I don’t remember exactly what verbiage constituted my first tweet reply to Ryan M____. I do know it bore a distinctly non-cordial tone.
If memory serves correctly, Rand Paul’s primary victory in the Kentucky Senate race served as the catalyst that finally elicited a response from me. I think, though, that Ryan had probably been lurking for a while, observing my activity on behalf of Marlin Stutzman in the Indiana Senate primary fight. Eventually, he emerged and openly contended that various GOP races across the country might be on shaky ground in November, due to the novice candidates the primaries had fielded. I pushed back.
But…and yes, kids: here’s the moral of the story…we kept talking. And in a matter of days, perhaps even hours, it became clear that my perspective really didn’t differ significantly from Ryan’s, at all. Furthermore, I discovered that Ryan was the quintessential equal opportunity provocateur, with a healthy purpose in so acting.
Ryan, at the end of the day, enjoys challenging conventional wisdom, and does so very directly…often, with a bit of a jab. But as he states below, political differences are rarely, if ever personal with Ryan. Again, I have experienced this in real time. Ryan and I maintain diametrically opposed perspectives on at least a couple of high-profile GOP leaders who come to mind. We have been frank with each other on this, to the point where I have wondered if I crossed the line of what Ryan would tolerate. That isn’t how Ryan rolls, though. He doesn’t cede ground, but he also never refuses to listen.
I met Ryan in person at our August 28 tweet-up in DC. He has become one of my best friends on Twitter; perhaps this isn’t coincidental, since we both enjoy substantive conversations and gourmet food. Ryan is gaining new followers rapidly because he engages in an informative fashion.
I’d like to add that Ryan is intentionally a bit cagey here about certain aspects of his role on Capitol Hill, but I can attest that he brings a resolutely worthwhile perspective to the highly momentous times in which we live. If you don’t follow him, you should start today…and talk to him. He’ll reply. I guarantee it.
10 Questions for Ryan M________
1. You definitely do not fit the stereotype of a Caucasian Republican in a middle-class, suburban upbringing! You spent time in both Brooklyn and California in your growing-up years. Fill in the blanks for us, in terms of what has made you the person you are today.
I guess my life really began to take shape after my parents divorced in 1988. Up until then, I had the stereotypical suburban family life. I grew up in Katy, Texas, which is, for those who don’t know, a suburban wonderland. The public schools are great, rebellious behavior is frowned upon, and achievement is celebrated. That said, the divorce of my parents, while amicable, was both traumatic and defining. I say the divorce was both traumatic and defining, only because I can trace my seemingly-reflexive (and irrational, at times) distrust of people to that one event.
After a year in California, my father moved back to Brooklyn (where he had grown up after moving to the U.S. from China in his early teens) to run his brother’s Chinese restaurant. Not many only children I know have parents who live 1,400 miles apart. For the next seven years of my life, I would see my father once a year for summer vacation. Eventually, I moved to Brooklyn to live with my father and attend high school. After graduation, I headed to Waco to attend Baylor University. It was a formative time for me and four of the greatest years of my life so far.
More than anything, I feel my racial/ethnic background and my friends have had a profound impact on the person I’ve become. As many people know, my father is a Chinese immigrant, my mother is half Jewish, and my stepfather is a Cuban immigrant. My three closest friends are: 1) an African-American female who’s a Democrat; 2) an African (born and raised) male who’s here legally on a student visa and, despite receiving three degrees from American universities, is unable to obtain permanent legal status; and 3) a Mexican/Salvadoran male, environmentalist, legal immigrant. I’ve always sought to understand other people and have been fortunate to have wonderful parents and great friends who constantly challenge me (in good ways) and help refine my perspective on life. I’d like to say more about this, but I have no interest in writing a book at this time.
