"By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation."— Edmund Burke
Last week Obama held a town hall meeting at the headquarters of Facebook. On April 20, Facebook held an online town hall meeting for President Barack Obama, personally hosted by billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It was filled with magically shifting budget numbers and time frames, packaged in endless talking-point speeches that left the Facebook crowd silent (or asleep) in a way that home videos of dancing housecats can never do.
Zuckerberg kicked off the affair by saying he can’t wait to pay more in taxes, something he mysteriously fails to do voluntarily (Psst, Zuckerberg, here's how you can make a donation to the United States Government). From there, attendees got to watch a President who gives nasty partisan campaign speeches instead of budget proposals call Rep. Paul Ryan's budget "radical, but not particularly courageous." Epic fantasies of a slowly "recovering" economy were spun, causing many to forget all that unpleasant, unexpected news that keeps skittering across their newspapers. Billions in new spending were proposed with every passing moment.
The President graciously acknowledged that America is "still the most dynamic and entrepreneurial culture in the world, but I can't do it all myself. People need to be engaged." It was incredibly humble of Mr. Obama to concede that he can't personally run the most dynamic culture in the world without a bit of help from his eager children in the American electorate.
Why shouldn't Republican candidates be allowed to have this kind of fun with the Facebook crowd? After all, Facebook is the largest media company in the world, with half a billion members. Plenty of them are conservatives and Tea Party members. Sarah Palin has been using this electronic medium to get here case out sans editing by the left-wing press.
Team Barack astutely exploited Facebook in the 2008 campaign to create legions of Obama Zombies who marched to elect the most radical and untested president in American history. In fact, did you know that Obama even hired the co-creator of Facebook, Chris Hughes, to help man his online operation in 08? No wonder why Obama was pulling in millions of Facebook friends and micro targeting hoards of clueless college students in their dorm rooms. As one McCain-Palin adviser self-deprecatingly observed after the election, "Memo to self: Next time get the co-founder of Facebook on your team."
There will eventually be a chosen Republican candidate to challenge Obama. When that happens, the candidate deserves his or her own Facebook Town Hall. It should be personally moderated by Zuckerberg, just as Obama's was.
If you think the Internet revolution encompasses only areas like business, advertising, publishing and entertainment, you are sorely mistaken — in fact you are delusional.
In less than a decade, starting from nearly nothing, left-wing powerhouse MoveOn.org and that other left-wing web site Media Matters created a force that can put a million volunteers on the ground, can raise $30 million in small donor contributions every cycle (several times that number in 2008 and likely 2012), and never needs help from big check writers. The group's small donors kept Barack Obama even or ahead of Hillary Clinton in fundraising throughout 2007, even while he was 20 points down in the polls, and their activists won him the caucus states by an average of 70-30, ultimately delivering the Democratic nomination.
There is nothing like that kind of online political powerhouse on the right. Nothing.
Conservatives have spent a decent amount of money on technology over the past few years, and they don’t lack for efforts to “be the next MoveOn” (at least if you listen to their fundraising pitches). What’s more, they’ve been quite successful in certain areas of technology, particularly blogging and other alternative media. They know how to use the new medium to broadcast. So why don’t they know how to use it to organize?
A similar question could have been asked of the French Army in 1940.
The tank dominated World War II battlefields, but it was invented in World War I. Needless to say, in 1917 and 1918, tanks were very different: they were slow (5 mph), their main armament was weak, and in many cases, rather than carrying a main gun, they carried a lot of smaller machine guns dispersed around the vehicle. They were also, being based on the automotive technology of the time with massive weight added and battlefield conditions factored in, very unreliable.
The armies that invented the tank saw them as infantry support vehicles, weapons platforms that would help break the trench warfare deadlock of WWI’s western front. As such, they spread them out all along the line with the troops, and gave them the job of machine-gunning pockets of stubborn resistance.
