Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bobby Jindal Is Right...but so was Romney...

Following his defeat  in the Presidential election, Governor Mitt Romney, in a conference call with donors, offered the opinion that the Democrats won by offering gifts to voters, by offering specific programs tailored at certain demographics.   Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, in response, offered a sharp critique of those comments.

Count this blog as agreeing with both sets of comments.

Governor Romney is at least partially correct in his characterization of Obama's strategy -- his plans, his vision, as Romney said, were from the "old playbook" of Democratic politics -- putting together a string of various interest groups and have it add up to an election victory.   On immigration, his views were able to win him the states of Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico -- and a narrow win in Florida.   On the auto bailout, his vision for state-supported industries was able to win him the key midwestern battlegrounds of Ohio and Michigan.   On abortion, he was able to earn the votes of the majority of single women.   On a broad basis, his vision of a dependent state on issues such as student loans and health care earned him votes among young people and the poor.   The fact is that many Americans presently do feel the government has a responsibility to provide them things....because they don't believe there is any other realistic way to do so.

Where Governor Romney faulted, however, was offering an alternative vision that people, as a whole, could grasp onto so the notion of a big government wasn't the only vision out there.  What plans he offered were too confusing to explain to the average voter quickly, nor was he effective at articulating the conservative philosophy on a broader basis as well.    Finally, his background at Bain (unfairly, perhaps) and his ill-advised comments on the "47%" led many Americans to feel he simply didn't like them or didn't care about them -- or led even those among the 53%  to believe that Romney didn't care about their friends who perhaps they identified as part of the 47%.

Thus, as Bobby Jindal indicated, the Romney campaign's strategy seemed geared towards winning the remaining 53%.  Indeed, Romney's path to electoral victory was always dependent on winning a series of narrow victories in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire -- he went 0 for 7 -- but never on really uniting the American people behind his candidacy. In a way, while Romney was not offering the kinds of gifts he criticized Obama for, his campaign was also narrowly tailored -- at getting enough support based upon fear and disapproval of Obama that he could win.

While we feel Romney ended up being a pretty good candidate -- well enough to win many elections -- the fact is his message -- his package of solutions, if you will -- wasn't enough to match up against who is still one of the Democratic party's best messengers in history in President Obama.    The fact Obama has performed so poorly and Romney getting gradually better as a candidate meant that the the election ended up being quite close in reality, but victory in large-scale elections often depends upon people also being FOR what you have to offer the country.

That's where Jindal's comments come in.

Jindal is absolutely right that too often the Republican Party has seemingly written off too many voters.  While we are always wise to attempt to identify voters as more likely to be with us than not, we cannot simply accept that as reality and then only go after those voters.   If we truly ever want to politically realign the country in our favor -- so we can win the popular vote in more than 1 out of the last 6 presidential elections -- we need to, as Jindal says, go after every single voter.

As Jindal also clearly stated, this does not mean we change or adjust our principles.   It simply means we need to clearly articulate our vision and our philosophy so the voters understand what we believe and why -- and it also means we need to be prepared to propose comprehensive solutions for the country's problems that people can wrap their arms around.     People will then know what we are for, not just what we are against.

This blog feels strongly that conservatism offers a vision and solutions, when properly implemented, that every American can get behind, regardless of their particular demographic.   To further that point, what makes -- or should make -- conservatism attractive as a philosophy is that it does not require such divisions in order to win at the ballot box or to be implemented -- which is a much healthier prescription for the country long term, as well.  We cannot continue to be so divided among so many cultural fault lines -- geography, race, marital status, gender, etc -- and have America truly be the shining city on the hill.

Obviously, we will never win every vote -- but conservatism can never be fully implemented and its benefits fully realized if we continue to think large segments of voters are beyond our reach, particularly when those segments of voters are growing, not shrinking.

So, what does this mean, in reality?   It's very easy for us to say things and not mean them.

It means on immigration, articulating our vision in a way that is not offensive to large segments of voters, while also offering a solution that Americans, as a whole, regardless of background, can get behind.  It means perhaps coming to grips with the fact that what we are offering now isn't winning us elections nor will it ever truly be successful in solving the problem.

It means on marriage, not just being against gay marriage, but FOR  marriage as an institution.  It means having the courage to discuss why traditional marriage is a key structural institution for a civilization to remain vibrant and grow.  It means embracing healthy marriages as a culture, which goes well beyond politics, but into our churches and public discourse as well.   Promoting the family and marriage is a key ingredient in solving many of our country's greatest issues, so we must do more than just say we're against one type of marriage -- we must be FOR marriage and family as a broader basis as well.

In means on limited government and economic freedom, not just talking about those ideas in the abstract but by specifically discussing why those principles, when fully implemented, will benefit everyone from the business owner to the entry level employee.   We need to discuss WHY lower taxes and fewer regulations are beneficial, not just basically saying "studies prove that they do."

It means on abortion, being able to clearly articulate why promoting and protecting life is so vital in our culture, and not coming across like we are against birth control or are trying to invade the bedroom.

On a broader basis, it means understanding that many Americans feel tempted to vote for Democrats not because they want to be dependent, but because they see no alternative to ensure they can not only live a happy life, but actually do basic things like pay the bills and put food on the table.   Clearly articulating to every voter why what we propose will make them prosper is the key to disrupting the Democratic strategy of hand outs and big government and fear mongering.

True political realignments occur when the surging vision is one that Americans, as a whole, are inspired by and can unify behind.  People unify behind something because they believe in it, understand it, and then communicate about it with their friends...thereby causing people to rethink their previous leanings and perhaps start choosing the conservative path of governing rather than the liberal one.

In order to realize that realignment, as a movement we must be truly being devoted to:

1. Communicating the conservative philosophy to every single voter, regardless of what "group" we think they are part of.
2. Crafting solutions, based upon that philosophy, that clearly address many of the nation's ill, that the American people can understand and get behind.
3. Promoting candidates who can clearly articulate the conservative philosophy and solutions and in a way that attracts, instead of repels, voters.

If we don't do the above, we will increasingly become a party dominant in some states but incredibly weak in others, dependent on the utter failure of the other side in order to win, and also dependent on the narrowest electoral paths to achieve victory on a national basis.  And, given the way the demographics are headed as a country, that choice will increasingly lead us to electoral defeat.

Bobby Jindal seems to understand this, and it would be wise for other national conservative figures to as well.