2. Tell us about your work as a Capitol Hill staffer and how you ended up moving to Washington, DC.
Several people have heard the story about how I got my job on Capitol Hill, but I’ll go ahead and share it here. In late 2007, I was working as a grant-writer at a large non-profit in New York City. I enjoyed my work and my colleagues, but I had long dreamed of working in politics. Over the Christmas vacation, I decided that I wanted to be in D.C. by June. Over the next 4 months, I saved up as much money as I could. On the first of May, I left my job and spent the entire month driving back and forth from Brooklyn to D.C. to look for an apartment.
On the Friday before the Monday (June 2nd) that I was supposed to leave, the email list I was on sent out an opening for a job with a Congressman. It looked like something I could do so I sent my cover letter and resume that evening. On Monday morning, as I was driving down the NJ Turnpike with my car packed with my belongings, I received a call asking me if I could come in for an interview. Of course, I said yes. The next day, I interviewed with a senior staff member. The interview went well and I wanted the job, but I knew jobs on the Hill were difficult to come by for people with no connections. Even so, I left knowing I had done all I could. Exactly a week passed when I received a call asking whether I was still interested in the job and whether I could meet with the Congressman in two hours. Two hours later, I was sitting face to face with the Congressman and his Chief of Staff. The interview again went really well, and I was told I’d be called within two days to tell me if I had gotten the job. Ten minutes later, the Chief of Staff called and offered me the job. He asked me if I could start the very next day. I said yes. My first day of work, as it turns out, was also my birthday. Within nine days and without having any connections, I was working on the Hill. Mission accomplished.
I got my start on the Hill as a Legislative Correspondent (LC) which, for those who haven’t heard before, is just a fancy title for someone who writes letters to constituents who inquire about where the Congressman stands on an issue. Over the next weeks and months, I began writing weekly e-newsletters and press releases, started the Twitter page, took over the Facebook page, managed the revamping of the website, and did anything I could to assist my boss and Chief of Staff. This spring, I was promoted to Communications Director. Now, my job entails serving as spokesman for my boss, managing the communications operation (which also includes legislative correspondence and online media), supervising three staff members, overseeing our intern program, and serving as a sounding board for my boss.
Every week is different…which I like because it keeps you on your toes. My boss is a very serious thinker on policy issues with a vast amount of both small business experience and legislative experience. Because my boss has not sought national fame, it’s my job to make sure his constituents are aware of all the ways he’s serving his District by communicating his positions on issues and his key votes on bills, and sharing the work he does in and for the District when he’s at home.As for the big picture, this is an exciting time for House Republicans. I’ve worked on the Hill for about 2 ½ years and the 112th Congress will be my first experience in the majority. I’m looking forward to House Republicans being a check on the Obama Administration. Now, we have a number of fresh conservative faces (or reinforcements) to help us drive the conservative message and implement conservative policies.
3. You have had a lot of fun in the last few months with the “RINO” term. Take some space here to share your general thoughts on how, at times, the “DC Establishment” and conservatives at large take different approaches to issues, as well as how all conservatives can work together in the next 2 years (until the next election; hard to see past that in this particular context).
I get annoyed when people on Twitter misuse (or co-opt) words like RINO, elitist, or establishment, and ascribe to them narrow (and often ignorant) meanings. I see it all the time. More often than not, people use those words as a means to diminish the person there are talking about/to without having to meaningfully engage them on the issue at hand. It’s used as a weapon to silence dissent. Early on, I decided to retake those words and make fun of the words by repeatedly showing, often by employing extreme irony, that usage of those words to make a point is, at best, lazy and, at worst, mind-numbingly basic. The fact is that I (and many in the “establishment”) find it funny that people who just recently discovered their love for the Constitution are lecturing us about the trouble our country is facing.
