Matt Moon's blog

Ethnic Outreach From Conservatives, Done The Right Way

I want my party to do this! From Tim Mak at FrumForum:

In the ongoing Canadian election campaign, we’re seeing a lot of examples for ethnic outreach done right – especially with the micro-targeted campaign ads that the Conservative Party has recently released in minority languages like Mandarin and Cantonese and Punjabi ...

In this election, we now have Alice, Tim, Harry and Nina – all minorities who are Conservative Party politicians, speaking in their native language to members of their ethnic group

The ads are particularly well done. This one was done by Canadian Conservative Member of Parliament, Dr. Alice Wong, speaking to her constituents in Cantonese:

And here's an English-language version from Canadian Conservative MP Nina Grewal:

Why are these ads powerful? Because they celebrate diversity without exploiting it. I have made the case before than some who profess to be "progressives" often use ethnicity as a way to divide and drive voters. These ads and this outreach program clearly serve to celebrate Canadian ethnic diversity while also discussing shared values. In fact, the second ad above makes the point that "things haven't always been fair for" ethnic minorities, yet progress it being made and that it's time to "vote our values."

Both major parties in America have now had extensive experience in Hispanic-language ads. But when will Republicans celebrate our diversity of elected officials and candidates in a way that can serve as outreach tools to Americans of all backgrounds? Will we soon watch TV ads, hear radio spots and see pamphlets in Mandarin, Korean, Farsi, etc.?

Bottom line: the right kind of creativity and strategic thinking can communicate shared conservative values to different ethnic, religious and cultural communities.

Mr. Boehner, Please Move Beyond Earmarks

This from the House Speaker-designate for the 112th Congress in today's Wall Street Journal:

[T]here are several steps I believe the next speaker should be prepared to take immediately. Among them:

No earmarks. Earmarks have become a symbol of a broken Washington, and an entire lobbying industry has been created around them. The speaker of the House shouldn't use the power of the office to raid the federal Treasury for pork-barrel projects. To the contrary, the speaker should be an advocate for ending the current earmark process, and should adhere to a personal no-earmarks policy that stands as an example for all members of Congress to follow.

I have maintained a no-earmarks policy throughout my time of service in Congress. I believe the House must adopt a moratorium on all earmarks as a signal of our commitment to ending business as usual in the spending process.

And this from the President during his post-election news conference on Wednesday:

My understanding is Eric Cantor today said that he wanted to see a moratorium on earmarks continuing.  That’s something I think we can -- we can work on together.

In light of the economy, I can understand why Boehner is focusing on earmarks as the most visible symbol of what needs to be fixed on Capitol Hill. And I agree that we need to fix the abuse of the earmark process by reforming it. But the fact is that not all earmarks can be construed as wasteful spending and not all wasteful spending are in earmarks. It's easy to come up with rhetoric denouncing "the evils of earmarks," but what we should be focusing on substantively is wasteful spending.

I don't want to get into debates over how Republicans should define public goods and wasteful spending. I do however want to talk about what principles should be espoused by Republicans when it comes to spending and how we can be innovative on sound spending policies.

What are some budgetary principles that should be communicated by Republicans to the American people?

  • The Solution Principle: Every challenge facing the American people does not require a federal office and federal funding.
  • The Priorities Principle: Every family and every business has to balance their checkbooks, their revenues with their expenses. Through good times and bad times, families and businesses have to sacrifice what they might want and prioritize their spending. The government should operate like any prudent family or business does, and prioritize.
  • The Investment Principle: The American people are "forced to invest" their income into government. Each taxpayer is, therefore, a shareholder in government. Because taxpayers have invested their money into government, taxpayers deserve the best return on their money. This means the "portfolio of investments" (otherwise known as government projects and agencies) must be reviewed carefully and objectively in order for the government to fulfill their due diligence.

How can we turn those principles into solutions? The answer is to do what's difficult, not easy (i.e. earmark moratoriums), and be innovative about our budget from both procedural and substantive points of view:

  • Follow the lead of Paul Ryan and his "Roadmap for America's Future" when it comes to restructuring our entitlements.
  • Don't allow earmarks to be placed during conference committees between the House and Senate.
  • Install a biennial budgeting process, something promoted by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), while also requiring supermajorities to increase in a fiscal year after a budget has been passed (for legitimate emergencies).
  • Separate capital budgets from operating budgets for each department. Long term projects are very different from short term day-to-day costs.
  • Instead of an executive Chief Performance Officer that gets to pick and choose what works and what doesn't under subjective criteria, have Congress create a Congressional Agency Performance Office that has some independence (like CBO) to constantly scrutinize the operations of all government agencies.
  • On capital projects that go to specific state and local governments, quasi-agencies, and companies, start a Congressional Office for Spending Oversight. Just like every business has control officers, this independent office should scrutinize long term projects' spending practices. This can allow Congress to reward under-budgeted projects and punish over-budgeted projects.
  • Not only should spending be posted online before it's passed. It should also be posted online when it's spent. Just like many state governments have done, the federal government's checkbook should be posted online.

