Skip to comments.Free Republic Dot Com ( An outsider review of an amazing site. )
Posted on 10/07/2001 5:34:17 AM PDT by vannrox
Conservatism in the English-speaking world has gotten a bad rap for the last, oh, say, 200 years. Ever since the Romantics decided that real artists needed to shatter society's conventions for the sake of shattering them and essentially thumb their noses at time-honored customs and morals, most anyone claiming to be hip, edgy or just plain cool has been assumed be a liberal. In other words, the nose-ring crowd is on the Left, and those complacent, hypocritical, SUV-driving, suburban-living, bourgeois stuffed-shirts get shunted onto the Right.
The Clinton years only highlighted and deepened this divide. Despite the fact that most of the youth today are firmly liberal, the insidious rise of political correctness, the almost total dominance of the Left on America's campuses and media, the complete collapse of such Religious Right shibboleths as the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority and last year's farcical Buchanan presidential bid, there are many on the Left who still believe that the conservatives in general wield a disproportionate amount of power and are endlessly plotting to acquire more and more of it.
Whether it's, to use Christopher Hitchens' phrase, that "war criminal" Henry Kissinger and his sinister Bilderberg group, the greedy and black-hearted backroom boys of the WTO, the racist Florida Republican Party machine and its stooges on the Supreme Court (featuring someone the Hawaii ACLU calls that "Hitler," "serial murderer" and "Uncle Tom," Clarence Thomas,) or most famously, Hillary Rodham Clinton's "vast right-wing conspiracy," many liberals appear to genuinely believe that much of the conservative movement is actively involved in a gigantic, worldwide plot of frightening proportions to deprive everyone except themselves of all that is good in life.
All right, perhaps I exaggerate a bit here, but after having heard the words "racist" and "fascist" suddenly equal the word "conservative" lately, after having Rep. Pete Stark call Bush's budget "the embodiment of the Anti-Christ" and after the "independent" US Commission on Civil Rights (the chairwoman campaigned for Gore) leaked a report subtly implying that Florida blacks were disenfranchised, while not finding one single person, black or white, that was actually prevented from voting, or even worse, not even showing the final draft of the report to the Commission's two Republican members, one of whom is blind, there is understandably a great deal of anger on the Right these days. If you are looking for where the locus of this conservative anger might have their head offices, then look no further than FreeRepublic.com, the self-described "Premier Conservative News Forum."
FreeRepublic is, to use their words, "an online gathering place for independent, grass-roots conservatism on the Web. We're working to roll back decades of governmental largesse, to root out political fraud and corruption, and to champion causes which further conservatism in America... Free Republic is a loosely organized group of grassroots Americans who support our Constitution and look for honesty, integrity and honor from those in government." With at least 50,000 members (also known as Freepers,) it is the largest news forum anywhere on the Web. Its left-wing rivals, Democratic Underground, Bartcop and Smirking Chimp, do not even come close to FR's membership, though all four forums' members seem to enjoy flame wars about the merits of their respective sites.
FR even has a smaller Canadian equivalent, FreeDominion. Its major right-wing rival, Lucianne.com (run by former Freeper Lucianne Goldberg) is a breakaway site from FR. It's less popular because of its ban on autobiographical "vanity posts," the prohibition on chatting with other forum members and a night staff much given to closing threads and banning members seemingly at random. The FR-hated and moribund Salon is constantly writing articles about FR, once even sending a reporter (who didn't announce his employer till he was inside) to a Freeper meeting.
Apart from its size, FR boasts a unique history. Founded in 1996 by Fresno, California computer executive Jim Robinson after he became wheelchair-bound from multiple sclerosis and unable to work full-time, FR is a real Internet success story. Mr. Robinson has recently been honored with the National Federation of Republican Assemblies' Ronald Reagan Freedom Award for his efforts on behalf of conservatism in America. This is even more remarkable given that the site is funded entirely by donations and is currently involved in a hotly disputed lawsuit with both the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times over FR's use of the newspapers' articles.
The content is a mixed and very lively bag. The size of the forum ensures that it is constantly active with posts and replies, with the busiest time being after 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, though the best time to read new articles before they get encumbered with comments is right after midnight on the East Coast. There are at least a few Freepers who only post in the dead of the night, though sometimes the same articles are posted once, twice, sometimes even going into the double digits.
