The Moveon Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy

By David Karpf | Go to book overview

6
Don’t Think of an Online Elephant

“While the Right has been in power, defending the status quo, the
Left has been storming the castle. Storming the castle is much
more fun.”

—Jon Henke, Republican technology consultant

When I began the research for this book, there was an unmistakable gap between the American Left and the American Right online. Among Internet-mediated issue generalists, MoveOn cast a long shadow over the Left. The Right boasted a string of failed attempts at building “their own MoveOn.” In fundraising infrastructure, there was ActBlue on the Left and the several paltry attempts at building an ActBlue equivalent on the Right. In community blogs, the vibrant community participation on DailyKos was contrasted with the dramatically smaller RedState on the Right. In each case, the conservative startups made specific references to their leftwing equivalent, leaving no doubt as to whom they were trying to emulate and what they were trying to achieve. The progressive netroots had built online infrastructure and institutions. Conservative political entrepreneurs had taken note of these successes but—successful as they were at winning elections—proved verifiably incapable of keeping pace with the rapidly evolving netroots infrastructure.

The Internet is not the only communications technology to display a partisan bias. Political talk radio has long been dominated by conservatives. The Right features Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck (among many others).1 These hosts reach millions of daily listeners, and talk radio serves as a “farm system” of sorts for conservative pundits and television hosts. The Left attempted to build comparable infrastructure a decade later with the ill-fated launch of Air America radio in 2002. While Air America enjoyed some limited success as a farm system—Rachel Maddow and Cenk Uygur both earned hour-long television programs at MSNBC after building exposure through Air America—the network never developed financial stability and went through multiple bankruptcies before formally shutting down in January 2010.

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