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Alternative Media and the Future of Conservatism - As Seen in 2004

(This is excerpt No. 45 (of 45) from America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.)

In 2004, when America’s Right Turn was published, we warned that “if conservatives allow liberals to have a few years’ head start on the Internet, much less a decade’s head start, they may face a [startling] wake-up call – say, the election of President Hillary Rodham Clinton on November 7, 2008.  How’s that for a nightmare Hillary Clintonscenario to motivate the conservatives into action!”

Well, history didn’t unfold exactly as we warned.  Conservatives did organize politically on the Internet, more or less matching the liberals there, and Hillary did get her chance, but in 2016, with the conservative side defeating her in part with new alternative media that didn’t exist in 2004.  Our next bonus installment will bring you that story—the growth, expansion, and influence of alternative media between 2004 and 2018.

Meanwhile, here is how the future of conservatism looked to us in 2004.  On the Left, Howard Dean had led the first Internet-based presidential campaign and had continued that movement after the election.  On the Right, George W. Bush was president and conservatives were…well, see for yourself.  

Alternative media and the future of conservatism

We see two key issues confronting conservatives:  (1) The liberals’ head start in utilizing the Internet as a fundraising and movement-building tool.  And (2) the surrender of the conservative movement to the Republican Party, resulting in the corruption of the conservative message into a merely GOP message.

Conservatives must not downplay the significance of the Dean campaign’s success and MoveOn’s success on the Internet.  They have clearly demonstrated that the Internet has potential equal to direct mail for raising money and organizing troops.  We saw how conservatives had a decade’s head start in using direct mail, and how crucial that decade was for the emergence and success of the conservative movement   The wake-up call for liberals was the election of Ronald Reagan as president on November 7, 1980.  If conservatives allow liberals to have a few years’ head start on the Internet, much less a decade’s head start, they may face a similar wake-up call – say, the election of President Hillary Rodham Clinton on November 7, 2008.  How’s that for a nightmare scenario to motivate the conservatives into action!

Nothing in politics seems to be a 100-percent blessing.  Even direct mail has been both a blessing and a curse to the conservative movement.  We’ve elaborated on the blessing throughout this book.  The curse is that it has allowed a lot of conservative leaders to reign as armchair generals, rather than head for the front and organize the troops.  It’s so much easier to sit behind a desk and say, “Give me some more copy to approve” or “Let’s send out a press release about that.”  And at the grassroots level, direct mail makes it so easy to just make a donation and say you’ve done your part, no need to get involved in actually trying to convince people as a precinct worker or by organizing a rally.

With enough armchair commandeering and enough armchair “activism,” the battle can be lost. 

As for the second issue confronting conservatives – their relationship to the Republican Party – we will limit ourselves to a few observations here, hoping to expand on them after the 2004 election.  Our first observation is that the Republicans, controlling the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since any of us has been alive, have given us the biggest jump in federal spending since FDR and the New Deal.  That’s conservative?  And with Social Security and Medicare already heading into insolvency, they’ve given us the biggest entitlement increase – the Medicare drug bill – since LBJ.  That’s conservative?

And what are conservatives doing about it?  They’re talking about what a “big spender” John F. Kerry is!  The conservative message of limited, constitutional government has been virtually silenced, co-opted by my-party-right-or-wrong partisanship.

For decades conservatives have been lecturing blacks about the dangers of putting all your eggs in one basket: “You’re taken for granted by the Democrats, and all you get is symbolism and tokenism.”  Perhaps it’s time for blacks to return the favor and point out that all the conservatives are getting with their subservience to the GOP is symbolism and tokenism.

Liberals on the Internet have organized themselves as a movement independent of the Democratic National Committee, no matter who they’ll vote for in November.  The Dean campaign, MoveOn, and the others can and do act independently of the DNC agenda.  Conservatives, meanwhile, have ceded virtually all Web political organizing to the Republican National Committee, defending the biggest increase in federal spending since FDR as “compassionate conservatism.”  That way lies ruin, for the country and for the movement.

It’s time to take another look at how the conservatives handled themselves when they were growing so successfully.  “Throughout this period,” we wrote, “the leaders of the New Right consciously thought of themselves – not the Republican Party – as the alternative to the Left and the Democrats.  And thanks to the independence provided by direct mail fundraising, none of their organizations depended upon the Republican Party for their existence.  The great majority of these leaders were people who did not hold public office, and had never held public office.  Conservatives did not look to elected officials for their leadership.  The politicians were necessary to organize votes for or against something, of course, but generally they did not provide the leadership on key issues.  That came from the New Right leaders, utilizing alternative media.”

Reverse the ideological references and that sounds more like a description of the Internet liberals today.

Stirrings on the Right

Toward the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004, we started hearing a number of conservative leaders saying something that had been unthinkable a couple of years ago: that perhaps conservatives would be better off if George W. Bush went down to defeat. 

If Bush wins, the reasoning goes, we’ll have even more big-government programs since the second term of a GOP administration always is more liberal than the first.  That, in turn, will lead to a massive Republican defeat in the 2006 congressional elections, since historically an incumbent administration does poorly in its sixth-year campaigns, and this time the conservatives would have no incentive to vote.

