This is the first of a series of reports from the Defending the American Dream summit in Washington DC
Americans for Prosperity has some very good ideas, one of which is to try to ignite the right-leaning grassroots through their efforts to involve bloggers in their Defending the American Dream summit and their Right Online project. I've attended one of their regional summits and participated in their 'bloggers alley' at the Texas GOP state convention. This weekend I'm attending their national summit in Washington, DC.
The initial dilemma I've discovered at the summit is that while they've got some great ideas for getting bloggers here and educating bloggers, they haven't really got much of an idea what to do to really make good use of those bloggers they've rounded up. They've got a neat little 'bloggers alley' set up in a conference room, and they've formed a partnership with the Sam Adams Alliance to put on some useful seminars for novice bloggers, with a great schedule of speakers, but they seem not to have really figured out how to pull all these elements together and really capitalize on them.
Here we sit in our bloggers alley, talking to other bloggers and typing on our blogs, but we're doing it largely in a vacuum. No one is coming in to talk to us, except for people who are flogging some particular product or program. Apparently at some point they're going to bring in a live video feed from some of the events, but so far that hasn't materialized. The step which the well intentioned but relatively inexperienced people at AFP seem to have missed here is something which they had very right at the Texas GOP convention, which is bringing their speakers and notable guests to the bloggers and making them available for interviews. Those guests are presumably the best spokesmen for the messages that AFP wants to get out, but to make that work they really need to make a concerted effort to bring those guests to the bloggers. Bloggers are resourceful and inventive, but they are kind of introverted and not so experienced at going out and digging up stories. Some of them may have the chutzpah to go wandering the halls looking at badges to find the notable figures, but from what I'm seeing most of them are hunched over their computers with no real idea what to do with themselves, falling into familiar habits of blogging about the things they could cover just as easily in their pajamas at home.
That said, the Sam Adams alliance seems to have put together a pretty impressive set of seminars, especially for novice bloggers. Their goal is to counter the substantial web presence of groups like moveon.org on the political left and try to build up a grassroots network of bloggers in what they are calling the 'liberty community' to get out a more positive right-wing message. What they are doing is very much like what is being attempted by Netroots Nation on the left, educating bloggers and trying to get them on the same page to promote certain core issues. Today, the issue which seems to be the head of the hammer is the connection between Obama and ACORN and other far-left extremist groups, and it's a message which does seem to be getting pretty well disseminated through the right side of the blogosphere.
I attended one of the Sam Adams Alliance seminars this morning, where E. M. Zanotti did a pretty good job of laying out why the left blogosphere has become so powerful and how bloggers on the right can try to counter some of that and organize to achieve some of the same success. It was well attended and her presentation was effective. It created a more positive impression than I've previously had of the SAA, which is a pretty new organization and is still going through a kind of shake-down period that any movement organization is going to go through. When I encountered them in Texas earlier this year, they seemed kind of at sea, but I mainly talked with a couple of their interns who were pretty clueless about the organization they were working for. Zanotti is one of the two salaried employees of the SAA and she seems considerably better informed and pulled together.
I'm not sure that the SAA can lift the whole right blogosphere by its bootstraps, but they and similar organizations seem to be laying the groundwork for bringing bloggers together into a powerfui force. It may be too late to have much impact on this election, but the more liberty-oriented part of the blogosphere may become a force to be reckoned with during the next presidential administration when changes in policy and how the many challenges our nation currently faces are dealt with will be enormously important. Having more strong and unified voices from the pro-liberty right during that period will make a huge difference, either in influencing a rudderless McCain administration or in opposing the excesses of an increasingly radicalized left which is likely to control both houses of Congress and the White House.
Keep watching this space. I'm going to go out and find a story, club it on the head and drag it back to 'bloggers alley' – and maybe get some lunch too.