From ACORN to Van Jones, the Online Rightroots Flexes Its Muscles

Online success has more to do with passion and intensity than with technological sophistication. And in politics, the outsiders -- not the establishment -- own passion.
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In just the last month, online conservatives have helped sack "Green Jobs Czar" Van Jones and have pressured the Census Bureau to drop The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) as a "community partner."

Blame it on the convergence of accessible user-friendly technology -- and on the GOP's recent loss of political power -- but one would be hard-pressed to argue that in the last six months, the "netroots" has been as effective as the "rightroots".

Online success, I've always contended, has more to do with passion and intensity than with technological sophistication. And in politics, the outsiders -- not the establishment -- own passion.

Whether it was John McCain in 2000, Howard Dean in 2003, or Ron Paul and Barack Obama in 2008 -- mavericks and outsiders have flourished online. (Interestingly, this phenomenon is not exclusive to the Internet. Conservative talk radio and think tanks tend to thrive when Republicans are out of power, too.

So when an obscure South Carolina Congressman named Joe Wilson yelled, "you lie" during a joint session of Congress, he became the consummate outsider and an online star was born. Citizens began creating Joe Wilson Facebook groups, and the conservative blog RedState began helping him raise money for his reelection campaign.

Of course, conservative online success may not look like liberal online success, and may, therefore, be overlooked by the media and technology pundits. To be sure, the left is still generally more technologically sophisticated and tends to view the blogosphere as a stand-alone entity. Conversely, conservatives seem to see the Internet as merely a new -- albeit powerful -- communications tactic to compliment pre-existing media like talk radio and cable TV.

Consider, for example, the recent ACORN scandal. Two young investigative journalists videotaped ACORN officials helping advise people running what they thought was a prostitution ring.

These videos were widely shown on blogs and talk radio -- as well as on cable news shows like Glenn Beck. That is essentially how it works. Liberals who fear conservative "new media" do not fear just "blogs." Instead, they are concerned with the convergence of voices like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, RedState, Hugh Hewitt,, Hannity -- and Twitter.

In case you think the ACORN story is an anomaly, the week before the ACORN story broke, the same combination of conservative new media players forced the resignation of Van Jones from the Obama Administration.

While outsider status is the key ingredient to this success, conservatives are also aided by the fact that grassroots activists no longer have to be tech wizards in order to be highly effective online.

The fellow who attends a town hall event, videotapes it with his iPhone, and uploads it to YouTube, may not know how to write a line of html code. But if his video showing Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee ignoring a town hall question goes viral, that fellow just became an effective conservative activist. Clearly, the ubiquitous availability of smart phones has made a huge difference. So has Twitter, where Republicans have, so far, dominated.

If politics is war, and words are weapons, then Twitter can only be compared to the AK-47. The weapon, of course, was revolutionary specifically because of its simplicity. While Americans made superior weapons, the rugged AK became a revolutionary icon. The reason, of course, was because anyone -- a farmer, a new recruit -- sadly, even a child -- could learn to use it in a matter of minutes.

Twitter is the same way. While liberals have invested countless dollars and hours creating "superior" infrastructure, Twitter essentially did the legwork for conservatives, building platform for conservatives to exploit.

Other technology -- such as Flip cameras, iPhones and Blackberries -- have developed to the point where even the average citizen owns them -- and can actually use them. It is no longer just the cutting-edge techie who can capture a video at a town hall meeting and upload it to YouTube. Your grandmother probably can now. And since many grassroots conservative activists who attend town halls are average Americans who are not on the cutting-edge of technological sophistication, this has been a great equalizer.

Still, the right's recent success online remains largely untold. The media will always be drawn to covering "new" and "innovative" uses of technology -- as opposed to covering what is simply effective. But while everyone else is ignoring them, grassroots conservatives are using technology to win the debate.

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