If, on the other hand, John Kerry were to sit in the White House, we could once again expect some backbone on the part of the Republicans in Congress, leading to the kind of stalemate we saw with President Clinton’s programs.  And that, in turn, could lead to a revitalized conservative movement in 2006 and 2008.

Unhappy conservatives should be taken seriously.  When conservatives are unhappy, there are real-life consequences for the Republican Party.

In 1948, conservatives were unhappy with Tom Dewey’s “me-too” campaign, and the result was Dewey’s unexpected loss to Harry Truman.

In 1960, conservatives were unhappy with Richard Nixon’s “Fifth Avenue sellout” to Nelson Rockefeller, and the result was Nixon’s razor-thin loss to John F. Kennedy.

In 1976, conservatives were unhappy with President Gerald Ford’s selection of Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president and adoption of Rockefeller’s platform.  The result was Ford’s narrow defeat by a peanut farmer from Georgia.

In 1992, conservatives were so unhappy with President George Bush’s open disdain for them and their beliefs that they staged an open rebellion with the candidacies of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot.  The result was an incumbent president who got a paltry 37 percent of the vote, and Bill Clinton’s election with only 41 percent of the vote.

And in 1998, conservatives were unhappy because the Republican leaders in Congress had abandoned conservative principles to go along with Clinton’s big-government initiatives.  The result was a failure to make the major gains suggested historically in the sixth year of the Clinton administration.  Instead, Republicans lost House seats, and Newt Gingrich was replaced as Speaker of the House.

Warning to the Republican Party:  Conservatives are unhappy again.

Conservatives will find their voice and their heritage once again.  We’ve got the tools – the alternative media that we built.  And we will find the will to use these tools, not as blind follow-the-leader partisans, but as principled and independent conservatives.


America’s Right Turn serialization:

To order American's Right Turn from Amazon please click this link.

  1. “Media Monopolies Declare War on Conservatives”
  2. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the West’s First Media Revolution”
  3. “What Conservatives Can Learn from America’s First Media Revolution”
  4. “The Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  5.  “More Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  6. “Money in Politics:  Everyone Complains About It, but Every Political Movement Needs It”
  7. “Conservatives in the Wilderness: American Politics in 1955” 
  8. Conservatives in the Wilderness: Restless, but Lacking Leadership
  9. “How William F. Buckley Jr. Gave Birth to the Conservative Movement”
  10. “How Barry Goldwater Gave Political Voice to the New Conservative Movement”
  11. “Why There Was No Mass Libertarian Movement—Lessons for Conservatives”
  12. “1964:  This is What Happens When the Other Side Controls the Mass Media”
  13. “Thanks to Shamelessly Dishonest Liberals, Conservatives Have No Chance in 1964
  14. “How Conservatives Turned a Lemon (1964) Into Lemonade (the Future Successful Movement”
  15. Conservatives Test a New Secret Weapon
  16. “Conservatives Use Their Secret Weapon to Create a Revolution”
  17. “Conservatives Grow Under the Radar, Testing Their New Secret Weapon”
  18. “Why Direct Mail Is So Powerful for Insurgents—Like Conservatives”
  19. “Creating the Religious Right, and Electing Reagan, Using Alternative Media”
  20. “Phyllis Schlafly Showed Us How to Stop an ‘Inevitable’ Leftist Crusade”
  21. “Liberals Learn How to Use the Conservatives’ Secret Weapon”
  22. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the Man Who Built the Modern Liberal Movement”
  23. “Morton Blackwell Trains Tomorrow’s Conservative Cadre”
  24. “From FDR to Rush Limbaugh: The Talk Radio Revolution”
  25. “Talk Radio Demolishes Hillarycare, and Provides a New Battleground for the Culture Wars”
  26. “Why Liberals Fail—While Conservatives Succeed—on Talk Radio”
  27. “How the NRA Used Alternative Media to Save the Second Amendment”
  28. “C-SPAN Starts the Revolution Against TV’s Liberal Gatekeepers”
  29. “Fox Replaces CNN as King of Cable, Giving Conservatives a Voice on TV News”
  30. “Direct Mail: A Giant Step Forward for Political Democracy”
  31. “Why Direct Mail is the Smartest Form of Advertising for Conservative Candidates”
  32. “The 1970s: Healthy Growing Pains in the Emerging Conservative Movement”
  33. “Rush Limbaugh Becomes Talk Radio’s #1 Star; the “Tea Bag” Rebellion Becomes Its First Big Victory”
  34. “Cable TV—With Fox in the Lead—Becomes America’s Primary Source of Campaign News” 
  35. Political News and Impact: Newspapers Tumble—and Liberals Face Competition
  36. “Conservative Writers Get New Venues as Columnists and in Magazines”
  37. Conservative Authors Fire a New Weapon: Books with Ideas That Have Consequences
  38. “The World Turned Upside Down: How the Internet Empowers the Individual”
  39. Why Politicians Like Hillary Don’t Want You to Have the Choices Offered by the Internet
  40. “Conservatives and Libertarians Embrace the Internet”
  41. Liberals Use the Internet to Move On Past the Clinton Impeachment
  42. “Howard Dean and Joe Trippi Create the First Internet-Based Presidential Campaign”
  43. “Stirrings on the Right Side of the Internet”
  44. “How Alternative Media Have Changed American Politics: The View from 2004”
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