|I am in the process of thinking through the "why" of the Republican debacles over the last two election cycles. This is going to take some time, and several posts to fully examine. After that, I suppose, I'll take a break.|
Let's start with a simple premise: elections are won by winning arguments--by convincing the voters of the sincerity of intent, the efficacy of reason, and the urgency of need to choose one person/party's ideas over those of the others'.
There are many ways to win that argument, but the any attempt at mass persuasion has to involve two things: superior mass media and effective message. The media is a story for another day.
The message is what I'll deal with today. And, to be more specific, the delivery of the message is what I'll deal with. Communication requires both an actual idea AND the ability to pass that idea on to another. And, though I'm not a professional, I would have to say the Republican Party over the last eight years has been singularly the most incompetent communication organization I've ever seen. The actual idea is not the problem--the initiative process seems to show that the country is still roughly centrist or slightly right-of-center--which leaves the ability to pass that idea on as the problem. And, BOY, what a problem that is!
Starting with the President, whose sense of right and wrong is something I admire, whose sense of judgment, while shaky at times, was faultless in crunch time, and whose basic principles are things I agree with, but whose ability to communicate is, at BEST, weak. After eight years of the brilliantly nuanced Bill Clinton, the country was ready for a plainspoken President--we got over it. When he followed his principles and decided not to fight certain PR battles, it highlit his priorities; but when he was unable to express his convictions regarding the fights he WAS willing to take on, it just made the whole exercise hopeless, even comical. His malapropisms are now the stuff of lore, and any time you can reduce a person or an office to a punch line, you lose.
And who can forget the hapless performances of Scott McClellan in front of the White House press corps? When he didn't seem overwhelmed, he seemed uninformed; when informed, he was easy befuddled; and, once befuddled, he had no arsenal of wit or misdirection to fall back on. When the President most needed a spokesperson who could master the delivery of his message, he was shackled with a person who I'm not sure I would hire to read copy for a used car dealership commercial. It wasn't until Tony Snow was brought in that the message achieved any coherence at all, and his tenure was too short, too late.
But it wasn't just the White House that suffered--Congressional Republicans have been nearly as clueless about communicating a message. On the House side, nobody seems willing or able to take on the imminently confrontable Nancy Pelosi--it's like everybody's afraid to say something wrong or get accused of being mean. And, while Mitch McConnell is very effective at expressing opposition, I have yet to see him or anybody else effectively articulate a positive idea, much less a whole agenda. I was once told to feel good about Orrin Hatch's ability to make an argument, particular where judges are concerned--I never saw it. Sadly, John McCain suffered the same fate. A truly GREAT man who doesn't seem entirely comfortable speaking in public, combined with an actual voice that central casting would find laughable . . . well, you see what we got.
And I don't think this is just a media thing. I'm pretty sure that the problem ISN'T that the media just isn't showing good Republican arguments. They get the opportunity to make those arguments some places, like Fox and some of the extended interview shows, and they come across pretty weak.
The last great Republican apologist was Newt Gingrich, and he still is; unfortunately, he's confined to being that from the antiseptic confines of the punditry class. But, even at that, he always seems to have a thorough knowledge of the topics, he seems to have actually thought about the implications of different courses of action, and he always makes his arguments from a deep core of fundamental beliefs. THAT's what wins arguments.
And I don't see anybody currently in office being that person. Jeff Flake has been known to be pretty good; John Shaddegg has had his moments; and there are a handful of others that seem to fit the bill. THEY NEED TO BE IN FRONT OF EVERY CAMERA THEY CAN FIND EVERY DAY FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS. And then they need to teach the rest of the caucus to do the same thing.
GO EVERYWHERE! TALK TO EVERYONE! TALK ABOUT WHAT MATTERS TO JOE THE PLUMBER! But, mostly, know what you're talking about, and don't take anybody's crap. Don't fear the "racism" charge or the "divisive" charge or the "facist" charge--learn how to deal with them.
And then learn how to ask pointed, simple questions. Take every opportunity to appear with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and the White House representative and learn how to stop yelling at them and ASK POINTED, MEANINGFUL QUESTIONS. And then be damn ready to express a better alternative.
Is it easy for me to sit on the sidelines and snipe? Sure--but I've also stuck my neck out, including a public TV appearance (watched by 17 whole viewers). I don't mind the fight, I'm just not in a position where I get asked to fight all that often. And I have a HELL of a lot of respect for people who do get in the ring, like John Bodnar, Libby Szabo and the RMA's very own Joshua Sharf. But they're not the leadership--they're the next generation. Our elected officials and "leaders" are in the fight all day long--and they don't seem to want it.
If our side can't learn how to deliver our message, our side will stay in the wilderness for an awfully long time.
ADDENDUM: If you don't think the delivery is important, consider: this country just elected, in a near-landslide, a person whose one great accomplishment is making a speech. He manages to say essentially nothing (message), but says it so eloquently that nobody cares (delivery). I don't imagine that a more eloquent Republican nominee would have beaten Sen. Obama this particular year, but I do think that a more eloquent Republican could have at least steered the discussion onto ground more favorable for down-ticket candidates.