April 26, 2013
Everything We Know About Elections Is Wrong,
Fourth Movement and Coda
How can the GOP take advantage of the axioms of coolness, without losing its soul?
Remember, the axioms of coolness don't mandate going over the top! Unlike Democrats, Republicans should always ask, "WWRD?" I don't mean with regard to policy; many of Reagan's programs would be anachronisms today (such as building a massive tank corps). What we need to start emulating is Reagan's understanding of how elections are won... and the core of that understanding does not change, even while the technology and specific mechanisms are in constant flux.
For example, Reagan never tried to demonize vast segments of ordinary Americans; he confined his attacks to actual enemies, such as the Soviet Union and corrupt politicians. Nor did he frighten us by saying we're all going to die if we don't slavishly support every policy of his. And he would have laughed in the face of any aide who advised him to compare himself to Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed.
Our current "cool" president embodies all three of these vile, bullying strategies, to the point of narcissism bordering on self-deification. Alas, such tactics work very well for the Left; it's their bread and buttered circuses.
Consider the recent upswing in the number of Americans who now favor redistribution of wealth. When economic times are good, most folks are happy to "allow" rich people to keep the money they earn. But when the economy turns sour, a large swath of the electorate panics -- they believe the only way the rich got their riches was by stealing it all from the rest of us. There's no other possible explanation! (Cf. Sneaking Apples from the Great Wealth Tree)
Democrats play on that paranoia, whipping up class warfare, because they thrive on insecurity, fear, and chaos... as do radical Islamists. But that simply doesn't work for Republican candidates.
But what does work for us is the emotional connection most Americans still have to our country. Democrats used to be able to rely upon loyalty and patriotism, but they have thrown that all away in their pursuit of divide-and-conquer and control-by-crisis. But the GOP still has the ties that bind, tethering us to the America I think the great majorities long for: The America that is truly "e pluribus unum," out of many, one, not the other way 'round.
I believe most people still support the idea of private property. They still want their economic and intellectual liberty. They still believe in a melting pot for immigrants, in assimilation, despite all the hate-mongering and propaganda from the salad-bowl activists. They believe in traditional marriage and normal families, not all the bizarre and incomprehensible hook-ups you find in gay and swinger communities. (Americans also believe in minding their own business, which is why ultraconservative fantasies of reinstating a ban on gays in the military and overturning Lawrence v. Texas, the Court ruling that struck down all anti-sodomy laws, are not only futile but electorally devastating.)
I believe most Americans are outraged by late-term abortions, particularly partial-birth abortions; but they see an enormous distinction between a baby and a single fertilized cell, a zygote. If we conflate the horror show of Kermit Gosnell and his post-birth "abortions" with embryonic stem-cell research, we lend credence to the absurdist charge that Republicans are anti-science theocrats.
We have many, many paths to beating Democrats by playing according to our rules, not theirs. We can turn the tables on them in many different ways; but like Jerry Seinfeld's lock, we actually have to use these techniques in order for them to work.
How about this: "We don't want people to needlessly suffer from lack of medical treatment for devastating illnesses like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. But at the same time, we don't want to force devout people support a procedure that causes them moral anguish. But we can resolve this dilemma by pressing hard for more funding of non-embryonic stem-cell research (placental, amneotic, and adult stem cells), and especially by pursuing non-destructive embryonic stem-cell research, a new approach which has quietly been percoating in the background."
This puts the Democrats into the perilous position of arguing that they would prefer destructive embryonic stem-cell research, because they want to see more embryos die. (This is almost as awkward a position as advocating partial-birth abortion while the Gosnell trial rages.)
We miss great emotional opportunities because we're so fixated on logicking voters into submission. Yet in successful political campaigns, logic never leads; it backfills. That is our first fundamental tactic.
- First convert, then persuade; get the right emotional pitch, and voters will retroactively be persuaded by the logic.
The logic is important, vital; it separates us from the Bonesian Left. When Dr. McCoy and Commander Spock agree, that is when we can find the Kirkian Mean... and that is when we win elections, often by a landslide.
Next, everybody in the Republican Party agrees that we need to do a better job of candidate selection; but that's like sticking your head out the window and then opening it, or putting on your shoes and socks -- in that order. Before we select a candidate, we must have a set of criteria for the qualities we're selecting! And "likeability" and "coolness" must be much higher up the great chain of candidate selection than "is a policy wonk" and "has a 5,000-page master plan to solve everything."
We will rarely win elections when our candidate is boring and reactionary (Romney), cranky and verging on iconoclastic (McCain), doddering and constantly referring to himself in the third person (Blob Dole), or a monomaniacal, one-note wonder (practically all the losing GOP candidates in the last several primaries). Unfortunately, it seems as if this is your grandfather's Republican Party!
We shouldn't toss away the eternal verities, but every old and ineffectual policy of the past is fair game for preemptive defenstration. This brings us to our second tactic:
- GOP candidate-selection criteria must lean heavily towards hip, likeable, and interesting candidates, technically savvy, forward-looking, with new ideas instead of the tired old garbage that didn't work well even back in the day, and is far less likely to succeed tomorrow and next year.
Finally, we don't need a detailed Theory of Everything; that sounds a bit too millennarian for comfort. But we do need a coherent overarching narrative into which all the bits and pieces can eventually fit.
