stackiii's blog

On Think Tanks and Mobile Technology

Joining the Brookings Institution, and followed not long after by the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute made a splash in the mobile app world last week with the release of the first Official Cato Institute iPhone Application. The first release of Cato's app features access to the Cato@Liberty blog, a native podcast client and direct access to Cato's YouTube content, and policy studies and scholar op-eds in major publications. You can view screen shots and read more about the features in a blog post I authored the day of the app's release.

As Robert Bluey, Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, noted earlier this week, the release of the three applications by Brookings, Cato, and Heritage prompted Nancy Scola at Personal Democracy Forum's techPresident blog to ask, "...does anyone actually use this stuff?" and " anyone seeking out these apps as they seek out research, news, and points of view?" Be sure to check out Rob's comments here and here.

Here at Cato, we saw over 2,000 downloads in just 36 hours. As one of the most well-known public policy research foundations in the world, this wasn't too surprising, but we are nonetheless very proud and encouraged by consumers' expressed enthusiasm, especially given that we spent very little money to develop the application. Like Heritage, we don't have access to the demographic data on the app's consumers, although we've received some very positive feedback from media, Hill staff, and other stakeholders in the public policy arena. We are also monitoring and encouraging people to use the #Cato20 hashtag on Twitter, which we are using as a primary feedback loop for people using the application.

But despite this instant success, Nancy's questions still remain. The Obama campaign's development of a proprietary iPhone app was nothing short of a total game-changer in the 2008 election, empowering volunteers with all sorts of tools (phone banking, canvassing tools with interactive maps and voter lists, along with scripts and on-demand campaign platform information, among other features). Do think tanks need tools like this? At Cato, a non-profit research foundation, we never ask anyone to do anything - we don't organize politically. We publish research papers and books (along with other media offerings), and host seminars, workshops, and forums for interested constituents. Our only real need is a steady stream of resources. So it is also interesting to note, then, that Apple won't allow donation buttons in iPhone apps, ostensibly because they don't want to be responsible for ensuring that the total amount of an intended donation actually reaches its destination.

Does this render a mobile application for a think tank useless? I'm not sure that it does, especially since Cato's mission is described thus:

In an era of sound bites and partisanship, Cato remains dedicated to providing clear, thoughtful, and independent analysis on vital public policy issues. Using all means possible — from blogs, Web features, op-eds and TV appearances, to conferences, research reports, speaking engagements, and books — Cato works vigorously to present citizens with incisive and understandable analysis.

A mobile application, then, helps the Cato Institute to continue to develop inroads with stakeholders at all levels by dispersing and distributing information resources to anyone with the technology. And just because Cato doesn't organize people, or ask anyone to write letters to their Congressman or Congresswoman (for example), doesn't mean that there aren't a broad swath of libertarians around the world who are passionate about spreading the message of free markets, individual responsibility, limited government and peace - so having the Cato Institute's scholarship in their hand wherever they are only helps them to achieve their goals.


Scola also critiques each application's usability factors, particularly how each organizes content. Her suggestion that it is a drawback to Cato's app for content to organized by date is a fair one, given that we organize content on our website that enables users to search for content by scholar, by research area, by publication title, etc. But subsequent releases of the application will likely remedy this, and at the risk of tipping our hand, we will look to incorporate other features that permit users to share content across the social web directly from their mobile device. We are also currently working to develop applications for other mobile devices and platforms (including Android), and will announce them when they become available to users. We have also begun making many of our books available in e-reader format, including Kindle and Nook.

The lesson from think tank applications, and it will be interesting to continue to monitor how each organization continues to develop their respective technologies, is that, as with any other technology or communications strategy, it's important to know: a) who you are, and b) what your goals are. Only from a coherent understanding of both can organizations from city council campaigns to global public policy research foundations develop and implement tactics that help realize those strategic goals.

George Scoville is the Manager of New Media at the Cato Institute.

New York State of Mindlessness

It's (Still) The Economy, Stupid!

By George Scoville | @stackiii

I have fought every impulse in my being to weigh in on the Cordoba House debate, and to pontificate, lecture, and moralize from atop my libertarian mountain. Now that I'm actually writing about it I find myself stricken nearly dumb by the irony of what I'm about to suggest on a blog entitled THE NEXT RIGHT. But it has become clear that The Current Right has completely forgotten about The Last Right, and this could prove to be the foil for The Next Right -- at least that's my worry. I do not intend to debate the morality or legality of the construction of Cordoba House in either this post or in the comments - so if you're looking for an ideological fight, you've come to the wrong place. The Right has a new messaging problem, and if anyone intends to supplant the Democratic Party in any meaningful, long-term way, it will require pretty swift action.

