Since their election disaster, the right has used new media to gather strength, culminating in last weekend’s huge protest
Erik Telford remembers all too vividly the dark cloud hanging over him on 5 November 2008, the day after Barack Obama was elected president. For the internet strategist at the rightwing campaign group Americans for Prosperity, election night was a double disaster. Not only had Obama won the votes, he had outwitted his Republican opponents in his use of new media tricks such as email recruiting and social networking.
“The left was far ahead of us. The efforts that Obama put into internet campaigning and what he accomplished were extraordinary,” Telford says.
That cloud hung over the conservative movement for many weeks. A sense of crisis set in, he recalls, with bloggers, strategists and Republican politicians scrambling in different directions.
“There was a real lack of leadership, a lot of confusion.”
But then, almost imperceptibly, something started to happen. Telford noticed Google groups popping up, listserves on which people would send angry emails back and forth. The anger was stimulated by Obama’s $800bn stimulus package that was introduced five days into his presidency.
With very little leadership, the Google groups began to co-ordinate their response. People took on the onerous job of poring over the bill’s hundreds of pages of small print in search of wasteful spending, following the Wikipedia model of crowd-sourcing.
They began to uncover items that looked suspicious or ridiculous: electric golf carts, snow machines, a crime museum in Las Vegas. They passed the examples on to mainstream media outlets, notably the new face of the right, snake-tongued Glenn Beck of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News channel, who used it as ammunition to attack the young administration. The anger grew. When Americans for Prosperity put up its own petition against the bill on its website, it had 500,000 signatures within days.
“It was a huge wake-up call to all of us,” Telford says. “On the right, people had known new media was important but they were still hesitant about it. After the stimulus experience, no one was left in any doubt about its power.”