The Next Right, a group blog started by young Republican political consultants in May 2008, draws frequent comparisons to Daily Kos, the hugely popular left-leaning group blog. “There’s a legitimate criticism that [the right] has not fully embraced modern ways of communicating, including the Internet,” says Patrick Ruffini, one of the site’s founders. “We’ve become a little sclerotic and bureaucratic. We need new blood. The Web is a medium for activism. It’s National Review for a new generation.”
The growth of centrist heterodoxy and engagement with culture in conservative publications are linked by more than their resemblance to their liberal models. Both spring from the recognition by a younger generation of conservatives that trends in popular culture, such as an expanding tolerance of homosexuality, favor Democrats.
Liberal publications seriously engage with culture, while conservatives have largely ignored popular culture, except to decry its excesses. The Nation and The New Republic publish sections of literary and artistic reviews of everything from film and painting to novels and scientific nonfiction. They have launched major cultural critics, such as James Wood, Lee Siegel, and Louis Menand. Salon and Slate, the two leading left-of-center online magazines, feature as much cultural and lifestyle content as they do political features.
“The establishment places on the right won’t run a cover on comic books because their readers are all seventy years old,” says Julian Sanchez, a libertarian writer who wrote a cover story for the liberal American Prospect on the emergence of anti-Bush comic books. “In print, the limitation is their market more than the editors’ interests.” (Of course, the print subscribers to magazines like The American Prospect and The Nation are famously geriatric as well.)
But these new conservative Web sites are not bound by such limitations. They don’t have an existing subscriber base and Internet users are younger than print readers. The difference is apparent, and not only on sites that are explicitly cultural. Frum’s wonky New Majority featured a debate about whether sports fans are more conservative than other people. In its short life, Culture11 framed its mission as a “center-right Slate.” Typical articles included an examination of the declining television ratings of the Miss America Pageant, and a trend piece on humorous children’s books. Big Hollywood, meanwhile, is expressly banking on these new realities. “Any Republicans thinking we can win on our ideas of freedom and liberty have missed the pop-cultural train that has left the station,” says Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Big Hollywood and an alumnus of The Drudge Report. “Obama’s on it and we don’t have a track and we don’t have a train. Conservatives have abdicated their obligation to be oriented toward pop culture. If you want to be ascendant, you have to engage pop culture.” By contrast, the cultural sensibility on display on the National Review’s Web site (never mind the print edition) is comically out of touch, epitomized by a recent discussion about the genius of the late Ricardo Montalbán, a former Chrysler spokesman who starred in the television program Fantasy Island, which aired from 1977–84.