The sincerest form of flattery.Originally posted at the now-defunct Tacitus.org on 24 January 2004. This is the post that led directly to the creation, the following July, of RedState.com.
I come to praise The Daily Kos. I may have serious problems with its mission, its moral universe, the ethics of its internal administration, and its highly regrettable legatees in public discourse — and say so repeatedly — but let’s step back from those things and be honest about its objective merits: it is the best political weblog ever. Hands-down, in terms of efficacy, reach, influence, and intelligence, it simply has no match. The sources of its strengths are obvious: a clear sense of mission; an informed authorship; tremendously good web design; a will to enforce standards; and the mechanisms to create and sustain a sense of community.
There isn’t really a parallel on the right, save Free Republic or Lucianne, but neither of them are particularly, well, refined in style or substance. And this raises the question: why isn’t there a parallel on the right? Why are the explicitly pro-Republican weblogs so anemic? I don’t mean to disparage those who have made the effort to produce such blogs: Lord knows I wouldn’t have the wherewithal to produce a Blogsforbush equivalent, and Ruffini, who definitely has a Kos-level understanding of the electoral processes, has been busy.
It must be allowed that some of this may simply be a function of the partisan power dynamic: Democrats are hip-deep in the internal debate period known as the primaries, abetted by the lack of a single standard-bearer attendant to the party out of power; Republicans have a President to rally ‘round, and hence less incentive to thrash out issues. But some of it is also, I think, a function of the differing approaches to organization and the internet taken by the national parties. I can’t speak for the DNC, but I am fairly sure that the RNC is a top-down, strictly hierarchical organization. They’ll rely on their own devices; certainly not Meetup, certainly not blog-based fundraising, and they certainly won’t allow comments on their candidate’s official weblog. (Compare this last with the weblogs of any one of the Democratic candidates, all of which have comments sections of varying liveliness. RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie’s new blog allows comments, but only after you agree to a disclaimer(!), which is ludicrous overkill.) I can’t necessarily blame them: what, after all, is their incentive to surrender even a small amount of control and decentralize? Conversely, what is the incentive for the independent Republican blogger to make the effort to help his party and his candidates if the formal hierarchy is going to be lukewarm at best?
I don’t think we’re at the point where the internet is going to sway a national election, so the online inferiority of the Republicans isn’t going to hurt anyone in ‘04. But that point will come, and when it does, I don’t want my side disarmed and defenseless in the face of tough, communal, decentralized organizations like, well, Daily Kos. That, though, is where we are headed. Almost without realizing it, the Democrats will emerge from this election cycle with a seriously good and adaptable internet machine.
It’s time for Republicans to follow suit. And when I say Republicans, I don’t mean the Republican Party. I don’t trust the apparatus to do more than pass out astroturf and talking points, and I definitely don’t think they’ll be comfortable with the free-wheeling style of weblogs like this one. That doesn’t mean it won’t be good for ‘em, though. A non-party-affiliated Republican weblog could serve several purposes:
• Provide a forum for Republicans to meet one another and plan on- and offline events without the need for recourse to formal party apparatus.
• Give Republicans a truly participatory web presence and forum that goes beyond vaguely insulting programs like this.
• Allow Republicans the opportunity to debate and generate ideas and critiques without fear of repercussion from the party establishment. In case this sounds like overheated rhetoric on my part, let me assure you that it’s not. The party today is big on loyalty, and not always in a manner I’d describe as rational.
• Give “minority” Republicans (ie, the fabled Republican moderate) a place to interact with their fellow partisans without being made to feel like pariahs.
• Provide a channel for targeted fundraising outside the traditional party-sponsored activities.
• Wean the grass roots from the habits of central direction; and wean the party from the assurance of a compliant grass roots.
Certainly, a thing worth having. It would take time and money to design and maintain, on both the technical and content ends, but it would be worthwhile. Anyone who is interested and is willing to pitch in with technical skill, money, or writing ability, drop me a note in comments or via e-mail. We should not expect to replicate dKos. That is a product of a particular circumstance and temperament. But I see nothing wrong with recognizing the many things it has done right, and appropriating its lessons where we may.
This is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.