I never believed in the Internet's potential to
displace the world of print, nor did I take it seriously at all. It was sometime
in the early 1990s – 1995, perhaps – when Eric
Garris, our webmaster, then a computer publishing specialist at a weekly
magazine, called me up and suggested registering a domain name.
Oh, forget it, who cares about the so-called Internet! It'll
never catch on!
Eric sighed. After a decade or so of knowing me, he was used to displays of
utter certitude, however misplaced. "Okay," he said, "well, just
in case it does take off, what would you suggest as a good domain name?"
Antiwar.com was the obvious choice, on account of our mutual political history:
anti-imperialism had always been the linchpin of our commitment to libertarianism.
In the Libertarian Party, and, later, in the GOP, we consciously sought to build
an anti-interventionist tendency in American politics that was congruent with
our free-market ideology. Together with Murray
N. Rothbard and a number of his associates, we had always made our critique
of America as a republic
evolving into an empire
the prism through which we looked at the world.
The Internet, in the
beginning, was a much smaller and far more ideological place. And in contrast
to today's leftist domination of the blogosphere, in the beginning it was the
Right that had the techno-savvy in its arsenal. Free
Republic was the first really big political Web site, a posting site run
by one Jim Robinson. He had run into censorship on the first posting boards
on account of his rightist views, so he decided to set up an alternative to
the AOL-Yahoo universe, outside the self-enclosed cyber world of the conventional
Free Republic attracted many thousands of registered members, and its history
of conflicts, purges, and purifications charts the troubled and vexatious history
of the American Right from the Clinton era to the age of Obama. Antiwar.com
articles were regularly posted there during the Kosovo war, when it was conservatives
who were questioning our role as the world's policeman and Republican
congressmen who were voting against funding U.S. troops on the battlefield.
Oh, those were the good old days, for sure!
Bush's victory gave new impetus to the online Right, and this was amplified
and maintained by the signal event of his presidency. The attacks on 9/11 greatly
increased the Internet's reach and simultaneously empowered the War Party in
an entirely new way. The neocons began to dominate not only the right-blogosphere,
but also the ostensibly left-wing sites. Antiwar.com was completely isolated
in the immediate
aftermath of 9/11, almost
alone in viewing the attacks as blowback and explicitly warning against the
danger of overreaction.
The hate mail was huge, and threatening. On the other hand, our traffic reached
a new level during this time and forever changed the way we worked and presented
the site: it required professionalizing an operation that had, up until that
point, been a semi-amateur effort. We had to regularize the way we presented
the news and produced original content. It didn't happen overnight, but events
forced us to react, so we did.
The first real successes on the Internet, in terms of political and ideologically
driven sites, came from the Right, for the simple reason that these were the
outsiders, the dissidents, the rebels against the dreadful conformity of the
Clinton years. Banished from the mainstream media by the self-appointed arbiters
of political correctness, the Jim Robinsons and Lucianne Goldbergs pioneered
cyberspace and planted the flag of conservatism in such sites as Free Republic
and Lucianne.com. The latter was a split-off
from the former, a bitter parting of the ways that limned the larger alienation
of the neoconservatives from the populist, anti-government Right.
As soon as the dissidents got into power, however, their domination of the
Internet began to wane. No longer full of vim and vigor, consigned to the role
of defending the decisions of the Cheney administration, they started out full-throated,
but their song came to lack
As the Right began to lose its grip, the anti-Bush online wave began to build.
Such sites as DailyKos.com, Democratic
Underground, and others began to spring up: all the verve, all the vitality,
was now on the Left. DailyKos began to undertake political organizing campaigns
online, in a way that the Freepers (as the denizens of Free Republic dubbed
themselves) never managed to accomplish. They organized conferences
and became a real force in the Democratic Party, as the online representative
of its left-wing-of-the-possible.
This movement spawned a mini-revival of
left-oriented talk radio, and then the corporate types began to sit up and take
notice. MSNBC jumped on the bandwagon, carving out a niche as the televised
version of the leftish blogosphere, with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow rivaling
Fox's numbers for the first time.
Yet the election of Barack Obama and the Democratic sweep of Congress augur
a repetition of the old pattern of victory followed by decline. The online
Left has crested, and it's downhill from here, for two reasons:
(1) They aren't cyber-guerrillas anymore, and the sclerosis that inevitably
sets in when one becomes an apologist for the powers-that-be is already
(2) The corporate connection: In the age of corporate liberalism, it make perfect
sense that the corporate types would attempt to invade and colonize the Internet.
The accelerated economic failure of print media means that, outside of television,
their influence is marginal. In terms of their ongoing campaign to conquer the
Internet, the Huffington Post, with its $25
million investment, is the corporate version of the Normandy invasion.
With its crude amalgam of Matt Drudge-like opinionated headlines, a Hollywood-centric
perspective, and the look of a British tabloid, the Huffpost is corporate America's
idea of what is supposed to appeal to us Internet types. Fast-changing headlines,
flashy graphics, a little bit of sex, all of it mixed up with the pop-liberalism
and annoying narcissism
of Arianna Huffington, who mixes the touchy-feely-ism of cult leader John
Roger, her longtime mentor, with clear aspirations to become the high priestess
of the Obama cult. Each new announcement by the White House is headlined at
Huffpo as if it were a divine revelation. Obama's opponents, no matter what
the issue, are obstinate obstructionists, Obama's only problem being, in Arianna's
opinion, that he doesn't go far enough in his Obama-ism – but, not to worry,
he'll soon see the light…
This kind of balderdash is not only embarrassing, it's boring. The corporate
invasion of cyberspace is headed for a huge crash: if I were those investors,
I'd start asking for at least some of my money back. If it's not too late,
The next Internet tsunami to come along will be blown in by a gust of dissent,
and I think we're in for a major storm. The confluence of economic turmoil and
President Obama's escalation
of the "war on terrorism" in Afghanistan and Pakistan is sure to produce
a new reaction – in the opposite direction, of course. This is the dialectic
that defines the laws of motion on the Internet: the technology enables opposition
to the status quo, whatever that may be, either in politics or in the culture.
This is why governments everywhere fear it and ceaselessly try to chain it –
so far, with limited success.
One final point. The "dialectic" mentioned above doesn't hold true
for Antiwar.com. We were born during the Clinton years and came to prominence
in the Bush era. The age of Obama poses certain challenges, but our mission,
by its very nature, puts us in opposition to the current regime, no matter
who's in charge – so we get to ride the rising wave of opposition, whether
it be from the Right or the Left.
This really underscores the unique nature of our mission, which is to build
a movement that transcends the outmoded categories of "Left" and
"Right," a single-issue anti-interventionist coalition that opposes
the rise of empire and seeks to restore our old republic.
We have made progress over the years, thanks entirely to the support of our
readers. We face the future confident that we've made a difference, and that
we can count on your continued support.
Every nonprofit institution is facing a dire situation in these hard times,
but we've made a lot of friends over the years, and we trust that they'll be
there for us, as they have in the past.
While uncertainty is part of life, this I know for sure: we here at Antiwar.com
have stood on the watchtower, for all these years, warning our readers of coming
dangers that all too often proved prophetic. We've proved our value, time and
again, as the premier news site covering international affairs.
Our success is due to the fact that we've been a force for independent journalism,
loyal not to any faction or party, but to the truth, the facts, the real
news they don't want you to know about. We've kept our vim and vigor and never
fallen prey to partisan politics and loyalties. That's what the corporate model
can't duplicate, no matter how hard they try – and that's what keeps us going,
in spite of everything.