The Republican Party is polling considerably well among registered voters (Gallup) on a number of factors: party identification, 2010 vote preferences among independents, and 2010 candidate preferences. The Republican Party also seems to be riding a wave of enthusiasm (RCP) that spreads quicksand all over the Democratic Party's uphill battle as November draws near. Finally, the Republican Party has retaken the lead on the generic ballot (PPP). Whatever successes the Republican Party currently enjoys it owes in large part to both the Tea Party movement and the fact that President Obama and the Democrats over-estimated their "mandate." This cannot be overstated, especially in light of the fact that only a handful of Republicans are engaging their Democratic counterparts substantively (The Weekly Standard).

Now, set all that aside for a moment. Step back 26 years to 1984.

Ronald Reagan wasn't polling well, hitting a 35% approval rating in 1983 (Gallup). The economy was in recession. Unemployment was high, though it dropped from 10.8% in '82 to 7.4% by Election Day '84 (Salon). We were at war -- each day every American faced an existential threat. Federal spending was at 22.9% of GDP (EconLib), in large part because Reagan's defense budget crested far above projections he made on the campaign trail in '79 and '80. But Reagan handily won re-election in 1984 because he kept the message simple -- this worked:

Why, then, is former Speaker Newt Gingrich -- a sort of de facto leader of today's Republican Party, an icon of the 1994 Republican Revolution, and potential 2012 presidential hopeful -- foisting a divisive cultural narrative (WaPo) onto an election cycle already dominated by anti-Big Government and anti-spending narratives that, heretofore, have been working (Pew Research via NPR)?

Ezra Klein is pickin' up what I'm puttin' down:

One political question about the Ground Zero Islamic complex/mosque/theater-space/swimming pool: Why are Republicans trumpeting this? And why, a week or two ago, did they start talking about the 14th amendment? Republicans are going to win a lot of seats this year. And they're going to do it on the backs of the economy. Getting into social issues -- particularly social issues that might anger minorities -- is a dangerous play. It loses them long-term votes that they just don't need to lose. It paints their party as intolerant and opportunistic. And it's unnecessary: It's not like they're hurting for things to talk about.

The Cato Institute's Gene Healy blames the Professional Right:

All this posturing is getting tiresome. The "mosque" controversy isn't about property rights or religious freedom. It's a bogus issue seized by the GOP establishment to distract the rank-and-file from the party's reluctance to shrink government.

Will Wilkinson, also of the Cato Institute, blames the amateur Right:

This idiotic foofaraw could be a distraction only if the GOP rank-and-file actually cared more about the size of government than the cultural politics of American identity. But they don’t. It’s not even close. American conservatism is a movement consumed by protecting and asserting a certain fabricated conception of the traditional American way of life against imaginary enemies. Support for small government is no more than a bullet point on the Right’s “What We Believe” cheat sheet, mouthed at opportune moments. I approve of what Gene’s trying to do here rhetorically, but the fact is that complaining about Muslims and keeping holy the memory of 9/11 and Ground Zero — the legitimizing altar of aggressive American imperialism —  is a direct manifestation of contemporary conservatism’s essence.

Personally, I don't really care who is to blame for the propagation of this narrative -- whether Gingrich is demagoguing, or the conservative, evangelical base needs some pandering. The bottom line is that playing with this narrative is like playing with fire, and could be as dangerous to the Right long-term as a Gingrich marriage proposal. In many ways the conservative base is like the fuel in a gas can, fuel that powers the political machine that winds up carrying water in elections -- but for God's sake, don't hand the Left a big, fat box of strike-anywhere matches. 2010 and 2012 can -- and should -- be a slam dunk for right-of-center candidates. Let's not botch it.


Ben Smith (POLITICO) notes that Gingrich's caustic remarks echo those of Mussolini:


A regular correspondent wondered why Newt Gingrich's recent declaration on the planned downtown mosque sounded so familiar, and found this:




There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.




There will be a mosque in Rome, the Fascist ruler said, only when a Roman Catholic church is permitted in Mecca.


