I occasionally read diaries and comments here and wonder if there's a full appreciation of why RedState exists and what we're trying to enable with our readers/members. Redstate has three specific goals, as documented on our "About" page:
- Educate conservatives
- Motivate conservatives to get involved in the political process
- Activate conservatives through RedState’s support and tools
There is a pretty basic mission behind those goals: Improve our country by electing conservatives to local, state and national offices. And to accomplish that mission, we want to create activists who work to get conservatives elected. That's it. That's the mission and the goals that drive that mission. You'll see a number of types of postings here, including encouragements to donate to candidates, compliments and criticisms of various candidates' positions, critiques of national, state, and/or local laws and policies, and even some philosophical pieces. But the ultimate objective behind everything we do here is to always work towards the mission of making this country a more conservative - and better - place. As I'll sometimes post in the comments - this isn't a debate society...it's not a place where we spend a lot of time talking about the intricacies of conservative thought. We're here to grow and enable activists who will take part in the political process.
But what do we expect those activists to do? One key area of focus, and one of the main reasons I think we are here, is to change the minds 0f the undecided. Our base is our base - we shouldn't have to convince them that conservatism is right. The vast majority of the time, the base isn't who we need to convince about conservatism...our focus should be on those who are on the outside looking in. Back in May, Gallup did a survey on the political composition of America and found that about 41% of Americans consider themselves conservative, 37% consider themselves moderate, and 19% liberal. That 19% is not our target audience. The 41% that are conservative ARE our target audience. BUT - it's that 37% that is malleable and who we should be targeting for changed attitudes. But be not mistaken: this does not mean that we must somehow change our beliefs or principles to bring them into the fold. But it may mean that we need to do and say things differently.
One of the speakers at the Redstate Gathering in New Orleans was South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney gave a rather unique talk at the Gathering. He wasn't serving up the typical fire and brimstone, red-meat talk about conservatism. He was more interested in how we change attitudes with the folks who can help us win...and he educated his audience on how NOT to do it. In line with RedState's first goal, this was an education that conservatives needed to hear.
Mulvaney started by stating that his mission is to "save the party ... and the country". He explained that we need smarter politicians and that we (and that includes activists - including those who were at the Gathering) "do a lousy job of articulating conservative principles". That is something that I've contended for quite some time. Mulvaney said "It is hard to explain conservatism because it appeals to the brain and liberalism appeals to emotion...It is hard to explain conservatism to begin with, but I am absolutely convinced we make it harder than it needs to be”
Which we do.
We spend so much time using words like "liberty" and talking about "following the Constitution", yet we forget that a huge percentage of the populace is (sad, but true) ignorant of what these things actually mean. And we must accept that, even if we don't like it. In the faith realm, Christians (well-meaning as they may be) often try to convince non-believers on faith issues by explaining theology to them...theory. People don't get that, just as people don't get deep conservative theory in the political realm. We have to find another way to convince them.
People DO get one thing, however: they know when they're being insulted. And this is something Mulvaney zeroed in on, focusing on immigration. He related a story about cantaloupes.
I got a cantaloupe delivered to my office yesterday…anyone know why? There was a congressman during the debate on immigration. We were talking about the Dream Act. He said “For every dreamer who is a valedictorian, there are a hundred of them with calves the size of cantaloupes carrying bags of marijuana across the border."
I learned a real valuable lesson in 2010….I went to Tea Party meetings. I learned that for every one person who showed up there were a hundred people who felt the same way but couldn’t make it to DC that day I had people come to Washington DC with hundreds of cantaloupes, get them through security, find my office, and put it on my desk with a note. What do you think it took us to push people to do that? One thing I think we’ve learned is that if you push people too far, they will eventually push back. And I don’t think comments such as "calves the size of cantaloupes" help us. Think about that - Did it reach out to independent voters? Did it help us? Did it help us spread the message? Does it make us look like the party that people want to be the members of?
I'll answer that for you, Congressman. The answer to your questions is "NO". It did NOT help.
