Can You Hear Us Now?

In 1994, there was the Contract for America.  Earlier this year, there was the Contract From America.  The first was top-down, the second, bottom-up.

In the spirit of the latter, and of the Tea Party movement, this morning the House Republican Leadership has launched a new “listening” site, America Speaking Out, designed to solicit and aggregate ideas directly from voters–most likely in advance of the House GOP’s new version of Contract for America, (which they expect to release around Labor Day, as in 1994).

Sensitive to the fact that the Republican Party owes the Tea Party, rather than the other way around, the site itself is very low-key.  Instead of hitting people over the head with the fact that the red-white-and-blue reminder that the Republican leadership is running this new site (although it includes all the appropriate disclaimers), the intent is clearly to create a site where people who have conservative and libertarian ideas can feel comfortable and contribute. In my estimation this simple, yet powerful, website has hit the mark in that regard (Twitter hashtag: #speakingout).

I’ve had a chance to tool around the site a little but, and it’s striving to be the of conservative political ideas.  Essentially, it’s entirely up to the public (with reporting and refereeing guardrails) to suggest, comment on, and vote on ideas, with the cream rising to the top.  The risks inherent in such a site are obvious, but it appears that the House Republicans are banking that over time, the adults will sieze control of the conversation, while the trolls and wingnuts will lose interest.  It’s an experiment worth watching.

There’s one essential difference between and, and it’s the cost of entry.  There’s no cost to vote, share, or comment on either, but on, the cost of entering a song is the cost of producing the song, which tends to weed out those who aren’t serious.  There’s no cost at all to coming up with ideas, and there’s a fine line between putting the wackos out at the curb and appearing to put your thumb too heavily on the scale.  This dynamic tends to exaggerate the risks of the trolls taking over the site.  One possible alternative might be to charge a small fee to submit an idea, and to reward the winners with cash.

Eventually, of course, the Party will be judged on whether it walks the walk once it is returned to the majority.  But right now it’s important that it listens sincerely while courting its natural, yet skeptical, allies who are providing the energy this election cycle–something House GOP Leadership clearly understands.

California Congressman, Kevin McCarthy, is leading the effort to produce the new contract and seems to have correctly decided that this year, top-down is a ticket out of, rather than back into, the majority.  I’m currently pursuing him for an interview and hope to gain a little more insight into the project, how it will maintain quality control, or whether it’s really intended to be as free-wheeling as it seems. I hope to have more for you here later this week, but for now be sure to check out the site.

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