Disillusion with the two main parties is high. Even a casual consumer of political news can feel that. The Republicans just put on Mourning in America,* and while no one is sure how many once-reliable Republican voters are now repelled by demands for unity, it is likely more than those who put their faith in Donald Trump anticipate.
The Democratic convention has arrived. If they only go positive, they can get a bigger bounce than the small one it looks like Republicans got. That’s before considering their news media advantages, which the WikiLeaks emails in last week prove are just as intentional as the Right has thought for years. They weren’t just feeding stories to impressionable journalists, but the more enthusiastic partisans were sending stories to the Democratic National Committee for pre-publishing approval.
The media hardly fares better with straightforward event coverage. Television media has chased a dwindling audience for so long by adding flashy graphics, skimpy clothes, and dirty laundry fillers that I don’t know if they realize how insufferable they have become to listen to and watch. Apparently, they were all hunting for the same clickbait potential Trump supporter story behind the scenes. Then for the actual convention, they kept cutting away from the people at the podium, assuming—erroneously—that I wanted to listen to their commentary instead of the actual party officer on the stage.
Media-Scripted Conventions Are Dull
Things are bad in journalism with a lack of research and standards (Ben Rhodes knows journalists), but TV personalities take the know-nothingness to the next level. Besides the typical ignorance about what conservatives think, they did not seem aware of recent journalism history. Not only are scripted conventions a historical anomaly, but scripted conventions were also a modern adaption for TV news.
Contentious conventions did not make for good TV, and it takes knowledge, skill, and experience to know where to have the cameras and when to fill in the gaps. To avoid the drama and work, the parties front-loaded the primaries so they would have an inevitable candidate and could plan the convention to the tiny details. The script covering all the tiny details took the judgment and a bunch of the work out of convention coverage for the media. It did not take long before those scripted conventions became dull. TV news started only covering highlights.
I’m not surprised they forgot how to cover a political convention. I am surprised, however, that they were surprised at the change. Either they were fluffing the drama for ratings, or they just did not know much about conventions.
I’m not idly complaining. Combine the shilling for the Democratic Party and the anything-for-ratings stories, and alphabet network media owns a considerable share of blame for the country’s #NeverTrump versus #NeverHillary quandary of who will do the least damage. The know-nothingness just adds a dollop of indignity to the mess.
We Don’t Need the Media Anymore
But there is good news: we don’t need national media for political decision-making anymore. About a year ago, I wrote an article, “8 Rules for Conservative Rebels.”** Rules six and seven were about using new media. The Libertarian candidates, former governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, have provided some excellent examples of what I had in mind.
Both their policy explainer and fundraising videos are simple and conversational with a touch of humor. I’m sure hours of prep went into the scripts, but the technical production values were low. They also didn’t need millions to put them on prime-time TV that growing numbers of people, especially the young, don’t watch anymore.
It is hard to say how many hits they have because so many places are picking up the video. For #AreYouIn, one YouTube account has 125,000. There are about a dozen accounts with hits in the 25,000 range, and then there are the tweets with thousands of shares that are embedded in Reason and other magazine articles. Oh, and the Facebook count: 7.3 million views on Thursday night, before the Thousand Points of Darkness speech.***
Regardless of the merits or chances of the Libertarian Party—I know many conservatives have reservations—this is the kind of media we will need for our years in exile. While the GOP still thinks it is viable, it is the Dead Elephants Society, a giant, deadweight obstacle we have to walk around. Even if the GOP were an asset, we would still need a way around the established media. Technology has provided for both needs.
Make Local Issues Intriguing Again
Using the simple, conversational, and funny formula, think of the potential of perhaps senators Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse doing fireside chat-style podcasts for #ConservativesInExile. That’s just national. At the local level, podcasts or YouTube talk shows — check any fandom for templates — have even more potential. They could make local issues intriguing again.
After the New Deal court and Great Society programs and advent of national TV networks, we forgot local politics. Advocates for anything work the national level. We litigate social issues in the Supreme Court and look to the executive branch to issue sweeping changes in a single signature. Look at the circulation of local papers and ratings of local news for an idea of interest in or knowledge of local issues.
Now, however, one doesn’t need a huge bank account or staff to sustain a local paper. Nor would anyone need access to radio stations or producers to do local radio. Informing people about local issues is a matter of doing the research and having a bit of voice or video talent. (Houston: soon.)
New media can also serve Republican politicians well in the new order. To persuade once-Republican voters and donors, existing politicians will need to be able to present conservative ideas without relying upon GOP networks or branding. (If they haven’t figured out already, they soon will.) New leaders will need to rise outside of the party structure. Videos like Johnson’s and Weld’s can help with that.
It is not complicated, expensive, or even time-consuming (aside from the research). Mike Rowe does podcasts from his closet. No studio or travel time required.
Both main parties are old fossils, media is melting down, and we have all the tools we need to work around them. All the calls to be the change—it’s never been easier.
*HT Peter Scaer, loved the turn of phrase.
**Ignore the Rush Limbaugh banner shot. Freelance writers in the Internet age do not have any control over photos, titles, subtitles, or headings. Those are all written for search engine optimization and click potential. I’ve never even listened to Limbaugh, and he certainly wasn’t the first guy to pop in my head when I wrote about conservative rebels. My working title was “Rules for Eternal Rebels,” because I had Chesterton in my mind.
*** That term got copied far more than the original tweet got retweeted. Ideas often have more reach than the click counts suggest.