The quote is frequently attributed to Il Duce, though I'd be grateful to any Italian-speaking reader who has a primary source.


Sorry, folks - you can call me a wet blanket all you want - independent voters just won't trade one statist polemic (Obama) for another (Gingrich).

Cross-posted at Liberty Pundits.

Further reading:

Jacob Sullum, Reason Magazine

Doug Mataconis, Outside the Beltway blog

Doug Mataconis redux, Outside the Beltway blog

David Harsanyi, Reason Magazine


Garrett Quinn,

VIDEO: Libertarians and Conservatives, Ad Nauseam

[Blogger's note: I didn't know that TNR couldn't embed Javascript; I will embed the video once Reason makes it available on their YouTube channel - sorry for making you click away in the meantime; at least it will pop open in a new window, and you won't lose your place.]

I have been blogging pretty exhaustively about a fissure in a traditional center-right coalition comprised of libertarians and conservatives (see here and here). The folks over at Reason have finally made video available of the three-way debate between the Cato Institute's Brink Lindsey, AEI's Jonah Goldberg (also of the National Review), and FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe:

I've been blogging as often as possible about this ideological spat because a) as a political scientist, it's a generally interesting phenomenon to observe, particularly when set against the backdrop of the rise of the Tea Party movement, and b) the extent to which this (hopefully temporary) rift gets smoothed over will have, I believe, a significant effect on the 2012 presidential election, if not this year's midterm elections. Of course, I don't have a wealth of empirical data on hand at this point to evidence my thesis - so we'll just have to call it a hunch.

Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic is smellin' what I've been cookin' for awhile:

Economic libertarianism is the message du jour, and Pawlenty's budget cutting in Minnesota may get some attention. But really, and he and none of the sober wing candidates have figured out exactly what the non-Palin wing of the party wants. There's no way to get social conservatives on board with Palin or Mike Huckabee in the race. So who's left to help you win primaries and caucuses?


They are -- they could be -- to the Republican Party what the anti-war left was to Democrats in 2003 -- the out-of-the-establishment power center that can drive the narrative of the race. How do you get the attention of libertarians without losing conservatives? You could shift positions on the war in Afghanistan, or try to fashion a more realist foreign policy. That seems to be a non-starter; the consultants for these candidates are fairly covnentional and are risk-averse. Endorse medical marijuana? Legalized gambling? Something else?


RightOnline Day 1 - "If you can blog...BLOG."

United States Representative and conservative firebrand Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) addressed conference attendees after lunch today - he made some pretty broad tactical appeals to online activists that have been uncommon to date on the Right, and to that extent, I was pretty impressed with his speech. He also stuck mainly to economic issues, which is what conservative sweethearts will need to do on their end to help coaxing centrist and libertarian voters out of their strongholds, back into the political and policy spheres. I'm not a cameraman, but you can view (well, hear really) Pence's speech in its entirety at my Qik profile. Cross-posted at Liberty Pundits and Intelligence, Please...

RightOnline Day 1 - Building Coalitions

Las Vegas is insane.

Everything I've heard about this Disneyland-for-adults is true: neon, sparkles, bells & whistles, herds (and hordes) of people, STAR WARS slot machines (pictures later)...I will definitely have to come back here one day for purposes other than business. My friend Jon Henke (@JonHenke) and I flew from DC yesterday by way of Newark, NJ and didn't even land in Vegas until 1am was a long day, and I slept in a bit. It was easy to do in my posh suite at the Venetian, with my sunken living room and remote-controlled drapes! Life is hard.

The first panel I attended today featured Todd Thurman (@toddthurman) of the Heritage Foundation, Brian Faughnan (@brianfaughnan) of Liberty Central, and Alexa Moutevelis (@alexashrugged) of the RNC, all moderated by my Liberty Pundits co-blogger Melissa Clouthier (@melissatweets). The panel focused on connecting grassroots activists in the field to policy shops in DC - like Heritage, Cato, or other think tanks - as well as to communications resources and activism training like those offered by FreedomWorks or the Leadership Institute.

Probably one of the better bits of information passed along during the discussion was the notion that activists in the field shouldn't be shy about engaging DC-based resources. Yes, DC is busy. Yes, DC occasionally has a heightened, over-inflated sense of self. But DC is also sitting on piles of your cash, looking for a way to return value back to you. So don't be shy about sending emails or picking up the phones to ask for help.

