What You Missed at TXOnline, Part One
This weekend, Americans for Prosperity hosted the “TXOnline” conference, and they were kind enough to invite me and a lot of my favorite bloggers, podcasters, Tweeters, and other denizens from the conservative media world’s Island of Misfit Toys. Before we go any further, thanks so much to Kemberlee Kaye and her team for putting it together.
Dana Loesch kicked off the festivities by contending that the tea parties are dead, but not in the sense that the gloating media usually does. She suggested the Tea Party’s original form is dead, or ought to be, because they were a catalyst, spurring people to pay much closer attention to local government — sheriff’s races, town and city councils, etc. The fact that the tea parties aren’t in the rallies-and-town-halls mode of 2010 is natural, because a catalyst can’t go on forever. “The Sons of Liberty dumping tea in the harbor wasn’t designed to be a long-lasting movement.”
The panel on writing about policy featured Guy Benson of Townhall, William Upton of Americans for Tax Reform, and Avik Roy, who you know from NRO and Forbes. I realize Avik Roy’s role in the conservative movement for the past year can be summarized like this:
[Obama administration announces some sudden change to Obamacare]
Most of us: This is terrible! This change is ridiculous! They’re changing this law every five minutes! By making this change, you’re . . . you’re . . . it’s going to…
[We log online, go to check what Avik Roy has written on the subject, find a torrent of statistics, data, anecdotes and examples]
Most of us: Ah-ha! Just as I thought! This is a terrible change because [quotes Avik]!
On a panel on the state of First Amendment rights, the Franklin Center’s Erik Telford dismissed the ridiculous notion that legal protections for journalists should only apply to “official” journalists, and not bloggers and others who aren’t part of larger organizations: “In Iran, they pick the three people who are allowed to run for president. We don’t get to elect our reporters and journalists who ask questions on our behalf. I don’t think the government should get to pick who has the responsibility hold them accountable.”
Melissa Clouthier and our Charlie Cooke, among others, launched a fascinating discussion of whether the conservative movement has too eagerly embraced scalp-hunting of liberals by using their own standards of political correctness against them — think of Alec Baldwin, or Martin Bashir, or any other time a prominent Democrat finds themselves in trouble with their liberal brethren over a controversial statement. The room seemed pretty divided on that; Charlie argued that we ought to stand for an America where the First Amendment means something, where individuals can speak one’s mind without retaliatory economic threats and efforts to get someone fired.
I pretty much agree with Charlie, but I think — and hope — there’s a difference between “this person said something I disagree with, and I denounce the statement” (or the person!) and “you must fire this person for making that statement.” (Ahem.) But one reason people think and express appalling ideas is that they’re largely oblivious to how much others are appalled by those ideas. If you walk around in circles where it’s perfectly okay to say the sort of thing that Martin Bashir said about Sarah Palin . . . once you say it for public consumption, everybody’s got the right to react, and the negative reaction is designed to discourage further statements in that vein.
Fingers Malloy and Thomas LaDuke of FTR Radio did a presentation on podcasting, and offered a positive thought on the future of radio — as you probably know, the talk-radio audience is aging rapidly. As Internet radio gets more common — after all, you can surf the web on your phone in your car — people aren’t going to care whether your show is broadcast on the Internet or on radio. In terms of sound quality, Internet podcasts are increasingly on par with regular terrestrial radio.
I spoke on a panel on polling and data analysis, moderated by PJ Media’s Bryan Preston, the Tarrance Group’s Logan Dobson, Dan McLaughlin — whose head is not, in fact, a baseball, as his avatar would suggest. My co-panelists expertly dissected what they look for when evaluating a poll — sample size, timing, wording of questions and so on; I noted how much polls are used to tell stories and stir a particular emotional response in the intended audience — oftentimes, to boost confidence in one side and dispirit the other.
On a panel discussion about how to make stories, arguments, and other concepts “share-able” — i.e., likely to go viral on social media, Jon Gabriel offered this stunning statistic: “A YouTube video has to make an impression in the first two seconds.”
The most contentious and most interesting panel was entitled “Culture Is Upstream of Politics.” Larry O’Connor began by noting that while we mocked President Obama for appearing on wacky morning shows such as Miami’s The Pimp with the Limp, that’s where the voters are.
Bill Whittle said the inevitable and discomfiting conclusion was that Barack Obama spoke a language to Americans that Mitt Romney didn’t, and thus, by this standard, Barack Obama was in fact more “American” than Romney was. He contended that the vast majority of Obama voters, particularly the young ones, “don’t sit through Obama speeches from start to finish. But Lady Gaga, George Clooney, Katy Perry everybody that they do watch votes for Obama — it saves them the step of having to think things through for themselves.”
Emily Zanotti objected. “People between 18 and 35 aren’t political idiots. We don’t just vote a certain way because celebrities do.”
Noah Rothman, who’s joining that web site Warmer-than-Warm Air, noted that with increasing frequency, Democrats and their allies prefer to shift the conversation to cultural topics and the culture wars. (This may reflect the fact that the economy continues to stink and the world beyond our borders looks increasingly unstable.)
The Democrats’ approach in the culture wars is to tell groups — particularly minorities, women and young people, “the Republicans/conservatives hate you” and they latch onto anyone they can use as an example — regardless of whether or not that person is actually a Republican or outspoken conservative: rancher Cliven Bundy, Clippers owner Donald Sterling, TV chef Paula Deen, former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. This is cynical and divisive, but it is also effective.
Clearly the catalyst for much of the panel’s debate was the bold, uncompromising viewpoints of Matt Walsh, a fascinating guy with strong opinions on everything from divorce to the indisputable menace of people who leave their shopping carts in the middle of the supermarket parking lot. The unexpected directions of this conversation may warrant a separate discussion in a future Morning Jolt. A key takeaway is that conservatives and Republicans usually have two simultaneous goals, and those goals sometimes clash. One goal is to stand for “the Truth”, or a particular viewpoint of what constitutes a good life well lived. The other is to persuade people to vote for their candidates. Oftentimes there’s a tension between the two priorities and sometimes they’re in all-out conflict. We want people to minimize their dependency on government assistance . . . but we have to persuade “the 47 percent” that we don’t look down on them and that they ought to vote for our guys.
After Walsh’s comment that pop culture was frivolous, our Kevin Williamson responded that “pop culture is only frivolous in that it runs the world.”
In tomorrow’s Jolt, I’ll briefly cover the discussion of whether Texas could become a swing state and the unparalleled, hysterical whirling dervish of entertainment chaos known as “Tracked and Targeted” — as well as a bunch of other folks from the Island of Misfit Toys you probably ought to follow on Twitter.