Titans of Twitter

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.