Conservatives and Communication

…or how we lost a Presidential election.  Note that carefully: we lost the Presidential election, we did not lose the election—we retained a vast majority in the House, we lost only trivially in the Senate, we gained three governorships to reach an historic high in the State Houses, and we held in the state legislatures.

The exit polls show that the voting population fundamentally agrees with conservative principles: Americans believe, by a 51%-43% margin, that today’s government already does too much that more properly belongs to the private sector.  By a 63%-33% spread, Americans said not to raise taxes as a means of cutting the Federal budget deficit.  Concerning the economy, the national debt, and the budget deficit, generally, the voters preferred the Republican over the Democrat.

Yet despite this, there is much bodice-rending, much breast beating, much wailing and wringing of hands over the Presidential contest defeat and a large argument that we conservatives must alter our message, must change our fundamental principles, in order to win another election.

I demur from this, not only because it’s defeatist, but because it’s wrong.

We conservatives, and the Republicans among us, have historically had a communications problem, and last week we lost a Presidential election that should have been a slam dunk.  We didn’t talk to all Americans about our values and principles, and we didn’t take our message of how those principles, implemented by us in this term, would help all Americans as individuals.  Instead, we just talked to one group of American citizens and fundamentally ignored the rest.

We made a speech to an NAACP convention and ignored Blacks otherwise—nationwide.  We made a few Spanish-language speeches in Florida and ignored Hispanics otherwise—nationwide.  We…ignored Asians nationwide.  We need to go back to being an inclusive political entity and not just talking about it.  We need to take our message into the neighborhoods where Blacks, Hispanics, Asians live and speak to them as fellow adult Americans—and especially not as Black-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans.

We need, also, to be specific about solutions, and how they’ll help the individual to whom you’re speaking, his neighborhood, and the nation—in that order.  The “I have a plan” refrain is not only too Nixonesque, it’s too plainly empty.  Say the plan, don’t just claim its existence.  When the Progressives criticize it, and they will, ask what their plan is, and then point out they’re criticizing ours because they don’t have one of their own about which to talk.

Immigration reform?  Here’s one plan: secure our borders, make it easy to enter/stay legally and for as long as the immigrants—and visitors—want, deal with the population of illegal immigrants already present.  Ask what the other side has actually done about reform, besides talk.  Remind all, not just Hispanics, of the emptiness of Progressives’ words, made manifest by President Obama’s promise to Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D, IL) to work to reform immigration in return for the latter’s vote for Obamacare—and Obama’s subsequent complete lack of action for the next three years.

Affirmative action? Make the case that affirmative action is not just wrong morally, but inherently racist—and offer something else that is consistent with our principles and that actually addresses the problem that affirmative action originally was intended to correct: equal opportunity from the start.

Talk to everyone, also, as our fellow adult Americans, not as Blacks, or Hispanics, or Asians.  Immigration reform?  An item of importance to Hispanics, to be sure, but it’s important to everyone else, too.  Equal opportunity?  An item, under the guise of affirmative action, of importance to Blacks, certainly, but it’s important to everyone.  Especially party representatives and leadership need to do this, especially those we choose to represent us as politicians.  But all the rest of us, too, need to do this.

Further, from our listeners’ perspective, we need to explain how our conservative principles, and our solutions built on those principles, help each individual–help me.

Conservative or Progressive, at the individual level, we’re all alike, as both Adam Smith and Karl Marx understood: what’s in it for me.  The difference, though, between a Progressive and a Conservative is this: for the Progressive, it’s “This helps me, and so I think I’m better off.”  For the Conservative, it’s “This helps me, and so I think I’m better off.  And that makes me better able to help my fellows who aren’t as well off.”

From this local, neighborhood contact, we’ll reach all the other demographics into which pollsters like to fractionate Americans.  We’ll talk to the women who live there like the rational adults they are, and we won’t be using the Progressive pick-up line, either: “Hey, Baby.  Wanna see my…contraceptives?”  We’ll reach the married and unmarried, the young and old and ages between, we’ll reach the students and the working men and women and those out of work.

Next, we need to start now, and we need to do these things often; the future is now.  We can’t afford to wait until the next campaign season.  My wife has a motto hanging on the wall where she works out: “Do today what others won’t.  Do tomorrow what others can’t.”  That’s what the Democrats have been doing in communicating their…message…for years.

Speak.  Speak to individuals, speak in their neighborhoods, speak in their townhalls (that you ask them to help organize rather than just calling one together), and speak with—don’t lecture at.  Write.  Write to friends and family.  Blog.  Write letters to the editor, write editorials, and do these not just in the major national papers—as with speaking, go into the neighborhoods, write to the local papers, the Plano Star-Courier, the Commerce News Today, etc.

Don’t be afraid to talk about foreign policy.  Don’t be afraid to talk about social issues.  Don’t be afraid to talk about race.  Some of our principles need to be explained on moral grounds—don’t shy away from that.  Some of our principles can seem complex—don’t shy away from that.  Now, though, is the time to start talking in depth and not in cute 30 second sound bites.  Still, not all in one speech or in a single article, either, but cover them all, and cover them often.

Finally, the Republican Party must weed out the RINOs and it must lose, in Charles Krauthammer’s words, “candidates who talk like morons about rape.”  We’ve spent so much time in our own echo chamber that we’ve lost track of the way in which how we say things sounds to those outside our chamber: Sharron Angle’s “I don’t know that all of you are Latino.  Some of you look a little more Asian to me.”  Richard Mourdock’s “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”  Getting out and around will let us learn how that sounds to folks who don’t know us.  It will let us adjust our phrasing without adjusting our message.  And it will help the rest of us put aside those who actually believe “like morons about rape” rather than are merely clumsy in their speech.

But above all, don’t alter the conservative message by altering (actually, moving away from) the underlying principles of conservatism.  Remain true to those principles.  Anything else is just pandering, and the dishonesty of that will turn most people away.

4 thoughts on “Conservatives and Communication

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  4. The Progressives appeal to people in the form of groups. We need to appeal to them as individuals. Yes, a rising tide does lift all boats* – but we can make each boat a little tighter, caulk the seams it needs, not just some seams the other boats might (or might not) have needed. And so on.

    Above all, by appealing to individuals, we can simply bypass the group identity politics the Progressives depend on.

    *A political slogan championed by that Great Conservative … John F. Kennedy.

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