I'm glad that we're getting out in front of the President and Democrats on this. We need to be in a proactive position, not a reactive position. Talking about earmkars is too easy. This is just another area where we need to develop political communication and public policy entrepreneurship on a serious issue.

Why Lisa Murkowski Lost

[It's been 1 year and 4 months since I wrote my last blog post here. For readers of The Next Right, I left my position as the RNC's Deputy Research Director back in May and am currently a Senior Communications Strategist with New Media Strategies in Rosslyn, VA. It feels good to be back in the blogosphere.]

Lisa Murkowski has now conceded. I have a great amount of respect for Joe Miller, but I have been a loyal supporter of Lisa Murkowski since her 2004 campaign. As a conservative from Alaska, I have disagreed with her positions on a few issues, but I believe she has been a good Senator for Alaska. Murkowski has been a thoughtful policymaker among her peers as well as an articulate leader on several key national issues including energy security.

Yet despite the enormous amount of admiration I have for her, I believe Murkowski has no one to blame except her own campaign for what is a stunning primary defeat. Bottom line up front: Lisa Murkowski's primary campaign should serve as a lesson in what not to do when you are being attacked by your opponent.

There has been a lot of talk about how wrong the polls were, the ballot initiative concerning abortion, and why Lisa Murkowski decided not to "go negative" on Joe Miller. Yet it's just not as simple as that. Here are four very interconnected reasons why Lisa Murkowski lost:

Success in Education Reform: Focus on Human Factors Before Financial Factors

Earlier this week, I encouraged the use of a more sophisticated approach to education policy: a set of principles to pitch beyond vouchers and "school choice." Today, David Brooks tells the story of New York City charter schools operated by the the Harlem Children's Zone:

"[A study from Harvard economists Roland Fryer and Will Dobbie] found that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools produced “enormous” gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

"Forgive some academic jargon, but the most common education reform ideas — reducing class size, raising teacher pay, enrolling kids in Head Start — produce gains of about 0.1 or 0.2 or 0.3 standard deviations. If you study policy, those are the sorts of improvements you live with every day. Promise Academy produced gains of 1.3 and 1.4 standard deviations. That’s off the charts. In math, Promise Academy eliminated the achievement gap between its black students and the city average for white students."

Fryer was so impressed that he said, "The results changed his my life as a researcher because I am no longer interested in marginal changes," and argued it was the "equivalent of curing cancer for these kids. Why was there so much success? These schools focused on the human elements of a school: (1) strengthening and empowering students, and (2) strengthening accountability for teachers.

"Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes. They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused. Promise Academy students who are performing below grade level spent twice as much time in school as other students in New York City. Students who are performing at grade level spend 50 percent more time in school.

"They also smash the normal bureaucratic strictures that bind leaders in regular schools. Promise Academy went through a tumultuous period as Canada searched for the right teachers. Nearly half of the teachers did not return for the 2005-2006 school year. A third didn’t return for the 2006-2007 year. Assessments are rigorous. Standardized tests are woven into the fabric of school life."

And remember, President Obama was all about charter schools in his address to Congress:

"We'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools."

The Harlem Children's Zone is a model for other areas to follow because it puts into practice some of the principles that I've talked about before: (1) More money does not equal better results. (2) The goal should be to move every child forward instead of "leaving no child behind." (3) Schools are more able focus on kids' strengths, not weaknesses, when local control is restored. (4) It should be easy to recruit the best teachers, and it should be easy to fire bad teachers.

Eight Questions for the Next SCOTUS Nominee

I'm not so concerned about whether or not the Right or the Left win on their issues; I'm concerned about proper Constitutional interpretation, judicial activism and the "presumption of liberty" vs. the "presumption of Constitutionality" when it comes to judicial review. So, from a liberty-minded perspective, here are some serious questions that should be asked of the SCOTUS nominee that replaces David Souter. (Thanks to my co-worker, Joe Henchman, for help on these.)

ONE: Currently, the Supreme Court takes less than 100 cases per year, leaving many important legal questions undecided. Would you be in favor of increasing your caseload so that many Constitutional disputes can be resolved?

