For the past four years, conservatives have been fighting a relentlessly rearguard, defensive action. For those same four years, conservatives have lost every rearguard, defensive action that they’ve fought. Or if they haven’t actually lost, the best that they’ve managed is a stalemate that stalls Progressivism, but doesn’t advance conservative values. Even the stunning 2010 “shellacking” proved ineffective, as shellackings really only work if you take over Congress entirely, rather than just getting half of it.
Conservative also don’t seem to be faring too well in the culture wars. To use abortion as just one example, in the 2012 election, conservatives lost the chance to take over Congress when Progressives successfully demonized two Republican Senate candidates who are pro-Life. More than that, it seems as if, contrary to past trends showing that Americans are inclined to a pro-Life view, a recent poll gave a definitive victory to American support for abortion.
Ironically, right up until the 2012 election, many conservatives (myself included) thought that these tactics would work. We believed that a jobless recovery (a stock market that benefited from Obama’s crony capitalism, even as more and more people became unemployed), creeping inflation, flabby home sales, depreciating savings, rising medical costs, and all the other signs of a sick economy, would turn voters against Obama.
We also thought that proofs of corruption (Fast and Furious), incompetency (Benghazi), and crony capitalism (Solyndra), would turn voters against Obama. They didn’t.
Sure we knew that Romney, although a good and intellectually brilliant man, was only a decent candidate, but we thought that, given all of Obama’s failures and dishonesty, Romney’s charisma deficit wouldn’t be a problem. And had Romney been a Democrat, it really wouldn’t have been a problem. He was a Republican, though, which meant that sterling character and brilliant economic chops were inadequate to fend off the extraordinarily vicious character assassination that the White House and the media launched against him.
We conservatives hadn’t counted on Americans buying such disgusting canards or ignoring ugly facts, but they did. Between the media running interference, general disinterest from voters more fascinated by Honey Boo Boo and Jersey Shores than by politics, and Americans’ probable fear of voting a black man out of the White House, conservatives got to watch Obama win again.
In the wake of Obama’s victory, conservatives in the media and in the blogosphere have responded by amping up their previous tactics. Considering that Obama won’t be running again in 2016, spending all of our political capital and emotional energy attacking him doesn’t seem like a good use of resources. Be that as it may, conservatives are Obama is still Target No. 1. There certainly is a lot to get fired up about, most notably the way in which Obama seized upon Sandy Hook as an excuse to seize guns. Nothing will come of it, of course, since there are too many Democrats who like guns too, but Obama has successfully framed the issue to be one of life- and child-loving Democrats squaring off against gun-crazed, child-murdering Republicans.
Rather than running about like headless chickens who are still trying to peck the President to death with details, we might do better focusing on very specific weaknesses and not letting those weaknesses vanish from the public eye. To me, the most obvious are (a) the economy and (b) his handling of Benghazi.
Not content with putting even more effort into tactics that have been proven failures, Republicans are adding something new: finger-pointing and back-stabbing. Stephen Sondheim’s “It’s Your Fault,” from Into The Woods, summarizes perfectly the spectacle that Republicans are now making of themselves:
Here’s the thing: Anger can only last so long and fire us up so much. After anger comes depression, which some say is anger turned inward, but I say depression is anger exhausted.
If even true believers like me are turned off and are tuning out because of this relentless negativity and internecine viciousness, can you imagine what’s going on with ordinary, rather disengaged voters? On the one hand they have an ebullient, confident President who has proudly announced an “inclusive” agenda (never mind that it excludes the 49% of the country that didn’t vote for him) and, on the other hand, we have a dispirited, mean-spirited, flabby conservative movement.
Not only do people like winners, they dislike sore losers. Worse, the media isn’t there to pick up the pieces for us as it did when Bush kept the White House for a second term. Instead, it’s going to prey on our relentless negativity, magnify it, and throw it back at us — all while the American people shy away from the political party that smells like old roadkill.
Well, that was my own carping and finger-pointing. It was a necessary premise to what comes next in this post — coming up with a strategy to re-position conservatives as a winning team.
