I can’t claim to remember when or how I began following Sean Hackbarth on Twitter. I do recall, though, that in my capacity as a total political animal, Sean became an immediate favorite. As a New Media strategist for the Senate Republican conference, Sean had direct access to all sorts of Beltway insights. What was not to love?
The weekend of Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, I organized what turned into quite a well-attended Tweetup at Buffalo Billiards, a watering hole a few blocks from the White House. I finally got to meet Sean in person and I found firsthand that he can go on for a long time about politics…the personalities it contains and the philosophies that fire their cylinders. I plied him with questions (as well as some of my waffle fries) and he provided far more than flip answers every time…solid analysis of the situations and circumstances that give rise to the current political environment. He is a walking encyclopedia of DC knowledge; publishing houses should be aware of the very real possibility of Hackbarth book shopping someday.
Sean’s most memorable personality trademark, however, is his down-to-earth, highly humorous unpretentiousness. When a statement or question strikes him funny, he throws his head back and laughs in complete enjoyment of the camaraderie of the moment. Sean is a wellspring of energetic goodwill and is simply a lot of fun to hang around. Do it if you get the chance.
Since he currently has 4,327 followers, it is safe to say that a solid number have already discovered that Sean is a requisite dispenser of political wit and wisdom. But all of us who Tweet can always use more discussion partners and Sean is no exception. So follow him if, inconceivably, you aren’t yet!
I don’t believe I’ve ever disclosed anything of this nature in previous profiles…but my favorite question/answer combo for this week is #6…
10 Questions for Sean Hackbarth
1. When did you first know that you were a conservative and how do you define the term?
I was a goofy kid who cut his political teeth on Rush Limbaugh. He was my gateway drug into conservatism, even when I wasn’t exactly sure what it was yet. I knew Rush was this character on the radio who was a larger-than-life, entertaining political commentator. In his show, he dropped names like F.A. Hayek and Thomas Sowell, which told me there was an intellectual backbone to his thinking that I wanted to explore.
That exploration didn’t happen until my senior year of high school, when I became a full-blown book junkie. At some time during that period, I accepted the term “conservative.” That’s not to say I knew what I was talking about. In 1992, the first election where I could vote, I voted for Ross Perot. Silly me.
What is a conservative? A conservative is one who appreciates that
a) there is something called “Human Nature”;
b) it slowly evolves; and
c) we live in a world of constraints.
I don’t want to get too philosophical, but being conservative is rejecting utopia and the idea of there being “the solution” to what ails our society. The best we should expect is making incremental improvements. Conservatives can’t transform society into their own perfect image, nor should they try. The results would be disastrous. What we must strive for are step-by-step changes that make things better, not worse. Unfortunately, that’s not as sexy as the Left’s belief that throwing enough brainpower or money at a problem will result in a solution.
2. I know you grew up in Wisconsin and you once worked for Barnes and Noble, pre-politics. Can you fill in some of the other biographical gaps for us?
I’m a Wisconsin native, growing up 45 minutes south of Lambeau Field. In high school, my family moved to a town north of Milwaukee. My college life was spent in Duluth, Minnesota–talk about relentless snow and cold. After college, I worked for a year in the Twin Cities. Then came my book store life…8 years of book store life. Let’s just say working in retail is great, except for all the customers. I’m kidding…sort of.
3. I have to confess that Fred Thompson wasn’t my guy in 2008, although I liked him. But in retrospect, he should have been. How did you get the gig working in his campaign and what was he like?
A friend was working for the Bush administration in Washington, DC, in 2007. He ended up meeting Michael Turk, who ran the online operations for Bush/Cheney 2004 and the Republican National Committee. Turk was Fred’s online advisor and was looking for staffers. My friend passed along my phone number. In July 2007, we had an 8 min, 30 sec phone interview. The next day, he asked me if I wanted to move to Washington to work for Fred. I said yes.
Presidential campaigns are big, hectic operations. I only talked to Fred twice: Once in my first week on the job, he said, “Hi,” then again, when he announced his campaign was over.
Fred is exactly what he appears to be. There’s no “public Fred” and “private Fred.” He’s witty, smart and very thoughtful. He would have been a great President, but voters wanted him to be something he wasn’t.
4. How did you transition into working for the Senate Republican Conference and is that when you officially became such a RINO (Republican in Name Only)?
Fred is from Tennessee. My boss in the Senate Republican Conference, Lamar Alexander, is also from Tennessee. That commonality was probably what opened that door for me.
I probably became a RINO the moment I accepted the job for a Senate Republican Leader. Sen. Alexander is not known as a fire-breathing conservative, but he gets a bad rap when people accuse him of being a moderate. His temperament is different than other GOP Senators who are more popular with grassroots conservatives. But as I saw during the health care debate, Sen. Alexander’s approach was effective as part of the entire GOP strategy.
