Fertile Ground

In the 13th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus told a story that has come to be commonly known as the Parable of the Sower. For those who aren’t familiar, the upshot is that a certain man went about sowing seed. He sowed this seed on various kinds of ground – some rocky, some thorny, some on a path, and some on good soil. The seed that fell on the path, the rocky soil and the thorny soil failed to produce a good harvest, for various reasons – but the seed that fell on good soil produced a hundredfold.

When Jesus explained the parable, he explained that the seed represents the gospel, and the soil represents the heart of men. The primary lesson of the parable is that the success of one’s evangelistic efforts primarily depends on the hearts of the people one preaches to.

Although the parable’s most obvious application is to evangelistic Christianity, it has relevance to the current Republican grassroots crisis as well.

In the wake of Barack Obama’s astounding fundraising success in 2007-2008, which was largely fueled by an unprecedented web operation that collected millions of active donors and volunteers, many Republican strategists have begun to realize that the current state of web operations on the right is simply not acceptable if the GOP is going to be competitive in elections going forward. New websites are springing up left and right in an attempt to solve this problem, and established web sites and online activists have dedicated countless hours, posts, and emails in the last several weeks to navelgazing over this issue. I tend to think that much of this misses the point entirely.

Don’t get me wrong; our web operation is clearly and unacceptably behind the left’s, and these discussions need to be had or we risk perpetual minority status. However, I am sorry to say that our enfeebled efforts are not going to reach the needed levels just because our candidates master the use of Twitter. You see, an effective web operation only links people as they are; it does not change people into something they are not. And the bottom line is that, more than having been beaten by a superior operation, we were beaten by people who were more motivated and willing to get involved and donate than we were. Obama’s web operation was just a tool by which he took advantage of a pre-existing resource.

Now, as any farmer will tell you, it’s impossible to run a modern successful farm without a lot of the modern fancy farming equipment that makes operating a 3,000 acre farm with less than 10 farmhands possible. However, all the modern equipment in the world is useless if the dirt you’re planting your crop in isn’t good for growing that crop. My point, at long last, is that our primary focus ought to be on cultivating a need and desire in people to get involved in GOP election efforts.

This will be a long and difficult process. It took three crushing election cycles for the Democrats in 2000, 2002 and 2004 before they gained the necessary level of enthusiasm and energy to mount the kind of challenges they did in 2006 and 2008. During that time, the Democratic activists that existed worked tirelessly, never missing an opportunity to demonize the Republican President or the Republican Congress for any misstep they made. And after those long years of hard work, they had essentially tilled a bunch of marginal or worthless soil into receptive soil and made their 2008 effort possible.

This process will furthermore require work that can’t be done on the computer. Penetration for blog readership is simply not going to grow fast enough to make enough of a difference, if it is a passive process. Engage people at the water cooler (figuratively speaking) at work. Go to your local county party and volunteer to pound signs and man phone banks. Face to face contact can help plug in a lot of folks who otherwise consume their news on a casual basis and aren’t really that involved in politics. There’s no substitute for contagious enthusiasm.

We need to be building the tools to take advantage of good soil in the meantime. But in my view, by far the most important work we have ahead of us is cultivating good soil in the first place, and that begins with each one of us.