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October, 24th 2007

The right wing blogosphere descends into full-scale internice war over... Ron Paul supporters

– Liz Mair

I've been working on a bunch of stuff today, so while I've been online a bit, I haven't been blogging.

But, there's something very serious going on in the right-wing blogosphere today, and I feel I must now weigh in, despite the fact that my voice is less well-heard and softer than those of some other conservative/center-right/whatever bloggers.

Conservative blog (and occasional old foe) RedState took a pretty controversial step on Monday to deal with an apparent "scourge" of Ron Paul supporters. As the Politico put it:

The influential conservative blog Redstate.com placed a ban last night on all Paul commentary from readers who are recent arrivals to the blog.

This ban has caused quite a flurry of complaints. Obviously, many of them come from Ron Paul supporters, themselves, who feel locked out of a major conservative forum. But, among those complaining are also a fellow blogger I am proud to consider a friend, Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters and David All, of the David All Group.

Yesterday, Captain Ed wrote this of the ban:

Redstate has made a mistake in dealing with the Ron Paul Internet phenomenon. Instead of dealing quietly with trolls, the excellent conservative blog has announced a blanket policy banning supporting diaries and comments for Ron Paul from the site.

[...]

It's their community, of course, and they set the rules. However, this doesn't hurt Paul's credibility as much as it does Redstate's. While Paul's supporters tend towards the annoying and repetitive, they have less impact because we can easily engage them and counter their arguments. Banning them simply for their support for a candidate seems more like an admission that Redstate lacks that ability.


RedState responded politely enough to Captain Ed. But then cameDavid All's comments today, which the NYT picked up on:

I agree with Captain Ed. Generally, Republicans need to welcome Ron Paul (and all others willing to wear a Republican banner) to the debate and the discussion. If Ron Paul doesn't win the nomination, we need him to actively endorse and support the winner so that his supporters will use their energy to defeat Hillary.

Personally, I recognize that Paul's support is very, very real, especially in the politics + tech sphere. He is the people-powered Howard Dean candidate of 2008 which I've been saying we need to "prove" the importance of an effective Internet strategy. He is that Revolution.


And then, Erick at RedState went spare. Some highlights of Erick's shall we say "aggressive" response to David:

David All, chimed in to agree with Captain Ed [...] Not to be outdone, at least I gather this from the reporters who called me, David then pitched the story to them. Said one of the reporters, David made the case that "it would be like the New York Times shutting people out."

David is entitled to his opinion and to riding our story into the media spotlight as a professional tech consultant if he wants, but I have to question if he is too enamored by the technology the Ron Paul supporters use to see clearly what we've experienced, what we've done, and if he really, really wants these folks in his anti-Hillary coalition.

[...]

I think David has become infatuated with the technology more so than the ideology. That's all well and good, but I really don't want David being the tech-strategist on the right the media goes to for comment if he's more dazzled by the bells and whistles than by the cause.

[...]

David thinks Ron Paul's campaign is the tech revolution he's been looking for. It's such a stellar revolution, that a small, angry horde of Ron Paul supporters can blast away online polls, yet barely register on the ground.

As ABC News's Jake Tapper notes, this same group of technologists David All wants as part of our coalition, sees nothing wrong with advertising on a Neo-Nazi website.

These same Ron Paul supporters David wants as part of the coalition, or at least allowed to blog at RedState, like to think of us, a fairly mainstream Republican site, as "Zionist kikes."

These same Ron Paul supporters buy into a neo-con/Council on Foreign Relations conspiracy to shut out Ron Paul (not to mention the Zionists).

And this is the same Ron Paul who said *he* will not support the Republican nominee. If the godhead of the Ron Paul revolution won't support the Republican nominee, can we, with a straight and serious face, really believe that these people David wants in our coalition are going to stick around?

If David All wants to bring in these people to beat Hillary, he can have at it.

[...]

I think David is using our story to get himself some attention as a professional tech consultant on the right. David can ride our news into media punditry if he wants, he's good at it, but I think he needs to get a better grasp on the issues and ideology coming before the technology before going to Wired, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.


Wow.

Let me repeat that: Wow.

To step back to the original point of dispute (whether or not RedState should ban any Paulites at all), let me say that I generally share Captain Ed and David's views. While ultimately, RedState is the domain of RedState editors, and they can do what they like about banning users and the like, I think they've shown a happiness to do so at the drop of a hat before in order to silence debates of a type they don't especially like (two of my users back at GOPProgress were banned, one for suggesting that Fred Thompson was pro-choice, another for being too libertarian or somesuch-- really not very significant stuff). And I don't think RedState's evident past willingness to pull the "banning" trigger is a particularly good thing in the blogosphere.