FreeRepublic has its own lingo. An example is "RINO," a left-leaning Republican In Name Only, such as Lincoln Chaffee, John McCain or, once, James Jeffords. A "freepathon" is a post which is constantly bumped up to the top page and is used especially to raise money for the continual operation of the site. The verb "to freep" means to slant an online poll by voting for it from a conservative position, signing conservative petitions and filling a liberal petition with fake signatures and mocking comments, writing letters of protest to politicians or simply showing up to protest a politician personally. A "clymer" is an asshole, named after what President Bush called New York Times political reporter, Adam Clymer, during a Labor Day parade.
FR also has its share of characters, whom you will begin to notice if you lurk long enough. One of note is the superb satirist Registered, who can work wonders with photographs and is the author of the "Sore Loserman" logo seen everywhere in Republican circles during last November's Florida debacle. Then there's TLBSHOW, king of the vanity posts; _Jim, much-hated government apologist; Michael Rivero, conspiracy hunter du jour; Inspector Harry Callahan, who believes the moon landings were faked and is FR's resident extreme right-wing wacko and Murraymom, FR's best-known and best-loved liberal gadfly.
Unlike Lucianne and Democratic Underground, FR management is surprisingly tolerant of "disrupters" who go against the forum's ideological bent, as long as they try to be "thoughtful" in their criticisms. If you are a liberal poster, though, expect to get nasty personal attacks as well as polite disagreement.
FreeRepublic and its Freepers both confirm and deny many of the accepted stereotypes about conservatives in general. The official policy is that "Free Republic does NOT condone bigotry or violence and does NOT advocate an overthrow of the government," though I have read posts stereotyping of women and blacks a few times (which perhaps got through only because of the sheer volume of posts.) There have been participants defending Timothy McVeigh, "a modern-day Paul Revere," and fundamentalists often take control of any thread having anything remotely to do with homosexuality. These make up only a tiny percentage of the total posts at FR, but they can sometimes be distracting.
That said, for a forum which is almost entirely manned by self-professed right-wingers, the variety of opinion and the occasional bitterness of the ideological in-fighting is astonishing. You can expect the usual Republican Party apparatchiks and Bushies, but for a party that gets between one to three percent of the vote, the Libertarians have an enormous presence on the board, so huge one Freeper even wondered if the entire party posted there. Other niche groups include the anti-empire paleo-conservatives whose foreign policy positions would fit in with those of the WTO protesters, the neo-conservatives, the militia men and the small liberal group.
On almost every major issue (the Drug War, abortion and stem-cell research, Israel and Palestine,) there are posters, pro and anti, who obsessively carp on that one topic. There's even an active pro-Milosevic lobby and a "Smoker's Lounge."
But some of the best and funniest posts come when the conservatives are united and want to assail their enemies as memorably as possible. Freepers, like any group of like-minded individuals, have a long list of their own personal enemies (the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Dan Rather, Paul Begala, James Carville, Maxine Waters and Bill Clinton are just a few of the favorites.)
McSweeney's even had a feature that showcased Freeper attacks on New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd (examples: "You are an exceptional liar. You betray the truth at every turn. You care not a whit about the facts of the matter. You blame entirely one side, while ignoring the crimes of the other. And you have lost much of the prestige that you formerly enjoyed," "I have had 8 years of a liberal agenda crammed down my throat. Enabled by pukes like you," "Many of us have better things to do than sit slack-jawed and glaze-eyed for hours while filling our heads with leftist tripe," etc.)
FreeRepublic has something for both liberals and conservatives. For those on the left, it provides revealing insight into how and why conservatives think the way they do. For right-wingers, FR is a great place to hang out, stay entertained, get enraged, or simply reassure yourself that you are not alone and that conservatism is still alive and well in America today. But more significantly, FreeRepublic and political forums like it, both left and right, provide a group portrait of America at the beginning of a new millennium, and the picture that emerges is a paradoxical one: a country whose people can be frustrating, provocative, humorous, intolerant, thoughtful and, above all, argumentative all at the same time. That a forum like FreeRepublic can survive and thrive at a time where most political pundits say that public views of political discourse in America today has reached an all-time high in cynicism and apathy is good news for all Americans. A lively and controversial discussion of what direction Americans want their country to take is needed now more than ever, and agree with the Freepers or not, political Web forums can provide a great public service.
Barton Wong (email@example.com)
How can you possibly consider this article fair? The only real criticism of FR in it is tempered with a simple explanation which puts it in context! Obviously a right wing puff piece!
"Hey honey, they mentioned me in a magazine article and again on the internet. Kewl"
(One question though: will Registered's head be too swelled now to get through the door?)
Not a bad piece at all and very fair to boot. I especially like the paragraph about Dowd.
Thanks Barton Wong!
The audience-wisdom-participants seem small---miniscule!
Hi...My name is Bubbafree and I'm a Freepaholic :^)