It got frustrating when people tossed around the RINO label at me, simply because I was trying to explain why Senate Republicans did what they did. That was interpreted as me justifying their behavior. As a conservative, I didn’t always agree with what GOP Senators were doing, but as a Senate staffer, it was only my place to offer my advice when asked and to support the GOP conference in communicating their message.
My way of dealing with the RINO charge has been to twist it on its head by calling myself a RINO-INO–a RINO In Name Only. RINO is thrown around so much that it’s lost any real meaning. I might as well turn it into a joke.
5. Tell us about CRAFT Media | Digital, while explaining whether or not it is a RINO enterprise.
CRAFT realized political and public affairs communications should not be separated into silos: video, website development, digital outreach, online advertising, direct mail, etc. When you combine them together with a coherent strategy, a client can tell their story better. I’m working with top-flight communicators who like to tell stories and have a lot of pride in telling them well.
Since CRAFT is located in Washington, DC, it’s by definition a RINO enterprise. /sarcasm
6. The bottom line is, Sean, if RINO = establishment, then you definitely are. Both. All kidding aside, why should Tea Partiers be glad people like you (political professionals) are in the nation’s capital?
A bit of wisdom I discovered shortly after starting work in the Senate was “No one has a monopoly on arrogance.” There are plenty of people working in Washington who think they have all the answers on winning elections and advancing the cause. There are also plenty of people working outside Washington who think they have all the answers. They’re both wrong.
Washington’s industry is politics, so there are a lot of political professionals here. Our jobs are advocating and communicating causes. Simply doing it day-in and day-out confers some useful skills. On the downside, DC is inside a bubble. Those of us living inside it forget about how the Real World is affected by what happens in DC.
We all have niches in the activist ecosystem. None of us have the answers, but working together and putting aside some of our ego, we can accomplish a lot.
7. Here is a list of favorites we’d love if you’d list: books, movies, musical artists, TV shows, vacation spots, hobbies. Just for you, I’m adding another category I can’t believe I’ve avoided so far: FOOD!
Books: Individualism and Economic Order, by F.A. Hayek; Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, by Tom Wolfe; any mystery by Donald Westlake.
Movies: Star Wars–it gave my mother easy Christmas present ideas for years when I was a kid. Die Hard–the best Christmas movie ever made.
Musical artists: As much as I tweet about them, Rush (the band) is not my all-time favorite band. That would be King’s X. (Yes, no one’s heard of them.) I also love Led Zeppelin, Bob Mould and electronic dance music. (You’re out of luck. There are no YouTube clips of me grooving.)
Vacation spots: What are these things called “vacations?” I’ve forgotten what they are, since I moved to Washington. When I did take vacations, I really liked going to Phoenix to watch Spring Training baseball. My father and I would drive around the area watching the Milwaukee Brewers. Sitting in the sun, drinking beer and watching baseball was bliss. A trip to Arizona next spring might have to be planned.
Hobbies: When I used to have time I wrote for my weblog, http://www.theamericanmind.com. I need to get back to that, since that’s what got me into the world of professional politics. Some of my other pastimes include reading–mostly non-fiction and consuming Wisconsin sports–especially my Green Bay Packers.
Food: Give me a really good hamburger. In Washington there are some good places: Five Guys, Ray’s Hell Burger and Good Stuff Eatery. I can also go for sushi. Being a Wisconsin guy, I also know you can’t go wrong with a good bratwurst.
8. What fundamental principles guide the career choices that you have made in the last few years?
I’ve looked for jobs where I feel like I can advance the conservative cause while doing something interesting. I once thought I could turn my weblog into a career. Instead, I get paid to talk to webloggers (as well doing other things).
Politics isn’t a game. It’s about people governing themselves. For me, it’s about incrementally improving the world. At the same time I want to have fun. I hate being bored. The intersection of the internet and politics was perfect for me. New tools and techniques are being invented while at the same time it’s about telling good stories.
9. What are the pros and cons of being a single guy in Washington, DC? Lonely? Fun? Both sometimes?
Over the last few years, I’ve been too busy with work, to the point that it’s probably a blessing to be single. I won’t deny that it would be nice to have a companion. However, I do have more friends in DC than I’ve had anywhere else. Yet, for multiple reasons I haven’t made that reciprocal connection.
10. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Still in the political business or otherwise?
I don’t know what I’ll be doing two years from now, just like I didn’t know I’d be doing political consulting now when I started working in the Senate two years ago.
I’m #old now. In 10 years I’ll be really #old. By then, I hope I’m raising a family. I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing something in politics. Campaign life probably won’t be in the cards. That’s a young person’s game. Maybe I’ll have my dream job of being book review editor for National Review…assuming there will still be a demand for book reviews then.