op-ed

The Online Right Is Freaking Awesome

Last week, Ben Howe was pilloried by some in the conservative blogosphere for writing for BuzzFeed. Now he offers a tribute to the right’s vibrant online community.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been attacked by some conservative bloggers as a traitor to my ideology, an enemy of the conservative movement, and a sell-out.

And all of it has let me to this completely earnest conclusion: The online right is freaking awesome.

Here’s the backstory. Last week I published an opinion piece at BuzzFeed about a conservative video that I believed was too campy and lacking of substance to be taken seriously. I laid out my criticisms and closed with my concerns that productions of this caliber would stigmatize conservative artists, thus making it more difficult for their work to get produced.

I expected some negative response, especially from the Tea Party Patriots who produced the video, and I knew some conservatives would take issue with my decision to write the piece for BuzzFeed, which is not exactly a card-carrying citizen of the conservative blogosphere.

What I did not expect was to be taken to the woodshed and told that what I’d done was tantamount to ideological treason. Yet that’s exactly what happened when the article first hit Twitter.

I had a few fellow bloggers tell me that they were unwilling to even click on the link, while others claimed that I’d become a pawn of some master plan by BuzzFeed to undo conservatism. John Nolte of Breitbart started by indicating he thought I’d been duped, saying BuzzFeed “manipulated review of a single conservative movie to trash the movement.” After I pushed back he was less kind, eventually implying I was implicit, saying it was “exactly like the old Big Hollywood days: pushing back against a media unfairly trashing fledgling con-artist movement.” The odd use of “con-artist” aside, it was stunning to find out I’d apparently become what Andrew Breitbart built his empire fighting.

I immediately began to think that I’d made a mistake and that my peers simply weren’t ready for conservative writers to expand beyond our “family” of friendly blogs. But before long, what I’d always known conservatives prided themselves on rang true, as people from all walks of the conservative blogosphere and grassroots activism jumped to my defense. For several days, they brought me on their podcasts and radio shows, wrote about the uproar and, possibly most importantly to my original purpose, agreed with both the venue choice and the substance of my article.

Despite the loud few that wanted to hang me in effigy, the vast majority seemed hungry for discussion and for varying opinions to be voiced in as many places as possible. Like me, they believed that conservatives do themselves a great disservice by hiding in a shell and talking only to one another. After all, if we’re right in what we believe, we should trust that the truth will win hearts and minds in any public forum, albeit with a careful eye on how we deliver it. As long as we can ensure that our opinions and arguments are not altered or manipulated, we can and should feel safe and, in some respects obligated, to take our beliefs outside of our self-imposed bubbles.

So far, BuzzFeed has graciously agreed not to edit my articles in a way that would create a false impression of my beliefs. Stunning, I know.

The events also caused me to reflect on why the conservative movement experiences so much success online. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the way events unfolded for me is simply not how it would’ve played out if the roles were reversed and it had been a left-of-center blogger condemning a Hollywood film with a liberal message.

Even when conservatives get it wrong and try to discredit an opinion like mine for being in the wrong venue, it’s still born from loyalty. They feel betrayed. As misguided as that feeling may be, it speaks volumes to the relationships on the right versus the left in web politics which thrive on loyalty and camaraderie.

In the conservative blogosphere, the lines between establishment old guard publications, powerful politicians, and “amateur” blogs are largely irrelevant. It’s an active, vibrant community that advocates open discussion and allows the conservative grassroots to stay in regular communication with the most influential players in the movement, and often the GOP.

Meanwhile, the liberal online community these days is so disjointed and disconnected that there appears to be no loyalty fostered between one another at all. When’s the last time you saw various liberal bloggers from Wonkette or Fire Dog Lake making an appeal to other liberal bloggers to join them in an effort to support one of their own? Or pitch in to send someone to a conference? Or work together to elect a candidate? Maybe it’s not about partisanship for them, or maybe they are so committed to their ideology that the idea of collective mission is alien. Ironic considering their views on government.

I follow these guys on twitter and I read their blogs (Of course I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a spork, but it’s part of my job description.) And mostly what I see is gutter sniping and whining. The real organization and unified purpose on the left comes from their seemingly endless supply of non-profits like Think Progress and Media Matters. To me, that indicates that their loyalty to one another is a product of pay, not common belief. Certainly there are nonprofits on the right, but while ours compliment a community compromised mostly of freelancers or unpaid bloggers, the left seems to take all of their cues from these billionaire funded groups. It’s the definition of astroturf.

The right on the other hand is blessed with community. At RedState you could just as easily find a link to Jim Geraghty at National Review as you could to Jim Jamitis at Anthropocon.com. The best part is that all three writers most likely know each other, and will share a drink next time they’re in town together. They work together. They’re colleagues. They’re friends.

And while that loyalty can occasionally result in suspicion of those of us who venture outside the bubble, more often the not, it enables thoughtful, important conversations to take place in the conservative movement.

How did the left get this so wrong? I have no idea. But after last week, I must say I’m grateful to have been reminded how conservatives have gotten this right.

This is why we can have nice things.

Ben Howe is an editor at RedState.

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