On Saturday at the Defending the American Dream summit I got a chance to sit down with several interesting attendees and hold some short, purposeful interviews with interesting results. The blogging room was packed, but from what I could tell most of those there were still just doing exactly what they would normally do at home. They’d go out now and then and attend some of the break-out sessions and seminars, but for the most part they sat around and typed on the computer. I was about the only blogger, aside from Mark Johnson who did a live show on
The good folks from Americans for Prosperity were well intentioned, but seemed not to have figured out how to effectively make use of the powerful tool which 30-40 captive bloggers could be. I pestered them some and as a result they managed to bring a few of the featured guests into the blogging area, but they clearly had trouble getting any of the more interesting or important people in there, and the few they did get to come see us clearly didn’t really know what was going on or what they were doing there. Most of these guests are of an older generation or have limited internet experience and don’t really understand the value of talking to bloggers, and the AFP staff clearly hadn’t figured out how to impress that idea on them.
Most of those I interviewed I had to go out and get myself. Two who I talked to on Saturday were brought in by AFP staff, but they would have gone for a quick tour and then walked out had I not aggressively made sure that they sat down to talk with me and a couple of other bloggers who were sitting nearby. Most of the bloggers seemed not to understand the value of interviewing notable attendees or just weren’t equipped to take the initiative to get anyone to sit down and talk to them. Some had far better video equipment than I did, but I was the only one with the will or the people skills to grab people and ask for an interview. I didn’t get everyone I wanted. Somehow Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund managed to sneak out on me while I was getting a drink, but I did end up getting some good material down in digital.
My first interview of the day was with WSJ columnist Stephen Moore, who was there primarily for a book signing and was being toured through the area by his publicist when I grabbed him and virtually made him sit down to talk. He was a bit disoriented at first – and my opening question probably didn’t help – but his new book The End of Prosperity (co-authored with Arthur Laffer and Peter Tanous) is very interesting and potentially important and his insights on the current economic crisis come through well in the interview. While the picture he paints is bleak, he does suggest that there is some hope, but also makes it very clear that the road we are currently on is the road to disaster.
One interview I wanted to make sure to get was with Washington-based ‘crasher-in-chief’ of Bureaucrash, Peter Eyre. Of all the groups on the right who I’m in regular contact with, Bureaucrash seems to have most successfully tapped into the radical youth market, reminding me very much of the mindset which prevailed at Students for a Libertarian Society when I was working with them in the early 1980s. That kind of political punk attitude is very much alive and well at Bureaucrash, with their provocative t-shirts, constructionist-style web design and general cockiness. It was a telling commentary on the DAD summit that they really weren’t particularly out of place. In fact, a lot of the groups in the exhibit area represented scholarship funds, internship and training programs aimed at young, liberty minded conservatives.
My final interview of the day was with Steve Lonegan, recently retired mayor of Bogota, New Jersey. He’s the leader of the New Jersey chapter of the AFP and made a very powerful speech in the mains session of the congress. The AFP staff managed to drag him into the blogger area and I’m not sure he was entirely clear on where he was, but he played along gamely and gave some interesting answers. My knowledge of New Jersey politics is fairly rudimentary, but he dealt with it well and we found some common ground. I think he may have a shot at bigger and better things if New Jersey starts to lean more to the right.
I would have gladly done more interviews. I certainly had the time for it, but having to rely mainly on my own efforts to get people into the blogging area long enough for a chat was challenging. The big ticket speakers have other places to be and unless they’re promoting something they don’t have much motivation to make themselves available. They tend to make their speech, shake a few hands and hit the road as fast as they can. I’d really have liked to have a shot at even five or ten minutes with John Stossel or Herman Kain or James Inhofe, but I never saw them anywhere but on stage or as they were leaving the building.
If Americans for Prosperity is serious about developing RightOnline and using the internet to promote their ideas, they need to think about how they use the resources at their command. They did a great job getting a bunch of influential bloggers together in one place. They did a great job putting on a program of speakers for their members. Yet to some degree all of that was wasted because they didn’t bring those to elements together so that the bloggers could be used as a tool to disseminate their message to a much larger audience. Even bringing in more second-tier people like some of the authors they had signing books or some of their panelists would have been a good move. There should have been at least one VIP guest circulating in the blogger area giving interviews or at least just chatting with bloggers every hour, and for a reasonable period of time. The AFP staff could have impressed on them the value of that kind of exposure and the bloggers would have risen to the occasion. What you really don’t want to do is bring a whole bunch of bloggers together and them leave them with nothing to do except talk to each other and write the same old stuff they’d be writing at home.