"Follow liberally," exhorts Liz Heron. "You never know who will lead you to discover something unique or important." This is one of "The Rules of Social Media" that Fast Company thinks we all should adhere to.
Heron, who runs social media for the Wall Street Journal, doesn't mean "liberally" in a political sense. But if she did, I would tell her that I don't really have any choice: When it comes to politics, there are no conservatives worth following. This is not good for the conservative movement, and it's not good for America.
Heron is right: The more different kinds of people you follow on Facebook and Twitter, the more likely it is you will come upon something interesting or useful that you might not see if you limit yourself too much. (On the other hand, it's certainly possible to be too liberal -- if you're following tens of thousands of people on Twitter, are you really following anyone at all?)
Social media has the ability to bring us the "serendipity" that was supposedly lost with the advent of new media. Critics of new media warn that we're all encasing ourselves in our own little bubbles, paying attention only to people with whom we already agree. My own experience is just the opposite: I see a lot more different stuff now than I did when all I had was print and broadcast news.
That includes conservative opinion journalism. I see a lot more of it than I used to. The difference is that now, it's nearly all nonsense -- and that's when it's not outright insane. I don't seek it out; it just makes its way into my feed, usually when it's being mocked by one of the smart people I follow. Rush Limbaugh this week declared that President Obama engineered the Chicago teachers' strike so that he could step in and save the day to boost his electoral chances. Before new media, I never heard anything Limbaugh said. Now I hear it all the time.
I've always been open to all credible, honest opinions, including from the right. Before new media came along, I read George Will all the time. And William Safire. And Bill Buckley. And James Kilpatrick. And Robert Novak, who actually did reporting for the column he wrote with Rowland Evans, providing more analysis than mere polemics. I regularly disagreed with all of these people, but I was able to read them, and learn from them, because they were, for the most part, honest brokers. Partisan, but honest. Novak eventually revealed himself to be the Prince of Darkness, and then he died. The rest of them are dead, too, except for Will -- but he's degenerated horribly. I stopped paying attention entirely after he wrote his diatribe against "denim blue jeans" a few years back.
And what are we left with? You might think someone like Erick Erickson might offer something of substance, given that CNN decided he was worth that network's money and airtime. These days, though, the support of CNN means less than nothing. Erickson was chosen only for "balance" by news executives who are driven by ratings, fear, and cluelessness. Erickson is as hacky as the rest of them -- all clichés, empty talking points, and lies. He's an Internet commenter with a big salary.
I really, really want to follow conservatives on social media, but I can't, because they're nearly all hacks now. I tried some libertarians such as the once-very-good Reason magazine and its writers and editors, but among their many other problems, they have allied themselves with the likes of John Stossel, who is about as big a buffoon as a person can be without actually putting on a clown suit. Give me a break, indeed.
Most recently, I tried David Frum, who to his credit is willing to disagree with his ideological cohorts -- even to the point of being labeled an apostate and cast out. But when it comes to it, he's just as much of a witless propagandist as any of them. The New York Times today published an astonishing report by Kurt Eichenwald revealing that the Bush administration was warned far more before 9/11 about an impending attack by al Qaeda than had been previously known. Frum responded with an appalling bit of hackwork that doesn't even really acknowledge Eichenwald's revelations -- whereupon I dumped Frum from my Facebook feed. With his departure, that feed is now almost bereft of conservative or libertarian thought. I think that's a shame.
I follow lots of liberals on social media. Yes, I tend to agree with them more than I do with conservatives -- but that's just the point. I want to also follow people with whom I disagree. I just want them to not be cheap, disingenuous hacks and water-carriers. I have the same test for liberals. The people I follow, such as Salon's Alex Pareene and Mother Jones' Kevin Drum, reliably acknowledge and address the facts that might weigh against their arguments. I don't follow feeds like those from Daily Kos or Michael Moore.
Of the few remaining conservatives who might have something to offer, none are on social media. Frank Fukuyama, sadly, doesn't participate much, and ex-pols who are still on the circuit, like Allan Simpson and George Schultz, don't do social media. Who else is there? Serious question -- I'm open to recommendations.
Meanwhile, the fact that the right has almost nobody left who might appeal to non-allies/moderates/non-partisans -- especially the younger ones who get most of their information via social media -- can't be a good sign for the future of the conservative movement. And if you care at all about the future of American democracy, you'll find that disturbing.