What’s Missing?

Spiegel Online International writes

There is a lack of alternatives to Berlusconi in Italy. The left has spent years criticizing the prime minister, making fun of his dyed hair and of his philandering — but they forgot to present a political program of their own. The Berlusconi phenomenon, which has caused mystification outside of Italy, is the result of this weakness. Berlusconi is a joke. But behind him is a void.

The Republicans threaten their chance for success in 2012 with a similar failure.  There is a critical difference, though, between their position and the Berlusconi opposition: the Republicans actually have a plan—or rather subsets of a plan.

The Republicans have a budget, passed by the House of Representatives, that makes a serious start at addressing our budget deficit and national debt problems, even if its effects generally show up in later years.  The Republicans have several bills that address in the immediate term the existing employment crisis that, as much as the existing debt crisis*, stands in the way of any serious economic recovery, all passed by the House of Representatives.  The Republicans have a partial answer to Obamacare, having passed its repeal in the House of Representatives.

But the Republicans have failed to do a number of things that are critical to their success.  They have not put these various subsets together into a coherent plan, at least not in any way that the public has heard.  They have not pushed the fact that Obama’s “do-nothing Republican Congress” is, in fact, a do-nothing Obama/Reid Senate, where that budget has languished to the point of functional expiration (it was for the 2011 fiscal year), nor have they pushed the fact that their 15 jobs-related bills are languishing in that same do-nothing Obama/Reid Senate.  Nor have the Republicans pushed the fact that, in both cases, the refusal to act is because Reid and Obama are so terrified of them that Reid won’t even allow the bills to be discussed on the floor of the Senate, much less let them come up for a vote.  The Republicans also have not offered an alternative to Obamacare beyond niggling around the edges (“repeal and replace” is a medicine man’s chant): their budget only sought to tweak Social Security and to convert Medicare from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program.

All of these flow from the biggest—and entirely too typical—Republican failure: their inability to get their message out.  They’ve ceded, once again, the information high ground to the Progressives.  Republicans explain their moves only with sound bites in the immediate moment; even their criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy performance are limited to one-offs, such as this one by Senator Lindsey Graham (R, SC).  Thus, it is a “do-nothing Republican Congress,” the Republicans are painted as having no alternative to Obamacare beyond going back to the “failed policies of the past,” the Republicans are painted as being anti-jobs as they continually block the Obama/Reid tax and spend bills that are labeled by them “jobs.” The Progressives don’t even have to speak of their foreign policy failures.

What’s missing, then, are two things.  The Republicans need to unify their message.  What is their overall plan for recovering our economy and our standing in the world?  How do their budget (I presume the House will pass another Ryan-like plan for the coming fiscal year) and jobs bills support this overall plan?  How does repeal of Obamacare support this?  What do they intend to replace Obamacare with (the status quo ante is vastly better, but it’s badly broken itself)?  How does their overall plan enhance individual liberty and responsibility, and how does it reduce the size and reach of government?

The second thing the Republicans need to do is understand—and then act on that understanding—that they need to get their word out repeatedly, often, in a steady drumbeat.  They can’t succeed with only short, one time interviews and quick sound bite pressers following a vote in Congress.  The Progressives understand the need for constantly talking to Americans.  Obama’s left-populist message is motivated by that understanding, and being the only message on the bulletin boards, it’s having the (Progressive) desired effect.

The Republicans—and not just the leadership; all Republicans—need to get out on the hustings, get onto the NLMSM TV and radio talk shows, frequently and steadily.  And when reporters ask them a misleading or loaded question, these Republicans need to push back, point out the distortions in the question, and then answer the real question.  And if the NLMSM publishes inaccurate edits of the interviews, the Republicans need to point that out, also, and publish their own, unedited, copies of those interviews.

The Republicans also need to move away from the NLMSM as their primary outlet.  “Non-traditional” outlets are powerful venues for reaching all Americans.  The social media (Facebook, yahoo!, and Twitter are just some examples, podcasts can be a powerful tool) are powerful messaging mechanisms with the whole of the United States for their audience.  Americans also are moving away from print newspapers and reading the online news outlets (The Daily Caller, The Weekly Standard, National Journal are examples); Republicans need to talk to these outlets early and often.

*As an aside, our debt crisis is a borrowing demand problem, driven by that lack of employment, as much as it is a borrowing supply one.

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