TWO: In the University of Michigan affirmative action cases, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, it was ruled that while racial quotas could not be set, race could still be used as a factor in admissions. Then-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said that affirmative action may not be needed in the near future. Do you think it is appropriate for the Court to determine when a policy is no longer necessary?

THREE: The issues of property rights and eminent domain have been somewhat resolved in recent times. Do you believe that Kelo v. New London was decided correctly?

FOUR: The Second Amendment has also been a topic that the Court has recently taken up. Do you believe that District of Columbia v. Heller was decided correctly?

FIVE: There is always debate over the balance between government power and individual rights. When it comes to state laws that allegedly violate individual rights, to what extent should the Court give deference to that state law?

SIX: Since the 1938 decision in United States v. Caroline Products Co., the Court has only enforced equal protection in three specific categories: enumerated rights, protection for minorities and protections in the political process. Is it proper for equal protection to be limited to these categories, and if so, are these categories permanent?

SEVEN: When it comes to Constitutional interpretation, the Court has seemed to adopt “tiers of scrutiny” in various First Amendment, equal protection and other contexts: strict scrutiny, rational scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, etc. Is it proper for the Court to have different levels of scrutiny for different cases? If so, why?

EIGHT: The federal government influences state policy in many ways by attaching conditions to federal funding. Is there a point at which a condition would be unconstitutional, even though acceptance of funding is at the state's discretion?

Fight For Vouchers, But Think Beyond Them

I love it when good stories are told. And often times, it's good storytelling that makes for persuasive politics. Here's the story of Mercedes Campbell, one of the 1,700 students in the Washington, DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, otherwise known as the school voucher program passed by Congress in 2004. The video was produced by Nick Gillespie and Dan Hayes of

We all know the why vouchers are good, and we all know the arguments for school choice. Yet, "voucher" seems to be one of the only words coming out of the Right when it comes to education policy. President Obama has already made clear what his policy goals are for energy and health care: cap-and-trade and universal government-mandated coverage, respectively. But he hasn't outlined his plans on education. Now would be a good time for Republicans to get out in front of the President and present him, and voters, with common sense principles and policies on education reform.

Yes, we should fight to save the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. But as great as vouchers are, if all we present to the public is "pro-vouchers," we will once again be struck down by the other side of the aisle as just peddling "old, tired ideas tied to the past eight years."

So what can we do? We should present the public with some simple principles, and ask the President to abide by those principles:

  • More money does not equal better results. Of course, this principle is true of many things government does, but it is especially true in education. Part of the reason the voucher program was created in DC was the fact that DC public schools were receiving one of the highest amounts of funding per pupil, yet had some of the worst results. President Obama might agree with this principle, but I find it hard to believe that he'll be practicing it. We should hold him accountable, and demand specific results: a return on the taxpayers' investment. Speaking of results ...
  • The goal should be to move every child forward instead of "leaving no child behind." The premise of No Child Left Behind was a good one: accountability. Yet the means by which the federal government demanded accountability were bad: federal government control of the metric of success and relying on standardized testing as the baseline. The idea of trying to get every student to meet a certain baseline of knowledge measured by test results flies in the face of the fact not every child learns the same way. What should be measured is whether or not an individual student improved from where he or she was previously, whatever level of knowledge he or she started out with. This should be presented as a principle that is a drastic change from President Bush, therefore one that President Obama should embrace.
  • Schools are more able focus on kids' strengths, not weaknesses, when local control is restored. Usually when the federal government gets too involved in domestic policy, it snuffs out creativity and entrepreneurship in that area. Local control of schools, on the other hand, means more local understanding of the cultural and socioeconomic issues the schools are surrounded by. This usually means more creativity in teaching different types of students and more options for parents, whether it's building special programs for Alaska Native students in the Anchorage School District or allowing folks like Ron Clark to build academies to help disadvantaged students in Harlem and North Carolina. We'll see how much control President Obama is willing to give up.
  • It should be easy to recruit the best teachers, and it should be easy to fire bad teachers. It's a classic battle: common sense vs. teacher union leadership. I'm all for increasing teacher salaries, but school districts around the nation need to have the courage to rethink teacher tenure. Will President Obama agree with treating teachers like professionals?
  • Not every child can, or should, go to college. As Charles Murray said in an NYT op-ed in December, "It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it." The overemphasis by public school teachers, counselors and administrators on getting into college leads to a dangerous elitism that can instill a permanent sense of underachievement in many students. I understand that putting this principle into practice will take more cultural change than political action, but it doesn't mean that lawmakers can't make the effort to start the paradigm shift. At the state and local level, more options should be provided to students at the secondary education level so that they can start on a path of learning that suits their learning needs and potential career goals, including charter schools (which President Obama mentioned in his address to Congress.) At the federal level, more can be done to encourage vocational post-secondary education (another policy that Obama should agree with.)