But more than just connecting grassroots activists to DC to get talking points and policy papers to support candidates back home, the panel focused on connecting activist to activist using technology - that means Twitter, Facebook, the blogosphere, and other online resources. The RNC announced some nascent, new API and they are transitioning all of their online tools to an open-source platform...the API is apparently already available for developers...more on this later. Despite this move to make RNC resources more available to more people, there was some grumbling in the audience that the RNC fails (on occasion) to return voter vaults back to activists on the ground once they pull out of town following a race. This makes people currently involved with components of the Tea Party movement a bit reticent to cooperate with the RNC in Washington.

After a few questions, and after some dancing around the issue, I asked the panel: is there a sense, going into this November's elections (and subsequently in 2012) that the Right should be worried about the Left exploiting a growing rift between conservatives and libertarians? If so, how can we, or more appropriately, should we be doing anything differently than the suggestions you've all made here today to, strengthen the coalition between these two groups?

The consensus from the panel seemed to be that there's not really any danger this year - libertarians and conservatives agree in principle that the prevailing issue of this election is the economy, stupid. Throwing the bums out is priority #1 in 2010. But the funnel of candidates is currently full, and the new Congressional primary begins, effectively, on November 3 - it is possible that infighting on the Right might get nastier in 2011 and 2012.

Todd Thurman told me after the panel "We just need to make sure we're talking, and that we're sticking together in areas where we agree." I agree in principle with this strategy, but only inasmuch as it's a first step. Because there is potential for infighting to become nastier on the Right as we approach 2012, it's important to talk about areas where we disagree too - libertarians remain (rightly) mistrustful of the Big Government GOP - the same GOP that is trying to ride the Tea Party Tiger into new majorities this fall. Ignoring our differences now can be our foil later.

Cross-posted at Liberty Pundits and Intelligence, Please...

Conservatives, Libertarians, and Purity Tests: Can These Groups Win Without Each Other?

After running across this piece in the Economist today, I was reminded of that timeless adage "You'll attract more flies with honey than with vinegar." That's a woefully good reminder for the Right as Election Day draws nearer.

Plenty of noise has been made in the past few weeks about the abrupt resignation/firing of Dave Weigel from the Washington Post blog "Right Now." I have been a defender of Weigel's, in large part because I think people's expectations of Weigel were too high - and that's not to disparage Weigel at all, whose work I have followed for a couple of years. The problem was, in my view, that lots of activists expected him to counter Ezra Klein's "Wonk Book" with an editorial style, using his platform at the Post to propel the Tea Party to the revery where so many believed it belonged. Another part of the problem is that, as Dan Gainor at the Media Research Center notes, the Post was never clear about why it had hired Weigel in the first place. Reporting? Check. Opinion? Maybe? I still think Weigel does a good job of reporting, and if he's guilty of anything, it's a preoccupation with man-bites-dog narratives. Aside from all that, I don't have much to add to the gallons of punditry sloshing around the Internet about Weigel-gate.

The reason I bring Weigel's short-lived stint at the Post back up for discussion is that the reaction from the activist community to Weigel's resignation - particularly on Twitter - was pretty vicious, with lots of "Good riddance" and "we told you so." Then came the announcement that Weigel would be a paid MSNBC contributor on Countdown with Keith Olbermann - and activists were once again a-Twitter with disgust. Thankfully there was an equivalent outpouring of support for Weigel. I disagree with Keith Olbermann frequently, particularly when it comes to his sneering punditry and progressive worldview. I appreciate that he was the first (and for a long time only) mainstream media personality to cover the devastating flooding in my hometown of Nashville earlier this year, and he and I share in New York Yankees fan-dom. But why the Weigel witch-hunt on the Right?

And then it hit me: the Right and center-right are still obsessed with (plagued by?) litmus tests that, unchecked, can be impossible to pass. And not normal litmus tests either - sure, nobody wants to see another John McCain presidential campaign - I mean the conservative base is so energized right now that it has become bloodthirsty, and it's beginning to feed on itself. Long-time allies to conservatives - the libertarians - have begun to take notice.

I urge everyone to check out this written exchange between Cato Institute's Brink Lindsey, AEI/National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg, and FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe, a debate on where libertarians belong on the 21st century ideological spectrum, and how they can, should, and might play in the activist/political component of the Tea Party movement. Romantic libertarians like yours truly hope wistfully one day to inform a more rigorous social policy agenda - one that actually gets government out of people's lives, including their marriages and sex lives - to complement existing tenets of economic freedom upon which, for the most part, everyone right-of-center seems to reaching consensus. But because of these purity tests, many libertarians worry that the emergence of centrist rhetoric at Tea Party rallies is nothing more than a ruse to grab handfuls of votes on Election Day 2010 and 2012, and then Big Government conservatism does us all in - again.

