Yesterday Rep. Amash spoke at this weeks “Blogger’s Briefing,” a weekly discussion group held every week at the Heritage Foundation. Amash spoke on his views on the Export-Import Bank, his optimism on reaching the two thirds threshold for a balanced budget amendment, the rhetoric of the incoming class of representatives, and his use of social media.
Amash was an obvious pick to speak at such an event, having embraced social media with active followings on Facebook and Twitter. On his Facebook page, Amash explains each of his votes. Given that Amash’s record of voting on every vote called in the House, it is an active as well as informative page. Not only are Amash’s votes explained, but Amash himself gets involved in some the discussions that develop on the site.
Being the second youngest member of the House it is perhaps unsurprising how comfortable Amash is with social media engagement. However, what has surprised Amash are the issues that generate the most interest and passion.
When asked what topics engaged the most people on his own social media outlets Amash replied, “Civil liberties are by far the most engaging.” NDAA, SOPA, and other alphabet-soup legislation attract the most attention and discussion, more so than the economy, healthcare, foreign policy, or social matters. Of course, the fact that these discussions are happening on social media means that privacy issues are going to be dominant, yet it is not only internet and copyright issues that concern Amash’s followers. The Patriot Act, TSA overreach, and government surveillance are all discussed and debated.
What Amash’s online following and the issues raised in social media engagement show is that more and more Americans are not only increasingly concerned about civil liberties, but that conservatives are in a great position to claim back civil liberties as an issue from the left.
During the Bush years, the left rightly protested loudly against the civil rights abuses committed by the administration. Obama came into office promising an improved civil rights record. However, after renewing the Patriot Act, not closing Gitmo as promised, and passing NDAA, Obama has shown himself to be just as bad as Bush on civil liberties. However, as with the anti-war movement the pro-civil rights crowd seems to have diminished. Amash and his social media followers offer an indication of how popular a pro-civil rights conservative platform could be. While the economy is dominating this election season, conservatives must find a way of capturing the votes of those disillusioned by Obama’s poor civil liberties record, or those who have been convinced by the arguments of conservatives like Amash and Ron Paul. Social media offers such a mechanism to do this.
The debate over SOPA showed how effective social media can be in allowing constituents to make their concerns known to their representatives. Even congressmen who are not actively involved in social media are apparently regularly asked by their constituents to comment on a tweet or facebook post put up by Amash. This is an incredible influence for a freshman congressman from Michigan to have, and it is down to Amash’s commitment to openness and accountability. Let us hope other representatives follow his example and engage with their constituents more directly.