The main difference between the “establishment” and “real conservatives” is not on policy. It’s on strategy. I had an hour long discussion about this whole issue with @ben_howe about two weeks ago. This point was perfectly illustrated in the Delaware Senate race. Delaware is a state without a conservative grassroots infrastructure or a history of electing conservatives. “Establishment” types believed that nominating Congressman Mike Castle as the nominee, even though he was far less conservative than Christine O’Donnell, was the wiser choice because he had won statewide in a small state twelve times in the last three decades without losing. And, since the last Republican to win statewide office in Delaware was Bill Roth for Senate in 1994, it seemed like a no-brainer. O’Donnell was a deeply flawed candidate who got crushed, even in a wave year. It’s not that we should not try to nominate conservative candidates, but primaries mean nothing if the Republican candidate cannot win the general. I’m in the business of building a Republican majority that can govern our nation. Losing winnable seats is neither desirable nor wise if we want to build a governing majority. We won a number of seats in the Senate this year, but we will have little control over what’s brought to the floor.
As we move forward together, I think you’re already seeing a daily drumbeat on Twitter about who should be our nominee in 2012. But it’s not as predictable as one might think. Some “real conservatives” like Governor Christie even though he endorsed Castle for Senate in the primary and other “real conservatives” like Governor Palin even though she endorsed John McCain for Senate in the primary. From most of what I’ve read, people are keeping their minds open to a number of options. As for the GOP nominee in 2012, I’m optimistic that some of the divisions between the “establishment” and “real conservatives” will not distract us from unifying behind our eventual nominee so that we can defeat President Obama.
4. When did you know you were a conservative and how do you define the term today?
I became mildly interested in politics in high school, but my interest really piqued during my freshman year of college. My two closest friends in my freshman year were hardcore conservative Republicans and we talked every day about politics. Of course, by the time the 2000 election came around during my sophomore year, I was hooked.
As for defining conservatism, I think many of the previous Twitter Personalities have done a great explaining it. For me, however, conservatism is intuitive. It makes sense on so many levels. I guess you could say I’m a three stool conservative, meaning: 1) taxes should be low to stimulate investment; 2) we should maintain a strong posture in our foreign policy; and 3) we ought to respect innocent human life. That said, I espouse neither an irrational faith in government welfare programs nor a reflexive hostility to government. As a Hill staffer, I’m quite optimistic that conservatism truly and faithfully applied by government can work, though I’m not sure I’ve seen it happen since I became interested in politics. I also believe in incremental steps to achieve the goals of conservatism. I am not one of the new(er) generation of actively-engaged citizens entering the political arena who thinks conservatism equals anarchy or gridlock. It does not. I have no desire for government to be dysfunctional. We are dealing with too many problems in our society related to terrorism and our debt for me to want government to fail.
5. Here’s the one everybody has to answer so we know a little more about your downtime! Give us some favorites in the following categories: Books, movies, music, tv shows, foods, hobbies/sports
I love reading, and blame Twitter for me not being able to finish a book the past several months. Speech-less by Matt Latimer is a must-read for people who’ve come to D.C. thinking they can change everything all by themselves. Angler by Barton Gellman is a fascinating look at Vice President Dick Cheney and how he maneuvered himself within the George W. Bush White House. The Right Nation by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge is a well-written chronicle of the conservative movement in America. Judging Thomas is, in my opinion, probably the best biography on Justice Clarence Thomas. The Terror Presidency by Jack Goldsmith is a compelling insider’s account of the War on Terror from a key Justice Department official during the George W. Bush Administration.
Schindler’s List– My mom took me out of school in seventh grade to see it. The raw and very real nature of the film has profoundly impacted my life.
The Godfather– It’s a story of family and loyalty, two things that matter to me.
Crash– It’s a very serious movie about a topic that many would rather not talk about.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory– I feel like a kid every single time I watch it.
Kung-fu Panda– I love the scene where they fight over the wonton. I bet @firstteamtommy is probably not surprised.
I pretty much listen to almost every type of music you can think of except metal and new age. I love Christian music (particularly praise and worship) like Hillsong. Currently, my favorite song, however, is “Revelation Song” by Kari Jobe. It’s not a new song, but it got me through a lot this year.