I am sympathetic to Brink Lindsey's point in this respect. Libertarians - who often sacrifice opportunities to "get involved" in lieu of safeguarding transcendent philosophical values for the sake of practical virtue - should not compromise their core beliefs just because Sarah Palin said we need less government and more personal responsibility. But I also think Matt Kibbe makes great points - the Tea Party movement is as fascinating a paradigm shift in American politics as I will likely ever see in my lifetime. It has unbundled the Left almost completely, who has tried to use every tool at its disposal - from race-baiting in formal media outlets to unscientific opinion polling - to couch the Tea Party movement as garden-variety Republican, and quintessentially racist, xenophobic, and homophobic. Kibbe insists that many Tea Partiers don't know where to place themselves on an ideological scale, and notes that many have never been involved in political discourse before now. This groundswell provides libertarians with that romantic opportunity to inform the policy debate - especially issues like gay marriage, which Tea Party groups support, and like Kibbe, I think it's hasty to accept Lindsey's premise with open arms. So Lindsey's libertarian protectionism can be just as dangerous and self-defeating as the Gainor conservative witch-hunts.

The Tea Party movement is still today very fragile, despite the noise the movement has made and the support it has drummed up. If libertarians and conservatives can agree about anything, it's opposition to power-drunk Democrats; it's probably best that everyone focus on that for now, instead of running reckless with purity tests, and when Republicans win, it will be up to them to follow through on promises they're making to people getting involved for the first time. Those people don't know where they lie on the ideological spectrum, but they know that the government is screwing them.


The Health Care Debate, Tea Party & Libertarian Splits, and the 2010 Elections

Doug Pinkham, president for the Public Affairs Council has a new post up at the Public Affairs Perspective blog (emphasis mine):

Grassroots campaigns to protect rainforests, oppose gun laws or fund AIDS research have become commonplace. So have campaigns to expand U.S. manufacturing, reform immigration laws or rewrite financial industry regulations. These campaigns, and thousands like them, have grown increasingly sophisticated; they go way beyond calls-to-action encouraging supporters to send an email or call a congressional office.

They often involve Facebook sites, blog postings, issue advertising, media outreach, town hall meetings, YouTube videos, online petitions, rallies, issue forums and a host of other tactics. Some are organized by advocacy groups, associations, unions or companies; others are organized purely by volunteers.

In terms of grassroots strategy, the healthcare debate fell into the category marked "all of the above." As the Washington Post noted in February, everyone from the National Right to Life Committee to to PhRMA to AARP to health insurance companies got into the act. (For those who want a peek inside one such campaign, the Columbia Journalism Review deconstructed WellPoint's sophisticated Health Action Network in its March 22 "Campaign Desk" column.)

It's easy to dismiss these efforts as special interests unfairly exerting their influence on the political process. The reality is that people are joining groups they trust to help them speak with a louder voice.

Pinkham seems to be suggesting that the keys to 21st century advocacy are a) build trust, and b) make noise. But before anyone rushes off to register for 10 new platforms a day, they should check out Jon Henke's post over at the CRAFTdc blog earlier this year on the diversification of a campaign's social media portfolio:

If you don’t have a specific purpose for using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or a blog...then don’t use them.

Which gets us back to the subject of this post.  CRAFT sells communications strategy, tactics and execution across all channels.  So, when the question, “Should we have a Facebook Fan Page?” came up for discussion, there were two lines of thought:

  • We don’t currently have a strategic or tactical need to create and maintain a Facebook Fan Page for CRAFT.
  • How can CRAFT sell something that we don’t use for CRAFT?  Shouldn’t we eat our own dog food?

My own conclusion was this: If we do not have a strategic or tactical need to create and maintain a Facebook Fan Page, then we should not have one.  When we decide a Facebook presence is justified, we will create one.  Until then, not using a tool we don’t have a specific purpose to use is eating our own dog food.

