Political Animal


May 14, 2012 12:10 PM Titans of Twitter

By Ed Kilgore

In a discussion of the Romney campaign’s outreach to the wingnutosphere earlier this month, I mentioned in passing the apparent preoccupation of these new partners in crime with Twitter wars, and particularly the belief that Hilaryrosengate represented some sort of historic triumph for The Cause.

This preoccupation seems to be growing, viz. this gloating post today from John Hinderaker at PowerLine:

We are in the early stages of the 2012 campaign season, with a lot of battlespace preparation going on. In the skirmishing so far, one perhaps surprising media advantage has become clear: the right is clobbering the left on Twitter.
Maybe it’s because Twitter puts a premium on brevity and cleverness. I don’t know. But for some reason, it seems to be a natural medium for conservatives. We saw it when the Hilary Rosen interview (“Ann Romney never worked a day in her life”) prompted a Twitterstorm. We saw it again when #ObamaEatsDogs exploded, and when #Julia blew up in the White House’s face like an exploding cigar. Currently, the White House is promoting #AskMichelle, where loyal Democrats can go to ask the First Lady a question. Only nearly all of the questions have come from conservatives.

Now maybe I’m just an old goat who doesn’t understand why Twitterwars will determine the configuration of forces in the 2012 campaign. I’m a reasonably active Twitter user, but mainly use it to (a) draw attention to blog posts, columns, and other longer content I’ve written, (b) follow other people’s longer content, and (c) occasionally track breaking news—real news that hasn’t been written up yet, not contrived crap like Hilaryrosengate. Sure, I may toss out a snarky one-liner now and then, and have now and then used Twitter for live-blogging of events like candidate debates. I also realize that campaigns and other political organizations effectively use Twitter to organize communications or events. But truth be told, I can’t imagine that purely Twitter-centric snarkfests have any particular impact on media coverage of politics, much less actual public opinion.

For the moment, I’m actually kind of pleased that conservative gabbers seem determined to spend so much of their time firing leaden witticisms at the hated foe or high-fiving each other in 140-character bursts. Like Hinderaker, but for different reasons, I tend to agree there may be something about the contemporary conservative perspective that lends itself to this limited medium where frat-boy insults can pass for epigrams. But unless more evidence emerges that quantitative domination of Twitter has some larger effect, I’m happy to use Twitter mainly as a flag for more extensive utterances, and let these boys enjoy their sandbox supremacy. To quote the old saying about academic politics, it’s violently exciting because the stakes are so low.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Kris on May 14, 2012 12:29 PM:

    We are on the same page, Ed. I suspect that conservatives are just hungry for any win they can claim in the social media world.

  • stormskies on May 14, 2012 12:35 PM:

    Why do they need Twitter when they already have the vast majority of the corporate media. Just look at this article below from C&L. Yep, there it is: David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory a keynote speaker at a conservative fundraiser. Of course we all remember when he danced for Karl Rove.

    May 14, 2012 09:00 AM

    NBC Anchor a Keynote Speaker at Conservative Fundraiser

    By Nicole Belle

    Elder statesman of the NBC News Department Tom Brokaw has a very specific notion of how the people in the news division should comport themselves. He was so unhappy with what he perceived as the degradation of NBC News' objectivity that he demanded that Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews not be allowed to do any more live coverage of election events in 2008, actually offering himself up as a diplomatic liaison to the McCain campaign, smarting from some Olbermann barbs. Later, he played a key role in seeing that MSNBC rid themselves of Olbermann once and for all (not that Olbermann's actions endeared him to the NBC/MSNBC suits).

    Oddly enough, Brokaw seems to have little issue with his Nightly News replacement spoofing the NBC News department on 30 Rock or participating in a Black Eyed Peas lipdub. That doesn't detract from the gravitas of the position at all.

    Nor does openly working for a Republican advocacy group: (h/t Captain Kangaroo)

    The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which calls itself “the voice of small business,” is one of the Republican party’s strongest allies. The group spent over $1 million on outside ads in the 2010 campaign — all of it backing Republican House and Senate candidates (and, Bloomberg News reported last month, “another $1.5 million that it kept hidden and said was exempt” from disclosure requirements). The group is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Obamacare law and bankrolled state governments’ challenges to the law. The NFIB has also taken stances against allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, opposing regulations on businesses, and supporting curtailing union rights.