Mulvaney then asked: "Is it persuasive to use that type of language…is it persuasive?", and then spoke of his interactions with his wife: "I cannot think of one time in 15 years of being married that I could persuade her to do anything by insulting her...we don't persuade people by insulting them. So why is this how we practice politics?". Yep. This lack of persuasive ability is one of two key problems facing conservatives (I'll get to the second problem in a moment). We do a lousy job reaching out to the folks we need to reach. We antagonize instead of appealing. We're great at throwing insults and saying and doing stupid things. Another example from Mulvaney, this time from the "grass roots":
And unfortunately, it’s not just the politiicians…it’s all of us…it’s the grass roots. Keep in mind…most folks you meet will never meet a member of Congress. Their opinions of our philosophies and what we believe, comes from you… The grass roots people are the face of our party. I wish very much that a gentleman I was standing near a couple of weeks ago in Washington had gotten that message. There were two rallies on the lawn of the Capitol …there was a tea party rally and a rally next to it, and I was in the back of the tea party rally, and at the party next to us was a gentleman speaking who was speaking Spanish. A TP guy yelled out “Hey, you idiot, learn English”…to the person speaking Spanish. (The rallies) were literally within earshot of each other, which is not that unusual there on the grounds of the Capital. The guy who was speaking was Mario Dias-Balart, a Republican member of Congress from Miami, probably one of the smartest people I know, whose father was the first person to officially take on Fidel Castro in the 50s/60s, and his family had to flee Cuba and he was born in Florida, and obviously he is perfectly bilingual. He was speaking to a group of right-wing conservative Hispanic preachers…people we had invited into DC to start a dialog on how to start the outreach to the Hispanic community so that we can get beyond the immigration issue and talk about economics and opportunities and social issues. I was there…I gave a speech in Spanish to that group earlier in the day and had a chance to meet with them and speak with them in their own language. Every single one of them there is just as conservative as every single person in this room,, yet we have a grass roots person screaming out “Hey you idiot, learn English”… How do you think it made them feel? You think we lost votes that day? I don’t know, but I know we lost an opportunity…we lost an opportunity to include a very important group in the debate
The Senate Bill is an absolute disaster, there’s no doubt about that. You can have that debate without insulting people.
We cannot afford to lose too many more opportunities…every time we use language like that, we do that.
This is key. As he says, we are the voice of conservatism, and as such, we must learn to be more persuasive...and we don't do that by inflammatory language and insults. Now I know that here at RedState, we're "among friends" and we sometimes get a bit more vocal than we might "in public," but we do need to be sure that the fire-breathing stuff we say here doesn't bleed over. And frankly, it's not even smart to do here. After all, there's no ID check at the door - the Left does read RedState, and they do quote us...even the user diaries. We have to do much better at not insulting those who we need to reach and we need to not say and do things that will damage our conservative testimony.
Let me point out one other thing: This is not limited to immigration, so don't take this as some sort of "Oh great, there's Bill being Mister Immigration Squish again." Mulvaney did mention that politicians do say stupid things occasionally, so maybe Romney isn't the greatest example - but his 47% and "I don't care about the poor" cracks did not do him any favors with a key constituency that he/we needed to win the election.
Remember, we're here to educate, motivate, and activate. And we don't motivate with insults. Now on occasion we do use insults to make a point, but we don't insult those who we are trying to reach. Insulting a Democrat politician isn't a problem, and we do it frequently. Remember, I already said that 19% isn't really our target audience. We do have to be careful about insulting our potential constituencies.
Besides over-inflammatory talk and insults to those we want to reach, the other key problem we need to address is how we articulate the benefits of conservatism. Earlier I mentioned the tendency we have of trying to explain our positions via theory and broad-based philosophy. But we seldom explain why conservatism produces good results, and what those results are. Back in December, 2012, my colleague streiff wrote a fantastic piece on this topic. He zeroed in on a great quote from Scott Rasmussen:
For Republicans to succeed, they need to recognize that most voters don’t care about limited government. But voters care deeply about the type of society a limited government makes possible.
Applying that logic to the current debate over the fiscal cliff, Republicans in Washington need to recognize that few voters believe this is a serious debate about deficit reduction. The president has made it instead a debate about fairness, and they need to respond on that level.
Voters don't care about "liberty". They don't care about what the Constitution says. They don't care about small government. But they DO care about how these things can benefit them. Streiff concluded his piece:
Unless we learn to effectively communicate the benefits of our positions rather than harping on “conservative principles” to an audience that is unfamiliar with conservative or progressive theories of government we will lose more than we win.
Why are we here? We are here to build the conservative brand and make people want to "buy" it and be it. We don't do that by being insulting and making ourselves sound like kooks. We do it by telling people we care about them (which we do) and how our policies and principles will help make their lives better.
At the end of his talk, Mulvaney said it well:
We need to be able to convince (the country) that we can be, again, the party they can turn to for real honest discussion of the issues and offer real answers.
Yes, indeed. And that's why we are here.