Henke is right. Campaigns' uses of social media should be context-sensitive, just like approaches to cyber security should be risk-based. How, then, is Pinkham's post instructive? He continues (again, emphasis mine):

Eighty-four percent of those who contacted Congress in the 2008 CMF survey were asked to do so by a third party, such as an interest group. What's more, respondents - whether they had contacted Congress or not - found information from interest groups to be more credible than information from Congress.

Yes, that's surprising, but it says something important about the inability of Washington politicians to cope with the rise in citizen engagement. Many politicians call sympathetic grassroots campaigns "unprecedented outpourings of support" while dismissing campaigns organized by opponents as "Astroturf." They condemn the influence of some special interests, while encouraging other groups to ramp up letter-writing efforts to provide "cover" for controversial votes.

Worst of all, many refuse to acknowledge that high levels of engagement are a good thing in a democracy. The CMF study pointed out that congressional offices are understaffed, under-funded and often lack the technology or training to respond effectively to constituents.

These are pretty staggering precentages that are difficult to ignore, and when taken with resource issues in Congressional offices (which are every bit as stringent on the campaign trail), it's no surprise that both parties rely so heavily on leveraging interest group support. Acknowledging the utility of interest groups could prove catastrophic to the Right, if not altogether suicidal, especially when populism is surging like nothing we've seen in 50 years.

On the other hand, candidates and causes on the Right can try to capture some of the utility provided by interest groups to voters and brand it. Pinkham concludes:

...Congress should assure constituents that their opinions matter and invite them to become more engaged in policy-making.  When members take positions on energy legislation, they can contact citizens who weigh in on climate change issues. People who complain about high taxes should receive updates on efforts to cut federal spending. In short, grassroots communications should signal the need for dialogue, not the need to build a stronger fence around the border.

This is why I haven't (and can't) come out swinging at platforms like YouCut (which Doug Mataconis at Below the Beltway thinks is nothing more than a gimmick) or (which Jon Henke thinks is crowding the Internet). Party leadership should have branded tools that aren't tied to campaigns. Republicans are poised to take back control of Congress from the Democrats this November. But they will suffer a fate like November 2008 without a policy agenda - without becoming an alternative party rather than being an opposition party.

YouCut and America Speaking Out are fantastic ways for the Right to leverage the utility of interest groups - collecting and collating voter preferences, while empowering them to participate (building trust and making noise) - and they couldn't really be more timely in their advent, coming right at the launch of primary season. These tools might be the first real online method of voter outreach that channels both libertarian policy preferences and Tea Party activism into a substantive national policy platform for Republicans. What once was diffuse, diverse, and disorganized has now become clear, centralized, and convenient - and Republicans shouldn't be shy about reaching out to the little guy.

Politics 2.0: The Pegasus of Connectivity?

I told a friend last night - via Facebook private message - that email is still the best way to get a hold of me.* I gave him my work email address, which is the one account out of seven I currently monitor to which I will usually give an immediate response. It's also one of two accounts pushing to my smart phone, so I can receive/respond on the go.

The ways in which we send, receive, and store information have been constantly revolutionizing politics for nearly 600 years, since Gutenberg first invented the printing press. Customer relations management (CRM) systems have become increasingly important (indeed useful and necessary) in the political sphere, as candidate and issue campaigns build vast, scalable email lists for purposes of campaign communication. Somewhat curiously, I have all issue and candidate campaign email delivered to my American University address - which also pushes to my smart phone, but which I rarely actually read.

But let's assume just for a second that I consolidate my email accounts into just one, and I take time to read more than I do now - and a political campaign was able to reach me (in theory) 24 hours a day. Why is it, in this world of nearly instantaneous, targeted, scalable communications, that we still rely on direct mail fundraising? When does the 140-character tweet, the Facebook status update, or even the 30-second YouTube video replace a clunky, 5-page typed fundraising ask - double-spaced in 12 pt. Courier New font - and on pink stationary, no less? Does it ever? What about when we move all of our CRM solutions to the cloud, and we're realizing huge cost savings in our campaign budgets because of it (this is speculative, I'll admit)?

I remember from my Leadership Institute training days back in college that conservatives tend to make quite a bit of money on direct mail fundraising campaigns - my own experience tells me that you're doing well to just break even, particularly if you're using consulting services. Maybe my metrics are a little bit off, and I'm not considering how a mail piece to an identified voter/supporter may energize them, arm them with talking points, and ask them to tell 5 of their neighbors about my candidate or issue. Maybe I need better mail pieces.

