THE PROS VERSUS THE MOB. The other day, the missus and I were watching the Daily Show, and Lewis Black did a very funny rant about things like Conservapedia (created to counter Wikipedia's liberal bias), Fox's "Half Hour Comedy Hour" (created to counter the Daily Show's liberal bias) and Qube TV (created to counter YouTube's liberal bias), and how comically awful they are. "Explain something to me," she said afterward. "Conservatives are so good at campaigns and politics -- they craft effective messages, they make brilliant TV ads, and so on -- so why is it that when they try to do stuff like this, the results are so ridiculously lame?"

It was an excellent question, and I think I know the answer. It's the Republican professionals who are really good at politics. They're smart, they're experienced, they're ruthless, and they usually don't let their views on how they'd like things to be distort their judgments about what will be politically effective. The conservative rank-and-file, however ... well, not so much. It would be too much of a stretch to say that the other side of the aisle is precisely the inverse -- there are many smart and skilled Democratic strategists, and plenty of rank-and-file liberals who are dumb as a bag of hammers ("Once Dick Cheney gets a load of this ten-foot puppet and my 'Free Mumia' sign, the walls of the overclass are going to crumble!") -- but not by much. When conservative professionals set out to do something, it is likely to be well-funded and professionally run (here's today's example). But when it's just a bunch of ordinary righties who get together to fight the liberals, you get ... well, you get Conservapedia and Qube TV. On the other hand, rank-and-file liberals will certainly create lots and lots of garbage, but they'll also create MoveOn, DailyKos, and other extremely successful enterprises.

So is this just something that has to do with technology and media? After all, the conservative movement of the last forty years was something of a bottom-up enterprise, and it's been pretty darn successful. And no, "We're smarter than they are" is not an acceptable answer. So what's going on here?

--Paul Waldman

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