Joe Turner of the Tacoma News Tribune writes breathlessly today about the role of the Internet in the campaign for the incredibly myopic and cynically misnamed, “No New Gas Tax” initiative. [“Internet could play key role in No Gas Tax signature push“]
“With the short time span, we know how difficult it’s going to be,” said Brett Bader, a veteran political consultant and spokesman for the No New Gas Tax campaign. “The Web has certainly made it easier to organize. I don’t know what we would have done without it.”
On its Web site, initiative supporters can download copies of the petition, print them out and start collecting signatures. They also can make electronic campaign contributions with their credit cards and volunteer to do more campaign work.
All true… but so what? As Joe points out, “none of this is new”; the Internet has become an integral part of political campaigns of all sorts. Hell… way back in 2003, it was the focal point of I-831, my initiative to proclaim Tim Eyman a “horse’s ass.” (FYI… volunteers gathered over 50,000 signatures with little money and no organization during the few short weeks before the Attorney General got an injunction to shut me down.)
So by focusing on the Internet, Joe is kind of missing the point. It’s not the Internet that’s playing an special role in I-912… it’s right-wing talk radio. This is really the “John Carlson / Kirby Wilbur Initiative”, and I-912 would be absolutely nowhere without them. After all, a website is totally worthless if you don’t have a way of driving traffic to it, and the only thing special about NoNewGasTax.com is the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free media promoting it… courtesy of John and Kirby.
The Internet is just a tool, available to all political campaigns, to be used on any candidate or issue. Likewise, local talk radio has become an important political tool… though for the moment, it is a tool only made available to the Republican Party and conservative causes.
It is time we even the playing field.
Yeah sure… I know the righties will yell back that conservative talk doesn’t even begin to balance the mythical “liberal media,” but that’s a load of shit not even worth arguing in this context, as it sets up a false comparison. You can’t compare KVI with, say… NPR, because John and Kirby are not journalists. They are propagandists… they are political operatives… they are GOP activists. And they are using their enormously powerful platform to execute a political agenda.
That is why now, more than ever, progressives need people just as shamelessly partisan as John and Kirby to promote their own causes and candidates on local talk radio. AM 1090 is planning to deliver local programming, but in choosing their hosts they can’t just choose any old liberal loudmouth. They need hosts who are willing and able to use their loud mouths as an organizing tool for local progressives. And not just because this will be good for Democrats or the progressive movement… it will also be good for 1090.
For politics aside, talk radio is still a business… and smart politics as it is, John and Kirby’s I-912 campaign is an even smarter business strategy. Launched as interest peaked around the election contest trial, the I-912 campaign is designed to rile up the faithful and hold as much audience as possible during the inevitable post-trial decline. Furthermore, volunteering time — and especially money — creates a much stronger affinity between listeners and the host than the mere act of tuning in. Supporters aren’t just giving to the campaign, they are personally giving to John and Kirby… and in doing so they become emotionally invested as part of the “KVI community.”
I would argue that the political activism coming out of conservative talk is not just a byproduct of the format’s success… it is an integral part of the format itself. There is a symbiotic relationship between the hosts and the causes they promote; in the minds of supporters, John and Kirby don’t just promote the campaigns, they become part of them. Their shows not only feed off of the emotional fervor and passion political campaigns create, they also become organizational focal points… an on-air gathering place for campaign supporters and like minded voters.
There simply is no liberal media equivalent. That’s why local progressives need 1090 to survive… and it won’t unless it does local programming, and it does it right.
For those interested, blatherWatch expounds on KVI’s role in promoting I-912. Michael thinks their oughta be a law against such blatant abuse of the public airwaves for partisan political purposes. I’m not sure that you can write a law that could stop this, so I say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.