    Given the group’s obvious Republican alliance, it comes as little surprise that the NFIB’s three-day 2012 Small Business Summit, which begins Monday, will feature headliners Karl Rove and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

    But the first name and photo on the invitation for the $150-per-person event — Tuesday’s “keynote address” speaker — is NBC’s Meet the Press host David Gregory. He is marketed by NBC as an anchor and “trusted journalist.”

    Trusted, really? That's a Caveat Emptor statement if ever I heard one.

  • TR on May 14, 2012 12:40 PM:

    Of course they love Twitter. It relies on bumper sticker slogans and insults. It's a technology that is used by people with nothing worth saying to impress people with short attention spans.

    And, most of all, it's the perfect technology for people who live in a media bubble where they want to pick and choose what "facts" they accept.

  • thebewilderness on May 14, 2012 12:42 PM:

    I'm not sure "the trolls are winning the Twitter" is something to be proud of.

  • boatboy_srq on May 14, 2012 12:48 PM:

    Twitter is to the Internet as the bumper sticker is to the conventional campaign. It's the perfect venue for oversimplified, misleading sloganeering. No wonder the Reichwing likes it.

    Mr. Kilgore, your post typefies the problem the anti-Reichwing ("the Left" is so misleading in this case, since it's essentially anyone anti-fascist) with this: "[I] mainly use it to (a) draw attention to blog posts, columns, and other longer content I’ve written, (b) follow other people’s longer content..." The key here is longer content: the Reactionaries don't know how to produce that "longer content" in any meaningful, sustainable form(see Goldberg, Jonah, et al), so short, catchy phrases are the most effective tools they have. The rest of the political spectrum cannot use Twitter as the Reichwing does because of the significant item we know as nuance: the Reichwing either doesn't understand or hasn't the patience to handle nuance, so they don't deal with it, where the rest of the political spectrum does and can't fit it in either the traditional readable-at-five-carlengths strip or the modern 140-characters-or-less format.

  • boatboy_srq on May 14, 2012 12:53 PM:

    @TR - beat me to it.

  • exlibra on May 14, 2012 12:54 PM:

    Let the twits twitter; I'll stick to well reasoned arguments.

  • Ken on May 14, 2012 12:56 PM:

    To me the weird thing is that most of the GOP base doesn't use twitter. A lot of them still use the same rotary-dial phone they got when they bought their house in 1958.

  • Bruce K on May 14, 2012 12:57 PM:

    the mouth-breathers love it because the form doesn't require (or allow for) evidence, so lies can be floated as fact

  • CRA on May 14, 2012 12:57 PM:

    "Maybe it’s because Twitter puts a premium on brevity and cleverness. I don’t know. But for some reason, it seems to be a natural medium for conservatives."

    Twitter puts a premium on brevity, period. Conservatives rely on sound bites, sloganeering, and propaganda -- all as simple as possible. People who value analysis, nuance, etc. will use Twitter in limited ways, so I guess they'll lose the Twitter wars.

    "Currently, the White House is promoting #AskMichelle, where loyal Democrats can go to ask the First Lady a question. Only nearly all of the questions have come from conservatives."

    If the White House didn't frame #AskMichelle as a place for loyal dems (not others) to pose questions, I don't see the point of these sentences. A bunch of twits are "winning" by bugging Michelle's staff in a way that was anticipated and sanctioned? High fives all around!

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on May 14, 2012 12:57 PM:

    They're excited because it's all they've got. Also, it's what th3 kidz use, so it makes it seem like they're hep, I mean, hip. After getting clobbered by Obama in the social media arena in 2008, they're hungry for a win.

    Maybe it will matter. Most likely it will not. Twitter has an impact when it spreads a meme. When it's just the same echo chamber spouting off to each other, it's not really relevant.

  • 2Manchu on May 14, 2012 1:04 PM:

    You can find the same level of "brevity and cleverness" in a restroom stall.

  • Ron Byers on May 14, 2012 1:07 PM:

    Twitter is important because it is the source of most "deep insights" shared by our very famous and insightful broadcast "journalists."

  • Brooklyn Michael on May 14, 2012 1:07 PM:

    This is John Hinderaker we're talking about. He gloats when his can of soda doesn't spray him in the face when he opens it.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 14, 2012 1:11 PM:

    Well, at least the knuckledraggers know how to use their opposable thumbs...

    How ironic. I'm a millenial and was actually discussing with my boomer boss the self-absorbed and petty silliness that can go on in the realms of cyberspace. (She just started a FB account and couldn't figure out how fifty-eleven people have discovered her new account...)