While ejection of users on a private site by the editorial board does not constitute "censorship" as some Paulites, especially, will happily claim, it is nonetheless ill-advised as a method used with regularity because a) it makes the people doing the banning look like wimps (as I think David and Captain Ed alluded to) b) it engenders bad will and helps reinforce perceptions of conservatives being unwilling to listen to dissenting points of view or engage in debate and c) it gives the impression of a community being elitist-- which is I think not the image that RedState wants to project (since they're usually pretty happy to place scorn on liberals for elitism).

Of course, I have also been in the difficult position of editing a "community" blog, and was also forced on two occasions to ban users. One was a guy encouraging all Republicans to vote against Republicans, and posting numerous times a day (clogging up the site). Another was Jeremy Funk from Americans United for Change, who a) clearly did not belong on a moderate-libertarian Republican blog and b) was there to object to me saying his group sucked monkey bums for targeting certain Republicans that many of my users really like over issues not connected to unions, when his group is, well, a union front group.

Long story short: I understand that sometimes people need to be ejected, and if they're posting anything profane, racist, etc., or obviously trolling (as Jeremy Funk, posting as Jeremy Funk clearly was). But I still think that banning people should be avoided as much as possible-- and I don't think RedState uses the "banning" tool with as much moderation as they might be advised to. Is it fair to ban racist Paulites posting racist messages on RedState? Absolutely. But I think placing a blanket ban on all new users "shilling" for Ron Paul (which I think could easily be confused with legitimate positive commenting about Ron Paul) is a different matter-- and it is excessive and a tad draconian.

Whatever, though. I'm not a RedState editor, and given the philosophical differences I often encounter with members of their editorial board, nor would I care to be. But I do think they serve a valuable purpose in the blogosphere, I'm glad they're there, and I don't want to see their integrity or reputation compromised.

Which, unfortunately, is exactly what has now happened. I know that Erick and the boys will disagree with me (as they often do). But, I genuinely believe it. The first mistake came with the blanket-no-new-users-speaking-favorably-of-Ron-Paul ban. The second came with attacking David All personally and professionally, which I frankly think was just uncalled for (it being indeed recognized that some construed David's discussions about the story as efforts at taking down a major conservative blog, run by supposed friends).

I've been attacked by RedState folks before, too, so it's certainly not a new thing to see these guys take a pop at someone who generally operates in the same sphere. But it is nonetheless unnecessary, and creates an atmosphere of strife within the right-wing blogosphere that frankly, I don't think we need right now.

The Republican Party, and conservatives, generally, are in a much greater state of disarray than I think many of us want to acknowledge. Our candidates are struggling to raise money. Our non-profits (or many of them) are in the same position. The party is increasingly (from my view, anyway) being split between all-around conservatives, moderates friendly to neoconservatism, libertarians, old-school Rockefeller Republicans, and big government social conservatives, and I'm just not sure we need the pundit-activist types fighting amongst ourselves on this kind of level as well.

I would respectfully suggest to Erick that he walk back his criticism of David All a bit. Partly, I do so because I think the tone of what he wrote is just plain unnecessarily nasty (David may be flawed in his thinking on RedState's ban, but to make out that he's just hyping his objections to make money is a bit crude, I think). Partly, I do so because as someone who receives countless emails every day from Ron Paul supporters, and libertarian-minded folks who find his candidacy interesting and feel aggrieved at having been "left behind" by the GOP, I can certify that Captain Ed indeed has a point when he says that he disagrees that Paul supporters are all or mostly cryptoliberals. Likewise, I agree with David that "Republicans need to welcome Ron Paul (and all others willing to wear a Republican banner) to the debate and the discussion." The fact is, not all of his supporters are loons. Nor are all of his supporters (or even most, based on my experience) racists or conspiracy theorists.

Tonight, I attended a speech given by Paul at American University. I thought it would be fun to attend, and my husband was interested in hearing him "in the flesh," so we went.

I can tell readers that a lot of the people supporting him in the room were Republicans-- Republicans wearing elephant pins, and carrying bumper stickers that said things like "Founding Member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy." Yes, there were some long-haired hippies excited about talking about legalizing pot (there always are)-- but surprisingly few.

I don't think that RedState is well-advised to turn away the likes of 75-80% of tonight's audience. And I don't think that RedState is well-advised to hit out at fellow conservative bloggers, who have in mind at least to some degree the same ends (getting new bodies in, energizing the GOP, and keeping Hillary out of the White House).

UPDATE: I have had some correspondence since posting this with a couple of other bloggers. I think there's a real sense that the way David handled this story was the wrong way to go, and that it hasn't been widely appreciated. I understand that, I guess my final point on this for tonight is just that the response felt a bit heavy-handed to me-- and that while we all (myself included) engage in a certain degree of divisiveness, this just felt like something that promotes that a bit too much, in my opinion.

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