A Tale of Two Movements

This week I’m in Jerusalem at a conference on Israeli public policy, but last week I spoke at and attended the Right Online conference — and it was an impressive showing.  For my column at The Week, I compared and contrasted the experience at the conservative conclave with reports from Netroots Nation, and the contrast shows which movement seems to be actually moving, and which seems at a standstill:

In contrast, the off-year RightOnline conference in Minneapolis this weekend attracted 1,655 attendees, according to AFP’s Erik Telford, from 42 states and the District of Columbia. An additional 10,000 (or more) watched the general session live online. That’s a 50% increase in attendance alone, and, with all due respect to my own metropolitan area, it’s doubtful that one could attribute the explosion in popularity to the ready availability of lutefisk.

Unlike previous conferences and other grassroots get-togethers or Tea Party events, this gathering had less of an anti-Establishment feel. Speakers, such as my friend and former employer Michelle Malkin, gave qualified praise to the Republican Party for meeting their commitments to the Tea Party in at least an incremental manner, and counseled patience. GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty, who has not had the same kind of grassroots appeal as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain (both of whom also spoke), still received a warm greeting from the crowd. The toughest challenge to the GOP establishment came, unsurprisingly, from Andrew Breitbart, in a much-anticipated keynote address in which he briefly but pointedly criticized Republican leadership. “If you can’t sell freedom and liberty,” Breitbart said to the delight of the crowd, “you suck.”

Meanwhile, over at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the progressives were having an entirely different view of their own establishment:

Contrast that with the other political grassroots conference that took place simultaneously in the Twin Cities, Netroots Nation. Progressives from across the nation met just blocks from RightOnline, at the Minneapolis Convention Center. But from media reports, the two conferences might just as well have been on opposite ends of the earth. Despite the friendly, liberal confines of downtown Minneapolis — Mayor R.T. Rybak personally welcomed Netroots Nation to his city while expressing “tolerance” for his conservative guests at RightOnline — the prevailing mood was that of gloomy anger. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer got greeted with a chorus of boos from the grassroots that helped elevate his boss to the Democratic nomination, while speakers accused Barack Obama of being a “moderate Republican” president.

Actually, that’s more of a comparison than a contrast. The RightOnline crowd frequently booed mentions of Obama as well, but not because they consider him a moderate Republican.

While the Left chased Breitbart out of Netroots Nation simply for showing up, they couldn’t even get themselves arrested at Right Online, as John Hawkins reports:

After my jaunt through enemy territory, I headed back over to home base, where there was a little excitement going on. First off, there were a gaggle of liberal bloggers standing around and I took the opportunity to get some snaps. …

Shortly thereafter, I figured out why they were there. Twenty women in hijabs walked upstairs. I noticed it, but had no clue who they were, what they were doing, or if they were part of some event.

It turns out they were a liberal flash mob.

They were supposedly protesting a blogger “connected to Breitbart” who harassed some Muslim women on the street to the point where he got arrested.

While this was happening, Dan Choi (Remember him?), started doing interviews right in front of the escalators. He was asked to move. He refused. He was asked to move again and he refused. At that point, they were supposedly going to call the cops to move him out of the way.

After a few minutes, nothing had happened, and another staffer came downstairs to ask him what he was doing. Then, and perhaps this is breaking the “reporters shouldn’t be part of the story rule,” I told them that he was trying to get arrested and that they should ignore him. They did and he wasn’t arrested.

I know of a few Right Online attendees who wandered over to Netroots Nation to check out their, er, progress, but not to stage protests and not to get arrested.  The only confrontation came when Breitbart showed up, and that was created by the Netroots Nation attendees, as Sally Kohn wrote at the Huffington Post — a display she said made her “nauseous.”  And let’s not forget the lame glitter attack on Michele Bachmann, either.

One movement is gathering strength and momentum.  The other seems unable to define itself except in opposition to its competition, and angry about its marginalization and impotence.  My, how times change in a little over two years.