Not only in my experience are dollar-for-dollar returns on direct mail doing well to break even, but isn't this social tree 1.0? Isn't this what social media was supposed to solve, in terms of reach, velocity, and scale? I posited in my undergraduate thesis - flying in the face of practical, conventional wisdom - that there's some kind of interpersonal transaction that takes place when one voter connects with another that technology can't replace, and I don't mean to waffle on that conclusion - but I do wonder, as our technology evolves and more milennials and digital natives reach voting age, whether or not direct mail is a worthwhile long-term investment. For the meantime, it's probably okay to assume that the average voter views the on-paper direct mail piece as more authentic or genuine an instrument than something that flies across their computer screen or smart phone, and for that reason, direct mail is still useful.

Candidates and causes also have a swath of social media and social networking tools at their disposal, tools that reach millions of end users (if leveraged properly) and which are also dirt cheap to a campaign, if not altogether free. Rob Willington of demonstrated as much in Scott Brown's bid for Sen. Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat in a special election following Teddy's death (wait a minute, that wasn't Teddy's seat - it's the people's seat). Rob's use of text-messaging, geolocation applications, YouTube, Ning, and Facebook makes a really interesting case study in the use of these tools on the Right in the MyBO era.

Another important long-term consideration for campaigns on the Right is cost. I asked Willington during a Personal Democracy Forum conference call back in March, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Given the availability of free online tools, why should campaigns invest in proprietary enterprise architectures (e.g. Will they be useful in the long-term for anything other than an online depository for campaigns?" His answer - and it's a good one, and again, I'm paraphrasing - was that a proprietary enterprise architecture anchors the spectrum of social media tools the campaign uses (each having its own brand recognition) with the candidate's brand, and acts as a vote getter. You can download and listen to the podcast here.

But given this, it shouldn't be long, in theory, before we totally scuttle on-paper direct mail pieces for fundraising purposes (messaging and relationship-building purposes notwithstanding). Additionally, in order to be really successful in the long-run, these tools need to build relationships: voter-to-voter and voter-to-candidate/voter-to-campaign. Melissa Clouthier has an interesting political spin on Mashable's "21 Rules for Social Media Engagement." Clouthier's conclusions assume a high-level of social media adoption across campaign space, and while candidates on the Right are dominating some social media channels, they don't own the Internet anymore:



In the long-run, the best "technology candidates" on the Right - as is the case with all other technological paradigm shifts - will be the early adopters, like Scott Brown. The candidates who do a great job of building relationships through social media on the campaign trail will have the highest chance of success in using tools while in office, both to foster transparency and to protect incumbency. In the meantime, the Right needs to continue developing an accurate, meaningful set of metrics to measure the success of social media strategies against traditional strategic results to make sure that candidates and causes get the highest ROI and the largest reach per dollar spent.

George Scoville also blogs at Liberty Pundits and his personal site Intelligence, Please... He invites you to follow him on Twitter (@stackiii).

* The double irony of this isn't lost on me. Not only is Facebook not very well known for its privacy at the moment, but I sent a Facebook message to relay an enterprise email address.

Putting Conservation Back Into Conservatism

[Blogger's Note: I began this sometime last fall before COP15, but lost track before the holidays; despite my time management ineptitude, these topics are still as timely as ever.]

James Murdoch, son and heir-apparent to conservative media magnate Rupert Murdoch, argued near the end of 2009 in the Washington Post that conservatives and conservationists make natural allies...or at least they ought to. It's a refreshing read, too, because with both major parties playing Alinsky politics it's easy to forget that, aside from the sum of our available natural resources, our future economic growth and cultural-historical legacy are on the line. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a fisherman since I could hold a rod and reel, I'm a habitual recycler-reuser-reducer, I really appreciate having had the good fortune to visit some really cool places during my short time thus far on the planet, and I firmly believe that there's an economic opportunity here - involving the free market - that we don't (or shouldn't) want to miss.

Follow me: author David Pink argued in one of his books that right-brained people will rule the world one day. Certainly we can't get along without the analytical types, but it's the creative ones - the technological innovators - that have ushered man through various epochs across time and which policy makers seem to agree are the backbone of the American economy (this, by the way is true; small firms' marginal costs of production are lower than those of larger firms). Pink's argument goes something like this (and I'm paraphrasing here, not directly quoting):

Raise your hand if you own an iPod.

Lots of you? Good. Keep your hands up.