I like the music on 99.5 FM (the local pop station here). It’s usually playing in my car and @dinafraioli doesn’t seem to mind. My favorite song at this moment is “Like a G6.” I’m pretty sure @brandonkiser likes it too. I have no idea what it means (and I don’t care to know either), but it’s very catchy.
As a one-time distinguished clarinetist in my youth, I have a deep appreciation for classical music. I made Katy Honor Band twice (2nd Chair & 7th Chair), All-Region (greater Houston area) Band (13th Chair) once, and NYC All-City Band four times (where I was principle 2nd my last two years). My favorite composers are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Carl Maria von Weber who, in my opinion, have written the best music for clarinet, and Gioachino Rossini who wrote some of the great masterpieces, many of which I’ve played.
To be honest, I don’t watch with any regularity a single non-news/politics or non-sporting event show. My all-time favorite tv show is probably Married with Children. It’s the dysfunctional family I never had (my parents divorced when I was 7 or 8) but always wanted. The humor in that show probably best reflects my own. My favorite cartoons are probably Voltron and ThunderCats. I’m sure @colecamp will have to look those two shows up if he reads this.
I love food. Anyone who knows me knows this. I love nachos (from Taco Cabana and Carino’s), Tex-Mex (from Los Cucos and Cazadores), Chinese, Indian, and Italian. As a former employee (during college), I also love Sonic and wish they’d open a restaurant closer to Washington, D.C.
I love sports. These days, however, I pretty much only play tennis. I’m a very good player and am quite active on my USTA league team. I also love my New York Yankees! I regret that I don’t have the time to watch every game, but they are a classy organization.
6. Name 3 influences on your ideas that brought you to the point where you determined, “I can move into the DC government infrastructure and make a difference.”
I’m not sure how this question should be answered, but I do think my mom had a profound impact on my decision to move to D.C. and pursue my dream of working in politics. Like most moms, she thinks I can do anything. I hope she’s right. When I told her I was thinking about moving from Brooklyn to D.C., she prayed for me and said that she could tell I really wanted to do it. At that point in my life, it was a “now or never” feeling. My father encouraged me in his own way. Ever the reality-checker, he told me he thought politics wasn’t for me. He said that while he believes I am talented, he felt I’m too honest for politics and that I’d become jaded and cynical if I saw how government really worked. That was encouragement enough for me to prove him wrong, and I’m happy to say that I still have an abiding optimism that is firmly grounded in reality and the possible, even after 2 ½ years here.
7. How do your Christian beliefs play a role in what you do and what is the big-picture place that faith, in general, should take in today’s political structure?
I’m an evangelical, non-denominational Christian or, more simply, Christian. It’s funny that I used the word “evangelical” because I never really heard it used until I started becoming interested in politics. Faith, for me, informs my politics in many ways. And, whether you like it or not, I can’t separate it from who I am. I didn’t grow up in a Christian household, and it wasn’t until I was eleven that I became a Christian. But, to help one better understand me, one ought to know that my stepfather and mother are pastors. This is news to probably everyone (even my closest friends on Twitter) because committed Christians and social conservatives are often the butt of jokes in our society. I want people to know about my faith, and I enjoy interfaith dialogue, but I don’t want people to think I don’t like them because we don’t share the same religion.
For most Christians, faith plays an important role in politics. I don’t use faith to justify my politics, but I can’t help but find common links between the two. That said, I know many people of different faiths or no faith at all who agree with me on most political issues. Clearly, conservatism is appealing on a number of levels not necessarily related to being a Christian.
Faith probably should not have a role in the formal political structure of any organized political party, but I do think faith-based political advocacy groups have just as much right to add their thoughts to the political discourse as environmental groups, labor unions, pro-gun organizations, child welfare advocacy groups, or low taxation groups. All of these “special interests” represent key constituencies whose voices ought to be heard in the political debate, whether I agree with them or not.