Republican lawmakers on the Hill should offer these principles and corresponding policies to the White House and, for once, get out in front and make the President react to something we present instead of reacting to him. Just as important: like-minded conservatives need to be on the lookout for opportunities and ideas for reform in local school districts, and pay attention to local school board races.

Journalism's Dumbing Down of Public Debate, and What the Right Can Do About It

I never imagined that I would feature the thoughts of David Axelrod in a neutral to positive light, but that's exactly what I'm going to do here. Axelrod spoke about his time at the Chicago Tribune Monday night at The Week magazine's "Sixth Annual Opinion Awards Dinner":

"When I began reporting, the news cycle was 24 hours, not 30 minutes. There was no cable or Internet. The pacing was different, as were the competitive pressures. Reporters were not asked to file five and six times a day; on three or four platforms; to blog and tweet.

"Don't get me wrong: the Internet and the availability of the latest news when you want it has enormous value. But it has also contributed at times to sloppy journalism and a dumbed-down public debate. It's become a carnival where every day is Election Day; where we're consumed with who's up and who's down; where we book people on TV to do nothing more than argue with one another, generating more heat than light; where we allow ourselves to be caught up in the trivial tempest of the moment. And I know my profession is not blameless. Folks in our end of the business often feel compelled to play along, feed the beast, and help contribute to an atmosphere of cynicism."

If journalists are not totally blameless, who else is to blame? Has it consumed leaders, thinkers and wanna-be leaders/thinkers on the Right (as well as the Left)? There's no doubt that the Internet has shortened everybody's attention span. Specifically for the Right, I think journalism's new negative effect on public discourse has hampered the Republican Party's ability to dramatically change for the better.

As Jon Henke points out in the last post, "repackaging the status quo is not how the movement and the GOP will be renewed." One of the reasons why the GOP might be sticking to repackaging the status quo is that often times going the "easy and lazy" route seems like the only option in a "30 minute news cycle." Axelrod provides another thought on this subject:

"That's why, more than ever, we need the true public thinkers. People who take the time to ponder and reflect and examine issues in a usefully provocative way. Serious people, with serious ideas."

Unfortunately for Axelrod, he works for a President who is a pretender, someone who isn't following the advice given above. Obama's version of "bipartisanship" is giving the visual of reaching out to conservatives, and then ignoring them when it comes to substantive matters. And Obama's ideas aren't new and provocative in any way: more government spending, more government involvement in the market, more government involved in energy, education, health care, etc. For now, he has successfully duped much of the public into thinking his ideas are "new" just because he himself is "new."

So unlike Obama, can the Right successfully take Axelrod's thoughts into practice? Can we produce serious people with serious ideas and fight the "dumbing down" of public discourse? Yes ...

  • First, let's look outside of Capitol Hill for serious people with serious ideas. As I mentioned yesterday, a lot of great ideas on government transparency are coming from state legislatures.
  • Second, lawmakers and other leaders on the Right should use the Internet more for promoting ideas than promoting themselves. (I know that this is a long shot.) For a Congressman to get a lot of Facebook friends and Twitter followers is fine. But when will that Congressman start a Facebook group about the need for more nuclear power plants in America to reduce our dependence on foreign oil instead of a Facebook message about how Democrats are bad? When will that Congressman tweet prolifically about immigration and become the go-to-guy/gal on that issue instead of only tweeting his/her office's press releases?
  • Third, the Right should let ideas lead to movement instead of the other way around. Jon also comments on the recent formation of the National Council for a New America as a group that says "let's start an organization, then figure out why later." As he says, this does not inspire confidence. The Tea Parties showed a glimmer of hope for the Right after Rick Santelli rant; I just wished that there was more public discussion on the core substance of Santelli's message: moral hazard.

An overarching theme for a good public debate, as I have mentioned several times before, is the principle of an "equal opportunity society," where it becomes a discussion about whether government's job is to guarantee certain outcomes by picking winners and losers in society or to provide everyone the equal opportunity to determine their own success. Just as liberals want an active government that promotes specific outcomes, we have to be for an active government that promotes choice and freedom instead of just relying on the "less taxes, less government" message.

Transparency and the Internet: Some Are Starting to Get It, Some Aren't

Back in December, I wrote about the need for the Right to use an "agenda of equal opportunity" to look beyond simple proposals involving government transparency and start thinking about wide-scale proposals for earmark, budget, bureaucratic and tax reform. Well, it looks like simple transparency proposals are something some Republicans on Capitol Hill should start with.

