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September 01, 2007

GOP Continues to Get it Wrong on Technology

On the Democratic side, we've been grateful that the Republicans seem to be so out of touch with the blogs and the tubes.  Perhaps it's endemic.  Perhaps they just can't do better, given their arrogance.

Last year we made great use of their lack of understanding and so far this year seem to be continuing the pattern.  George Allen's "macaca moment" was only possible because they hadn't caught onto the power of video backed by a new distribution system that by-passed the traditionally feckless media.  Republicans everywhere are much more careful in what they say in front of a video camera now. 

An interesting new-to-me blog, called "The Right's Field" writes exclusively about the GOP candidates for President.  A writer there, Paul Curtis, wrote about a newspaper article he found in the North Jersey Herald News, written by a conservative Republican blogger, George Ajjan, who is frustrated by the GOP's reaction to the proposed YouTube presidential debate.  The Democrats seemed to enjoy their CNN/YouTube debate on July 24th but the Republicans have been shying away from the one that was scheduled for them on Sept. 17th.  None of the three front-runners, Guiliani, Romney or McCain, has yet committed to attend and, at this point, the debate seems unlikely to happen.

Says Ajjan about the Republican's fear of making use of the new technology:

The comments of those skeptical about the YouTube debates sadly exemplify many of the traditional and stereotypical shortcomings of Republicans. The GOP has got to shatter the image of country-club elitism that plagues the party. Giuliani's campaign prioritizing fundraising over a one-day commitment to appear before millions of viewers and answer tough questions directly from the electorate is deplorable and plays right into that regrettable typecast.

This is not just an esoteric concern; it is empirically demonstrated by many Republicans, who tend to prefer the cocktail-party chitchat of lavish fundraising affairs to rolling up their sleeves and walking neighborhoods to solicit actual votes. Giuliani's campaign tactic indicates this same mentality: money before people. We Republicans must work to change that.

Good luck on that one, George.  He dreams some more:

We absolutely must break the trend described by the late conservative guru Sam Francis, who cynically identified the drivers of successful conservative movements as "greed and hate."

As far as YouTube itself goes, the issue is not that national Republicans don't want to use new technologies. Both Giuliani and Romney have invested heavily in their online efforts and have specifically touted their embrace of YouTube as a campaigning medium. But their behavior seems to indicate the belief that the internet is a switch they can turn on and off, depending upon whether they're in the mood to communicate. But the internet is always "on," although it's not always "on your terms."

Until our party truly grasps that, we will continue to alienate voters and activists, especially young people for whom the internet is not "new," but an integral part of their political upbringing.

Curtis agrees with Ajjan's analysis but comes to a different conclusion:

The Republicans don’t have a technology problem, per se. They have an arrogance problem, and it’s spilling over into their online outreach efforts. Coming at a time when polls show young voters abandoning the GOP en masse, this bodes ill for the elephants.

Posted by Lynn Allen on September 1, 2007 at 06:10 PM in Media, National and International Politics | Permalink


Thanks for the link. I'm originally a Washingtonian myself, incidently.

A great source if you want to keep up with the relationship between politics and new technology on the Republican side is Patrick Ruffini. He's one of the GOP's leading tech gurus, and well worth reading regularly.

Posted by: Paul Curtis | Sep 2, 2007 9:28:10 AM

I agree with Paul Curtis. Politicians don't need to understand how to work with technology. They just need to understand its implications and hire people who understand it. The implication of the YouTube debates is clear - you have to answer questions from people you can't control. Right now, if I were a Republican trying to defend their policies, I wouldn't want to do that, either.

In other words, the Republicans control much of the news in this country. For the Democrats, the only difference between talking to the news and talking to the people directly is that in the latter case the questions are often more incisive.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Sep 2, 2007 2:01:21 PM

So, CuJo, I agree with your thought (if I understand it correctly) that the Republicans might as well just work with the media that they can control. But, if indeed the new technology is changing the way Americans access their news, then long-term, they may be making the wrong choices by avoiding the full range of the new media.