Now, keep your hands up if you knew you wanted one before they ever had been invented.

No more hands? I didn't think so.

How could you possibly know you'd want a thing before it came to be? It's the people thinking about what you want before you know you want it who really transform society - these are the people that reshape and redefine paradigms in a society.

This argument extends to green products, technology, and sustainable services. Glenn Beck may have assassinated Teddy Roosevelt's character on live television at CPAC this year, but like my good friend J.R. Lind (@jrlind on Twitter) at Nashville Post Business once reminded me, sustainability is good business. Something tells me ol' Teddy would be awfully proud of today's Republican Party if they could find a way to get on board with sustainability-as-economic-policy ethos. It's just going to require re-framing the debate to some degree.

Personally, I liked the way President Obama put it in his State of the Union address:


I don’t like the way the President and progressive Democrats are going about shaping and “solving” the problem…but I liked the way the President put it: whether or not the science is settled is not the chief issue here – there’s an economic opportunity to be had, and in the wake of an unemployment around 10%, it’s time for the Congress to act. We on the Right agree that bad science should not inform policy, but it’s equally important to remember that policy activists and elected officials are NOT scientific experts (unless by coincidence), and to paraphrase Dr. Richard A. Muller, PhD (Physics) the falsification of one area of data does not discredit an entire theory en masse. The Right is terrified that going green will mean capitulation to a radical socialist agenda [sic]; the most devout opponents of anthropogenic warming theory will reject any and all green movements. Of course, new regulatory schemes should be opposed, but it’s possible to look at conservation through our own lens.

Republicans won a major concession in the State of the Union, when President Obama included nuclear energy in his energy strategy. Nuclear power plants will help provide safe, renewable energy, and will create some jobs. Wind and solar will take a similar nibble out of the jobless numbers – but wind turbines are expensive and inefficient, and solar panels will get more expensive before they get cheaper.

The Right needs to go further. Falling back on small government and low tax rhetoric, too, simply won’t fill the bill – the average American doesn’t take our high polemic seriously anymore (beyond sharing our disdain for the sitting Democratic government – we should recognize that this could only be temporary). Republicans have plenty of momentum in their favor, and, like Rep. Paul Ryan, can seize this opportunity before sliding backward into campaign mode this year. Here’s the good news: it’s entirely possible to be green and pro-business all at once.

The government contracting apparatus provides the perfect setting for a pilot program to see the benefits of sustainability, with minimal impacts to the private sector. Last fall, President Obama signed an executive order establishing sustainability goals for greening up facilities and processes across the federal government, including prime and subcontractor goods, facilities, and practices. Contracting and procurement reform in this area – since it has to take place anyway in order for businesses to comply with as-yet undetermined standards and definitions – is our chance to establish a tiered, incentive-based approach to green business. Rather than allowing the federal government to bludgeon businesses everywhere by standing up new regulatory apparatuses with cap-and-trade schemes, the Right should prop up a reformed procurement system which gives preference in the awards process to contractors who meet certain tiered sustainability goals.

This is also a nice way for traditionally pro-Big Business Republicans to throw a nice-sized bone to small businesses, since the marginal costs of pollution abatement are lower for small firms than they are for large firms; the costs of risk-taking in green innovation are also smaller. The conclusion of this policy approach is a set of sustainability practices in the contracting environment (no pun intended) which can be voluntarily extended into commercial markets by companies who see real long-term benefits from sustainability in procurement space – just like John Q. Public who never knew how awesome the iPod would be before it was invented. Small businesses thrive, costs are lowered, small and large businesses collaborate, and the government is largely kept out of interfering with commercial markets – we merely reform a legacy process for the purpose of achieving a policy objective that has several fringe benefits. There are long-term political benefits to this strategy as well, as there is clearly a well-expressed demand for green products and investments/practices.

We – and certainly I – are a long way off from having an exhaustive, comprehensive approach for going green, framed within the context of our own ideological narratives. But it’s not altogether impossible with a little bit of creative thinking. We don’t have to agree on the science of global warming, but we should probably start from the same basic assumption that sustainability is good for business. Finally, we need to remember that we have a real chance to wrestle this issue away from the Left, but we have to act quickly and intelligently, and remember that committing to this policy arena is not capitulation if we come to the table with our own detailed approaches. Here’s hoping we have a champion on to take the reins and lead the Right into a new era.

Cross-posted at

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