Big kudos today to Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska (yes, I am giving praise to a Democrat) who has decided to post his daily schedule on his new Senate website, as he promised during his campaign. Beginning with this month, Begich is archiving his schedule on his site and is making it searchable. The Sunlight Foundation encouraged other lawmakers to follow Begich's lead and "provide a similar archive of daily meetings." Throughout his terms as mayor of Anchorage, Begich would post responses to comments under his own name on the Anchorage Daily News's Alaska Politics Blog. I'm sure some on his staff went nuts over it, but it shows that he's willing and disciplined enough to communicate with his constituents, one-on-one, in new ways.

Unfortunately, some aren't so open, even to meeting those that want to support the conservative cause. A couple months ago, through a senior staffer, I invited a Republican senator (who shall go unnamed at this point) to the Heritage Foundation's Conservative Bloggers Briefing. What was the answer I received? I was told that it wouldn't be a good idea for the Senator to meet with bloggers in an open setting, out of the fear that he/she might get attacked. I was disappointed, but not surprised. Many on Capitol Hill, and other lawmakers, out of an abundance of caution refuse to communicate early and often, and make themselves, and their actions, more transparent.

In a world where online reputation management is now an enormously large part of reputation management, taking a few risks by being more open is both necessary and reaps large rewards. The proof? It's working at the state level. Pennsylvania House Republican leader Sam Smith recently released a 12-point government reform plan, which includes dollar one reporting of campaign contributions, a searchable database for all state spending, and limiting state contractors from using non-public information for their own gain.

I know it's a message that has been repeated by many who blog here, but it's worth repeating: while we're in the minority, the Right needs to hold Democrats accountable while we come up with new solutions to reform government. We can kill those two birds with one stone: more transparency initiatives.

Why is Hollywood Against Innovation?

From the Wall Street Journal's Digits Blog:

Apple’s iTunes makes saving music from CDs onto one’s personal computer a simple process, but doing the same with a DVD is much more complicated endeavor. Most DVDs are encoded with digital rights management technology to prevent copying.

Most DVD-viewers think that’s hypocrisy. A study of 1,000 consumers conducted by the National Consumers League found that 90% think that they should have ability to back up DVDs on their personal computers in the same way they are able to do with music from a CD ...

However, a recent lawsuit has been broiling in the courts, with several major Hollywood movie studios suing RealNetworks, a company that makes the RealDVD player.

At first, it was beyond me why Hollywood would be against this type of innovation. Then I learned about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a piece of legislation that prohibits backing up DVDs. As FreedomWorks recently pointed out:

There are acceptable avenues of protecting intellectual property, but banning a new product that maintains the DRM encryption and prohibits copying for distribution in the name of fighting piracy makes no sense.  All this does is impose substantial new limitations on consumers and their use of the DVDs they purchase.

When we usually think about corporate welfare, we think about all of the special tax credits and deductions along with all of the subsidies that only the most powerful companies (i.e. the ones with the most lobbyists) get. For the Right to move beyond the simplistic arguments of the past on fiscal and tax policy, we should battle corporate welfare, not only in the tax code but in regulatory matters as well. Many states already have film tax credits which try to "promote economic development" by essentially paying filmakers to produce movies in their states. Just as these film tax credits at the state level is corporate welfare, so are many of the regulatory matters that fly under the radar.

We have to move on from the "tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts"-only message and refine a message that can work for those who don't have lobbyists and large political action committees working for them: government should not pick winners and losers in the market.

Three Areas Where the Right Get Ahead of the Curve on Foreign Policy

Yes, the economy is, by far, the number one issue right now. And when Democrats run for re-election in 2010 and President Obama runs for re-election in 2012, it will largely be based on how well the economy is doing and/or their excuses for why the economy hasn't significantly improved.

But foreign policy has been slowly creeping up the ladder in the news cycle: the Somali pirate situation, a new approach in Afghanistan, funding for Iraq, the North Korean missile launch, etc. Rarely are there opportunities for those in the minority to get out in front of an issue. And it might be hard for some to accept items of foreign policy as things we can battle the other side on because it is more proper for there to be "one foreign policy coming from the United States."

Keeping these things in mind though, I think there are a few things that the Right can get ahead of the curve on to prepare ourselves for debates/discussions on international affairs during future election cycles: free trade/international economic regulation, public diplomacy/strategic communications, and foreign aid reform. Yes, there are thinking conservatives that will disagree on approaches to many foreign policy issues, but I think there's much agreement to the following ...

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