What say you?

Posted by: Lynn | Sep 2, 2007 7:49:09 PM

I thought the YouTube debates were kind of a joke -- I failed to see how they were significantly different from a "town hall" style event where audience questions were selected in advance by a moderator.

We shouldn't be so smug about how Republicans "don't get" technology -- they were, IMHO, quicker than the Democrats to understand the political significance of direct mail, phones, faxes, and possibly even email. We've been first to punch on this blogging/online fundraising thing, and that's good. But if we fall back on our own kind of arrogance, we'll likely get the pasting we'll deserve come some future election day.

Posted by: Jon Stahl | Sep 2, 2007 11:10:16 PM


"If we fall back on our own kind of arrogance", indeed. As we did for about four decades just recently. Thanks for the reminder.

I liked the YouTube debate though, as a way to bring folks into the debates who might not pay attention otherwise.

Posted by: Lynn | Sep 3, 2007 6:54:30 AM

Thanks for the link, Lynn.

There is a lot of negative energy in the GOP right now (with the exception of Ron Paul's campaign). By contrast, you Democrats seem a happy lot brimming with talk about change, etc. That dynamic gives you the edge in reaching out through the new media. Of course, one might say that the easiest job in the world is to be an opposition politician.

Let's see how these tools develop as the field thins on both sides.

Posted by: George Ajjan | Sep 3, 2007 12:47:00 PM

Lynn, I suspect that in the long run it may hurt them, but politicians don't seem to make a habit of thinking about the long run. In a sense, every election is a sudden-death playoff. Relatively few politicians, particularly the seasoned ones, bounce back from a defeat. Most Republican supporters seem to get their information from radio and TV right now. The GOP mostly seem to treat their Internet presence as a sideshow. Democrats rely on it more because it's their best way to get their message out in, shall we say, a pristine form.

Republicans have much bigger worries. Young people now are overwhelmingly becoming Democrats, a huge change from a decade ago. That's the trend they need to worry about, and that has much more to do with the traditional Republican stands on gays and Iraq, not to mention their demonstrated incompetence at governing, than they do with YouTube, I think.

Another thing to consider is that the first to embrace new technologies aren't necessarily the ones who make the best use of them. We weren't the first country to develop jet engines, yet we're the ones who dominate the aerospace industry now. Conversely, we didn't make use of our lead in rocketry, lost ground to the Germans, but eventually caught up (partly thanks to those Germans, of course). When we finally realized the implications of these technologies, we made the effort to get caught up. Something tells me that the Republicans won't remain as clueless about this technology as they are right now.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Sep 3, 2007 8:19:02 PM

What I hope is that Democrats work with the new technology to really make the best use of it and keep making the best use of it. Having the young vote helps with that I think - both in terms of motivation and in terms of expertise and ease.

As George says above, with a remarkable lack of resentment, Democrats are feeling resurgent. As a result, we have the confidence to work with new technology.

How we keep that resilience over time will be the challenge.

Posted by: Lynn | Sep 4, 2007 6:29:42 AM

Careful not to equate embrace of new technology with youth. A conservative colleague of mine in NJ who had organized some blogging seminars remarked that the average age of blogger on redstate or one of the other key GOP blogs was over 50!

Now that blogs, facebook, etc. are so template-based and require no need to learn any code really, even tech novices can play big roles.

George Ajjan

Posted by: Republican Primary | Sep 4, 2007 12:15:08 PM

George - that's a good point. The myth of the age divide is, in some cases, a real myth. And just judging by the age of those blogging and commenting here at EP, I'd say the myth has been busted!

I think the key element is that those of us in our 40's and 50's had to learn the technology later, it wasn't second nature like it is with younger folks. They grew up with it and it is a much shorter learning curve for them, and it's often mind-boggling to me how all the teenagers in my extended family adopt, embrace and master different technologies in such a short time frame. I think for us, technology is almost like a second language, whereas for them, it's like their native language.

Posted by: shoephone | Sep 4, 2007 1:13:35 PM

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