    I have a facebook account that I haven't touched since 2007, and I really don't understand the mechanics of twittering/tweeting, so I haven't bothered to start a twitter account. I always thought that Twitter was like "Facebook Status Updates on Speed", anyway. And why bother, everyone just re-tweets everything in the media, anywho. But if the cretins are dominating Twitter, I guess I must not be missing too much.

  • badpoetry on May 14, 2012 1:14 PM:

    All the answers to why conservative dominate on Twitter are contained herein: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=putQn89TQzc

  • stinger on May 14, 2012 1:27 PM:

    "Maybe it’s because Twitter puts a premium on brevity and cleverness. I don’t know."

    One of these two sentences is the truest thing Hinderaker ever wrote.

  • SYSPROG on May 14, 2012 1:38 PM:

    I'm with you on this Ed! I think TWITTER just shows how snarky and low information little 'insults' hurled in 140 characters are stupid. I don't think it's 'moving' the twitterverse.

  • g on May 14, 2012 1:42 PM:

    How exactly did Julia "blow up in their faces?" Conservatives criticized it? Heavens! If having your opponents criticize your marketing tactics constitutes a defeat, I'm surprised the right has the courage to get out of bed each morning.

    Oh, and claiming victory for "ObamaEatsDog" is kind of like claiming victory for leaving a flaming bag of poo on the doorstep.

  • Anonymous on May 14, 2012 2:08 PM:

    Oh, and claiming victory for "ObamaEatsDog" is kind of like claiming victory for leaving a flaming bag of poo on the doorstep.

    Actually, claiming victory for that does little more than remind everyone of their candidate's dog shitting itself at 60 mph while strapped to the top of a car.

  • SecularAnimist on May 14, 2012 2:38 PM:

    "Maybe it’s because Twitter puts a premium on brevity and cleverness. I don’t know. But for some reason, it seems to be a natural medium for conservatives."

    That's a pretty clear acknowledgement that "conservatives" think in bumper sticker slogans.

  • TCinLA on May 14, 2012 2:39 PM:

    Maybe it’s because Twitter puts a premium on brevity and cleverness. I don’t know. But for some reason, it seems to be a natural medium for conservatives.

    No, Twitter doesn't put a premium on cleverness; it puts a premium on brainless cluelessness on the part of idiots. You can only use simple one-syllable words and not many of them, which fits the small wingnut brain perfectly. And that is why it's a "natural medium for conservatives" since it's really perfect time-waster that lets these bipeds lacking frontal lobes and opposable thumbs think they are doing something useful.

  • FlipYrWhig on May 14, 2012 3:27 PM:

    What exactly do you win when you "win" Twitter "wars"? Is it like that trend where Howard Stern fans would say "Baba Booey" at inappropriate times?

  • grape_crush on May 14, 2012 3:41 PM:

    Bumper-sticker medium for bumper-sticker thoughts.

    Plus, Twitter can be easily manipulated to give the appearance of there being a mass wave of interest…and it’s no secret that right-whingers like Hinderaker value quantity of thought over quality.

    It’s whoever shouts the loudest, right?

  • Steve P on May 14, 2012 4:30 PM:

    My God, is AssRocket still around?
    Wish the Horse was still active--only way to tell these Little Segretti's apart

  • Fred on May 14, 2012 4:30 PM:

    Really? I have been on twitter a lot lately and the only thing I ever see is people making fun of the right wing nutjobs and their stupid faux controversies.

    As soon as some nut goes on there and spews the latest right wing nonsense they immediately get inundated.

    So whatever. If you right wing nutjobs think you are winning the twitter go crazy yelling amongst yourselves in 140 characters or less. LOL!

  • smintheus on May 14, 2012 5:37 PM:

    Conservatives could also totally dominate the political talk on shortwave with a little more investment in time/resources, and with approximately as much effect on the election.

  • Fred on May 14, 2012 8:45 PM:

    Can anyone remember who ran against FDR for his second re-election? It was Republican Alf Landon.

    So Rmoney will also become a footnote in history as "Lost 2012 election but won twitter"

  • BigFurHAt on May 14, 2012 9:34 PM:

    I counted the characters on many of the brainy comments on this thread. They fit the 140 character limit nicely.
    For the ones that went over the limit, they really shouldn't have.

  • TooMuchTime on May 15, 2012 1:57 PM:

    @Fred -- Can you remember who ran against Jimmy Carter for his "second re-election?" It was Republican Ronald Reagan.

    So Obama will also become a footnote in history as "Just another typical failed socialist that served only one term."

  • Mr. Pinko on May 15, 2012 2:04 PM:

    You just need 11 characters

    Obama blows