For example, Reagan's narrative was that domestic government was too big, while security government was not nearly big enough: The government should stop intruding where it's neither needed nor desired, such as hampering innovation by driving up interest rates, trying to control the economy by brute force, launching anti-competitive spending sprees, and raising tax rates in order to "level" wealth... and instead should start spending its money to protect the American people from harm by, e.g., the evil empire.
Once Americans understood Reagan's priorities, virtually every policy, from tax cuts to defense build-ups to his (failed) attempt to curb domestic spending made perfect sense in context. That's because Reagan did, in fact, think logically from first principles, then craft policies that embodied his reasoning. (Though he pitched those policies in "emotion, then logic" order.) Thus, the coherent overarching narrative is our third tactic:
- Republican candidates must be able to tell an enthralling story about where we are now, how we got there, and where we go from here. And the candidate's actual, specific policy proposals must arise naturally out of that narrative.
Rules for fighting radicals, or brother can you paradigm?
Nobody can guarantee that Republicans will hold the House and take back the Senate next year, nor that one of us will be elected president in 2016. But if we follow these three fairly obvious rules for candidates and the party itself...
- Lead with passion and emotion, backfill with logic
- Nominate candidates who are likeable, cool, and futuristic, not pining for the "good ol' days"
- Construct a believable and uplifting general narrative; then fit policy to the story, not the other way 'round
...Then we Republicans will improve our chances of electoral victory a thousandfold, because finally we'll have earned it!
Those of us who remember the JImmy Carter years will recollect how hopeless everything seemed during his term; here's what we faced (and this is a non-inclusive list):
- We had a president who hated America and everything for which it stands, and who was feckless, hapless, and clueless.
- Democrats had controlled the Senate since 1955, and the House since 1933 (FDR's first landslide). In fact, the House remained in Democrat hands throughout Reagan's entire term as well, not switching until the 1994 Newt Gingrich revolution; yet somehow, Reagan got about 70% of everything he sought, a much better record than the current occupier.
- Entrepeneurs could not start new businesses, and existing businesses could not expand. The economy had sunk into a hellish quarmire of a stagnating economy and rapidly rising inflation simultaneously, dubbed "stagflation" -- which the Keynesians assured us was impossible, therefore wasn't really happening. (Whenever a "theory of everything" runs up against stubborn facts on the ground, the only proper answer is to deny the facts and "correct" the measurements to whatever theory says they should be. Cf. Globaloney.)
- Taxes were very high, interest rates even higher. Energy prices were through the roof, and we had long lines for federally rationed gasoline. America seemed to have caught a terrible case of the flu.
- Our military was shrinking while the Soviet and Red-Chinese threats expanded; we were wrong-footed again and again in areas as far-flung as Vietnam, Angola, and Afghanistan, and as close as Cuba, and Nicaragua. Communism was advancing all across the globe, and nearly everybody believed it was unstoppable. America's best days appeared to be far, far behind us. Carter fully embraced the grand vision of detente, which meant trying desperately to "contain" the Red threat while doing nothing to roll it back anywhere, pure defense with no offense.
- Our nation was humiliated by the hostage crisis -- a bunch of theocrats in Iran, emboldened by Carter's astonishing weakness and triggered when he allowed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to come to the U.S. for cancer treatment, seized 66 embassy personnel including U.S. Marines. The hostage takers, so-called students, later released thirteen women and blacks ("oppressed minorities") and one white man who was seriously ill... thus inflicting further embarassment on us, as their mockery of Western compassion made us look like the real guilty party. 52 hostages were held for the last 443 days of the Carter administration and the first day of Reagan's.
- Carter was a spoil-sport even in the world of sport, preventing American athletes (and via treaty, the athletes from 64 U.S. allies) from attending the Moscow Olympics; the boycott was a spasmotic gesture of utter futility over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (Carter opined after the invasion that he hadn't realized that the Soviet Union was expansionist.) Net effect of the boycott: Countries from Western Europe, more or less tied to America (Italy, France, and Great Britain), won 50 medals; countries in the Soviet sphere won 581 medals. Boy, we sure taught them a lesson!
We were weak economically, militarily, and morally; and during the depths of that horrible time, it sure looked like it might be a permanent shift to the left that would never be undone.
Then along came a presidential candidate with a forceful but likeable personality, a set of good ideas, and a history of keeping both his word and his principles; and that was all it took to shatter the old paradigm and initiate a new.
Defeat is always an option; but despair, surrender, cowardice, and quitting need not be. No nation is truly defeated until its citizens simply give up the fight, roll over, and take the slave's collar.
So let's not. Let's get up on our pins and start fighting back. But this time, we'll take the fight to the Progressivist Left, and we'll swim with the current of the great river of traditional American culture, and ride the oceanic swells of shared emotional understandings to which every human is heir. We have a huge advantage: Progressivists despise the former and cruelly exploit the latter... and don't think Americans don't know that! We simply haven't given them a viable alternative recently.
Instead of calls to jettison conservative policies, which are as valid today as they were thirty-three years ago, let's reappraise our emotionless and atomized method of delivering the traditional ideas that still resonate with the American people. Instead of cross-dressing our ideology and getting political-reassignment surgery to look more like Progressivists, we ought to campaign on our traditional principles, but with a lot more romance!
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 26, 2013, at the time of 2:16 PM
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