It’s tempting to begin by trying, yet again, to define conservativism. I’m not going to make the mistake, however, of sticking myself onto that tar baby. Unlike the relentlessly lockstep Progressives, whose allegiance to the party line helps them win, conservatives are a diverse lot. Some have had way too much schooling and some have had less than they would have liked. Some are already wealthy and some hope to be wealthy. Some live in urban areas, some in suburban enclaves, and some live on farms or in the back woods. Some have roots reaching back centuries in America (black or white, Asian or Hispanic), while some are recent immigrants from every part of the globe. Some are pro-Choice and some are pro-Life. Most support the Second Amendment, but with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Indeed, when I think about it, there are only two things I can say with absolute certainty about American conservatives: This first is that they truly love America. It’s a pure love. They believe that America is an exceptional place, not in spite of her founding principles, but because of them. While they recognize that America has erred in the past, they also understand that she, unlike just about any other country in the world, has corrected herself, sometimes at the cost of much spilled American blood.
In this undiluted patriotism, conservatives differ from the Left, which loves America as a wife-beater loves his wife: “I show my love for my wife by focusing only on her flaws and failings. And because I really love her, I routinely beat the crap out of her to help her improve herself.”
The second thread binding conservatives is that they want smaller, cheaper Federal government. They differ on how much smaller and how much cheaper, but they recognize two things about the government we have. The first is that it’s breaking the bank, which may not worry Obama, but which is very worrisome for those who have the wits to see what happens to Western countries that go bankrupt. Today’s news shows as Greece, which is becoming scarily primitive; yesterday’s news shows us post-WWI Germany, that responded to economic chaos by inviting genocidal socialists into the Reichstag.
The second thing conservatives recognize when they look at Obama’s inauguration announcement that he intends to keep spending taxpayer money to enlarge the federal government is that bigger government means less individual freedom. Conservatives may disagree about the precise amount of individual freedom necessary for happiness, but they’re pretty sure that individuals aren’t happy when the state has too much control over their lives.
Knowing that patriotism and individual freedom are the ties that bind conservatives, shouldn’t we be embarking upon a campaign to appeal to them and, moreover, to show them that we conservatives are Happy Warriors, not whining, vicious losers? It’s my rhetorical question, so I get to answer with a resounding YES.
Having answered my question to my satisfaction, the remaining question becomes what form should this Reagan-esque Happy Warrior initiative take? Here’s a list of three things we can do:
1. Write to your favorite radio hosts (Rush, Sean, Dennis, Hugh, Mark, etc.) and ask them to devote at least one hour a week to highlighting the good that is America. Even better, have this pro-America hour reach out to minorities who share conservative values, but who have been scared into thinking that the Republicans are the party of White Supremacists and the KKK. It’s useless to point out that this kind of racism was the Democrats’ stock in trade. In the here and now, Republicans are stuck with that label and need to counter it. What better way than to interview a Vietnamese woman who escaped the fall of Saigon, came to America with nothing, started a business, raised a family, and now can point to successful children and grandchildren, all of whom, after leaving college, went to work in the family’s thriving business. Ditto for the Nicaraguan man who escaped the Death Squads, the East Asian family who fled their small village’s grinding poverty, and the black woman who broke free from the crime and degradation of America’s welfare-funded inner cities.
2. Instead of carping about Progressives on Facebook or Twitter (which preaches to the choir without converting anyone else), keep posting American success stories that are premised on traditional American values: hard work, honesty, self-reliance, etc.
3. Leave comments on this blog (or write to me: Bookwormroom *at* gmail.com), giving practical suggestions for revitalizing a positive conservativism that engages people. I want concrete initiatives that ordinary conservatives can do on a daily basis, whether shopping, seeking out entertainment, socializing, working, blogging, etc., that will help to advance a positive, welcoming vision of conservativism that’s predicated on an abiding patriotism and a belief that federal government must become smaller and cheaper.
Everybody likes a winner. We’re not winning right now, but it behooves us to start projecting a winning attitude. Otherwise, we’re just going to be the crazy uncle in the attic who scares voters away.