Over several months now, I have been devoting attention to the question of how conservatives can win both policy debates and elections, not by appropriating policies that Democrats advocate and putting a Republican stamp on them, but rather by educating Americans and converting those who don’t already share our perspective to it.
My basic thesis is that we win by getting more people to agree with us (others would have us believe that we win by getting us to agree with more people).
In the last election, we saw a significant failure on this front, both with regard to our own nominee being less committed to both conservative policies and this effort than many of us would have liked, and with regard to the result (voters supporting the guy who ran on a platform of higher spending and more debt).
We also saw Republicans fail to use technology and digital communications mechanisms adequately to educate and persuade voters of the merits of conservative viewpoints, and then organize them to do the things necessary to win the election.
Now, we are engaged in a discussion surrounding the fiscal cliff where the emphasis in negotiations seems to be very much on raising revenues, and less so on spending cuts.
There is little scrutiny of already too-high and wasteful spending, the impact that various deficit-reduction plans already in existence would have (how many times a day do we hear “Simpson-Bowles” with hardly anyone knowing what that plan’s effect would be), and the minimal impact that soaking individual industries or economic groups with tax increases would actually have on reducing the deficit.
It is an opportunity that too few conservatives are seizing on, though if you tune into cable news, you'll certainly see plenty of conservatives arguing against tax increases on camera. I have my own opinions on how we address the fiscal cliff, but today my focus is still on educating & messaging.
Some advocacy groups are attempting to focus attention on these same tactics, and doing it in a way that takes advantage digital tools in order to engage and educate Americans, and frankly, involve us in the process to a greater degree. One truth of this election is that we both underestimated and overestimated the electorate. By that I mean, we failed to educate because we either didn't believe people would get it (underestimate) or assumed they already knew (overestimate).
It seems obvious to me that we would use the tools and media that are capturing the public to a greater and greater degree, but somehow that escaped our Republican overlords who still live in a world where 30 second spots using deep voiced scary people warning of the apocalypse is the best way to educate.
Obviously we have to do better if we want to avoid a do-over of an election where we saw a phenomenal technology and digital gap. Those in the right-of-center universe have got to get to grips with integrating technology into everything we do in a manner that at least helps set, and then drive higher, minimum standards of digital savviness.
It is in this vein that I want to highlight three tools, launched by three different groups, all of which have an obvious tie-in with the substance of the debate surrounding spending, debt and taxes in the context of the fiscal cliff discussion, and all of which I think RedState readers should have a look at, share with friends, play around with and provide feedback on. These are educational tools, but it's not just the broader public that could learn something from them.
First up is the "Soak the Rich" tool from our friends at Media Trackers.
This allows you to literally soak a given industry with tax hikes with the click of a button and see the effect on the deficit. A popular misconception is that tax increases could take care of the deficit with great ease. Play around with the tool and you'll see that is simply not true. Now, if only we could get every player in this debate to play around with it, too, and get more campaigns producing things like this routinely, grabbing useful data while promoting them, and getting more people to share them (education, organization, communication). As has been pointed out numerous times by yelling at walls, increased taxes is a drop of water in the ocean of spending and as always, is based on the assumption that tax increases will result in higher revenues (which we know it won't).
Second is the Bankrupting America iPhone app released by the fiscal conservative group Public Notice, which provides a constant stream of locally-relevant news about spending and debt to users.
It has added functionality that lets users share examples of wasteful spending with the group by uploading photos or videos, which Public Notice intends to then feature on its website. So, there’s a two-way flow of information that again facilitates education, communication and organization. GOP, take note.
Finally, we have the Federal Deficit Reduction Plan Comparison Tool (whew!) from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
This allows users to compare different deficit-reduction plans side-by-side and by category (defense spending, Social Security, tax expenditures, etc). Again, this is a powerful tool for educating, communicating and organizing. And again, Republican candidates and organizations could benefit from constantly thinking about tools like this to roll out that drive a message, are actually useful to people looking for more information, and can potentially be tied in with data-grabbing mechanisms that help with actually organizing people and getting them to do things you want them to do (vote, donate, sign a petition, or make a phone call).
Given the importance of the issues at stake in the fiscal cliff debate, and the need to improve our policies on taxes, spending, the deficit and the debt, it's helpful that these tools have been launched.
It's also helpful because with people using them, the idea of integrating technology and digital tools into every single fight going will become more entrenched, and even if people critique particular aspects of them, as conservatives, we'll be engaging in a process of ongoing self-improvement where digital strategy is concerned that can only be helpful at this point.
Check out these tools, road test them, and use them to educate yourself and communicate important facts and details your friends and family. We win by getting more people to agree with us.