Breitbart’s Big Government’s site recently made a goof on a subject we know a lot about; how direct mail and the new and alternative media helped build the conservative movement.
Breitbart reporter Tony Lee wrote that “Liberal George McGovern pioneered the art of direct mail fundraising, which Republicans, with the help of those like Richard Viguerie, then dominated.”
With all due respect to Mr. Lee, I began writing direct mail for Young Americans for Freedom in 1961, before George McGovern was first elected to the Senate in 1962, and I started my company in January of 1965.
In 1966, I did direct mail fundraising for Senator Robert Griffin of Michigan and apparently he gave our work a good reference to his Senate colleague, Democratic Senator George McGovern. One afternoon in 1967, Senator McGovern called me to ask if I’d help him with direct mail for his re-election in 1968.
It will come as no surprise to those who are aware of my 50+ year involvement in conservative politics at the national level that I politely turned down Senator McGovern as a client.
In 1971, ten years after I began to help conservatives bypass the liberal media filter to get their message out -- and six years after I started my own company -- Senator McGovern connected with world class marketer Morris Dees and began to use direct mail in his presidential campaign.
But Tony Lee was correct when he said conservatives have, from the beginning of the rise of the modern conservative movement, relied heavily on the new and alternative media to get our message out, because conservatives were largely shut-out of the mainstream media.
Even as Ronald Reagan rose to prominence and won national two elections, if you were a conservative on a college campus or in a suburban neighborhood, reading the newspapers and watching TV, you were marooned in a world were the elite opinion makers of New York and Washington found your ideas fit to be ignored or attacked, but not printed or aired.
The conservative print media was small and it was hard, if not impossible, to find the conservative point of view on television.
In the 1960s and 1970s, to get the conservative message out, we began to use the alternative media – direct mail – to bypass the elite media filter… and it worked.
All of the early institutions of the conservative movement, such as the Heritage Foundation and National Review, used and still use direct mail to sustain their missions.
Early conservative successes at the ballot box, such as Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan, were fueled by small contributions raised from the grassroots through direct mail, not the big checks from the K Street elite.
It is safe to say that without the new and alternative media, there would be no conservative movement as we know it today.
Lee’s article makes another very useful point: Democrats outgunned Republican new media efforts in 2006 and 2008, but that was true throughout the first decade of the 21st Century.
While Bush was in the White House and Republicans led Congress Democrats were on the attack, while Republicans and many conservatives were mired in defending the indefensible policies of the Bush administration and the Hastert-Frist Congress.
Obama may have benefited from his association with some of the leaders of Silicon Valley’s tech industry, but it is a long established principle of political communications that a negative message is usually stronger than a positive message, making the new and alternative media more successful on the attack.
When Democrats controlled Congress and Obama was in the White House, the Tea Party and grassroots small government constitutional conservatives were able to go over to the attack, and in the 2010 election cycle, they began to dominate such new media as Twitter -- a position they still hold today.
The Tea Party has been empowered because the internet is a mass media completely unfettered by elite controls and filters. Any individual, any group, can have a website, a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page and an email address.
Today, I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been about the future of our great country. In some measure that optimism is based on how conservative and Tea Party movement activists have mastered the alternative and new media and freed us from the censorship of the establishment and the elite media.
For an extensive analysis of this subject, please see the book that I co-wrote with David Franke, America's Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, which is available on Amazon.com.