By World War II, tanks had become a lot more sophisticated in virtually every way. The French Army was believed to be the best in the world like the Char B1 (however difficult that may be to believe now), and it also had the heaviest, best armored tanks. But the French had not rethought armored strategy in a generation: it had not even occurred to them to do so — and neither had anyone else except a young Lt. Colonel named Chuck De Gaulle.
In the 1930s, German General Heinz Guderian created a revolution when he realized that tanks were not simply infantry support platforms, but rather, the modern equivalent of cavalry. Guderian realized that the proper use of a tank was not singly along the line, but massed in formation; and that these armored formations should form spearheads, punching through the traditional front line and shooting behind it as far as lines of supply could be maintained. In so doing, the army could encircle its hapless foes and force their surrender with minimal fighting, even if the enemy force was technically superior.
And this is exactly what they did. After overrunning Poland in three weeks, the German army turned on the complacent French and forced the surrender of the world’s finest and largest army in a month. The same France that had held off the Germans for four blood-soaked years a generation earlier went tamely under the Nazi yoke in June of 1940. The better army was defeated by a better understanding of how to use the tools available.
Let’s say that again: it’s not the weapon, it’s what you do with it, and who’s using it.
This is why conservatives are failing online: they are employing an outdated paradigm as their model for use of a revolutionary technology that changes everything.
Their consultants view e-mail as if it were direct mail, but don’t see that online we call that “spam.”
Their candidates hire “social media experts” whose primary qualifications are that they’ve been paid to tweet for someone.
When Barack Obama decided to run for the White House, he didn’t hire a Beltway consultant: he hired a co-founder of Facebook. And he wound up beating odds too high to count.
The left succeeds because it’s serious. It understands the new medium because it hires genuine innovators, people who’ve actually helped build companies worth billions of dollars with tens if not hundreds of millions of users. They are not political junkies with a new toy: they are the best and the brightest in a cutting-edge field that has already completely changed the world. They are the Guderians, Rommels and Pattons of the Internet. They don’t use technology to simply inform or beg for money, they use it as an overall strategy to win.
Which group would you hire? Or to put that another way, would you have your airline pilot – no matter how good he might be – perform your brain surgery?
What the right is leaving on the table is staggering. Gallup tells us that just 20% of Americans self-identify as liberal, 42% call themselves conservative. If 2010 demonstrates anything it is this: That independents are overwhelmingly susceptible to a well-articulated conservative agenda. And Tea Party numbers imply the possibility of an online conservative force more than twice the size of the left’s.
Along with his friends from PayPal and Apple, Rod D. Martin is working to create that force through what they call The Vanguard Project. They have put a lot of money behind it but need more: Billionaire George Soros and his friends put $24 million behind MoveOn in its early stages. It’s not cheap, any more than PayPal or Facebook were cheap. Modern tanks were more expensive than horses too, and needed officers with different experience.
But the clock is ticking. The left has leveraged a minority into dominance: conservatism’s 2010 wave is no match for the full organizational power of our opponents. The Tea Party has given conservatives an army. Whether we back, fund and deploy a modern technological infrastructure to undergird and support that army will determine whether we take back America, or whether we experience the ugly lessons learned by the French Army, or worse, the Polish Cavalry.
Obama told his Facebook audience that he hoped they wouldn’t "get cynical and frustrated about our democracy." What would make us more cynical than watching the biggest media outlet on Earth give the incumbent President a massive in-kind campaign contribution denied to his challenger? Human Events is circulating a petition for Facebook to offer equal time to all candidates. Sign the petition, and demand equal time on Facebook!
Rod D. Martin, founder of The Vanguard Project, is a leading futurist, technology entrepreneur and conservative activist from Destin, Florida. He was part of PayPal.com’s pre-IPO startup team, serving as special counsel to founder and CEO Peter Thiel, and also served as policy director to former Governor Mike Huckabee. He is President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies (NFRA), a member of the Council for National Policy, and serves on numerous nonprofit and for-profit boards.