result of the search “God” was Obama’s book. (What a coincidence!) There was also the so-called “Google bomb” in 2004, which linked the search “miserable failure” to George W. Bush’s White House profile page.
Conservatives faced the same obstacles that existed until 1996, when Fox News entered the cable networks scene. The morass of sites owned by the likes of George Soros, Arianna Huffington and Ted Turner is hostile territory, to say the least. Perhaps Paul was so successful because he was an insurgent force in the Republican Party, and it was in the Democrats’ favor to promote him, a la Ross Perot.
Regardless of the intent, Paul’s Internet campaign was successful, as Obama’s has been by using the same strategy. Both campaigns thrive on marketing to a youthful demographic – from teens to tweens to twenty-somethings – fluent in computers and able to access every main street and back alley of the Internet for their information. Both campaigns hit the right notes with this demographic to bolster enthusiasm: Paul rallied Libertarians, conservative in their disdain for government, but fed up with Republican foreign policy, while Obama tapped into youths who, by some mental gymnastics, equate a vote for him with women and minority rights (Sarah Palin, Condoleezza Rice, Alberto Gonzalez, Christine Todd Whitman, Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, cough cough cough).
However, Fox News showed that liberals do not have the mandate on opinion and the marketplace of ideas by some sort of intellectual fiat. It really comes down to marketing and pushing the right buttons.
However, trying to shove conservative intellectualism through the existing channels is rather like the “glory days” of the liberal media, when Buckley’s “Firing Line” was one shining jewel in a pig’s snout, to evoke recent political imagery.
Enter the conservative blogosphere. Upstart sites like TheNextRight.com, dedicated to forming a network of individual conservative bloggers outside the liberal channels of Google Blogs and The Huffington Post, are a step in the right direction. However, opposing a largely liberal hegemony is a task I’m not sure sites like this are ready to undertake. Something akin to Fox News is the answer: a network of conservative Googles, Facebooks and Huffington Posts with good funding that knows how to market to every conservative demographic on the Internet.
McCain has done a good job of using YouTube for his ads, but many of them are targeted at an older demographic. This is good for getting votes when the news networks pick up and play the ads later.
However, stimulating the younger demographic, like Paul and Obama, at least for fundraising purposes, is possible. Conservatives have a number of “outrage issues” they can tap in to. Trying to push the “terrorist under every bed” argument won’t fly with younger voters.
However, highlighting abject social depravity associated with so-called “Islamo-Fascism,” such as persecution of women and homosexuality, will have pull with this group if broached properly. That’s only one issue, but surely marketing geniuses like Karl Rove could mine more.
There are already a number of strong conservative blogs that are incalculably beneficial to the conservative movement and instrumental in disseminating intellectual thought. Several conservative intellectuals, such as Charles Krauthammer, have their work published on sites like RealClearPolitics.com, while dedicated conservative bloggers, such as Michelle Malkin and the folks at Little Green Footballs, periodically debunk media spin and unearth stories the liberal media wouldn’t dare touch.
For instance, Dan Rather’s “September Suprise” in 2004 was foiled when a number of blogs got the word out that documents in the report, purported to be AWOL papers on Bush, were actually forged. If conservatives could unite the savvy of these various contributors, as Fox News did on cable, they could mount a powerful opposition to sites like the Daily Kos, as well as tap into a wealth of funds, such as the over $30 million that Paul has earned, and give expression to legitimate conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley, Thomas Sowell and Krauthammer.
Patrick Ross is a fifth-year English and history double-major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.