With all that said, I tend to believe there are inappropriate uses of faith I see everyday, particularly on Twitter. I generally don’t talk about my faith on Twitter, but I do think that some people use it as a weapon or tool of division. The idea that a fellow human being can, with certainty, know whether another person is Christian or not is amusing. Only God knows what is in our heart and no one else. Newsflash: God is not a registered Republican, He hasn’t put out a policy paper on the fair tax, and He may or may not have an affinity for pork. In fact, except for a few areas of political consequence, I’m not sure many policy stances can be justified by saying God endorses it.
8. If you had to name 3 life goals that are still unfulfilled, what would they be?
Professionally, I’d like to run for the U.S. House or U.S. Senate. I have no desire to step into that any time soon, but it’s something that intrigues me. Perhaps I’ll run for elected office in 30 years or so. Personally, I feel like I’m ready to get married and have kids. For that, however, I’m going to need to find my wife. She’s out there…somewhere. Call me if you’re reading this! I’d also like to do more traveling. If I could travel to three countries, I’d choose China, Israel, and Italy. China is the homeland of my father, Israel has deep importance to me personally as a person of faith, and Italy…well, the FOOD…duh.
9. You don’t have a Facebook page (which preceded Twitter, for many of us). How did you discover Twitter and what made you decide you wanted to be a part of it?
Almost up until the day I opened my personal Twitter account, I had never really been interested in social media and was, in fact, quite skeptical about its utility. In fact, I have never had an account with Facebook, Friendster, Myspace, or LinkedIn. For several years while social media platforms took hold, I resisted opening an account in part because I’m generally a private person with a few close friends who know how to get a hold of me if they need me. Two of my best friends asked me (repeatedly) to open a Facebook account, and each time I’d quip “if you’re my friend, you’ll have my cell phone number, and if you’re a good friend, I will answer when you call.”
I remember first hearing about Twitter, probably in the summer of 2008. I really didn’t know what it was or what was the point, and I didn’t really even attempt to figure it out. It wasn’t until early spring 2009 when the then-Director of the New Media for the House Republican Conference Vice-Chair, @matthewlundh, began a huge push to get all House Republicans to join Twitter and Facebook. I met with Matthew and he did a pretty good job of showing me how it could be useful for my boss. Within a few days, I set up a Twitter account for my boss. After managing my boss’ account (it was a collaborative effort between him and me) for over a year, I decided that Twitter could be a good way to meet new people who also liked politics. I opened my account in April of 2010 and haven’t looked back since. It’s been a great ride and I’ve met a lot of great people on Twitter, many of whom I’d like to meet in real life as well.
10. Describe your tweeting style and the process by which some of your Twitter friends have become real life friends.
People use Twitter for many different reasons. Some people use it for work and some use it for personal use. Some people tweet links. Others post their thoughts. I use it to engage people on the hot topics of the day. It’s what I love about Twitter. Many people say you can’t change people’s minds in 140 characters. That may be true, but I tend to disagree. Engaging people on Twitter has allowed me to better see other people’s points of view even if I don’t agree. Some people get very angry on Twitter. That’s not my style. My friends know that while I generally avoid drama, I love engaging people. And, while some say I come across as intense on Twitter, I try to employ humor to break the tension. Additionally, I also almost never take political disagreement personally…unless one attributes to me views I don’t have. And, I hope when someone reads my tweets, they smile (like @cmdeb) or shake their fists (like @dmataconis and @jazzshaw).
Twitter has become a great tool for making friends. Many of the people I talk to on Twitter from the D.C. area have become friends in real life. We hang out regularly and tweet each other frequently. That said, I encourage people in other cities to meet folks in their cities and become friends too. It’s easy because you know a lot about the people before you actually meet them. In fact, many of the people already profiled on this blog (@keder @dinafraioli @mamaswati @bccohan @hostagehoosier @bethanyshondark @seanhackbarth and @nathanwurtzel) are people I hang out with from time to time. There are so many others I’ve met and consider friends who I’m sure will get the opportunity to answer ten questions in the coming weeks and months on this blog, and even more I haven’t met in real life who will get at least twenty questions from me when I see them at CPAC 2011.