This doesn't mean that the populace counts as durably, overwhelmingly conservative. Neither right-wingers nor left-wingers can credibly claim to own the nation when swing voters, often confused and bored by ideological struggle of every sort, provide the margin of victory in every election. These flighty and skittish "independents" went for Obama in a big way in 2008 and now have turned against him decisively; Republicans will continue to prosper only so long as they draw support from those who claim neither conservative nor liberal outlook and announce their own tepid unpredictability with the title "moderate."
Talking about "taking our country back," conjuring images of an eternal battle between us-and-them, can only alienate that crucial element of the populace with few ideological attachments and chronic disinclination to firm allegiances. The moderates who decide most political battles feel uncomfortable with harsh rhetoric from either right or left, treating rivals as some alien other. After all, Howlin' Howie Dean ran his ultra-liberal presidential campaign of 2004 using precisely the slogan favored by today's conservatives, and promising to "take our country back"—in his case, from the dreaded Bush regime. Though once hailed as the Democratic frontrunner, Dean's campaign developed an apocalyptic and paranoid edge that finally repelled even liberal voters in Democratic primaries. Republicans should avoid replicating that aura of off-putting self-righteousness.
There's also an unmistakable, uncomfortable whiff of racial animus in demanding to regain lost control of "our country" during the term of America's first non-white president. Naturally, left-wingers will seize on any excuse to charge their conservative adversaries with hatred of black people, and they have logically asked, "from whom, exactly, do conservatives mean to take their country back?” From liberals, or from people of color?"
Like the NAACP's ludicrous attack on the Tea Party as the second coming of the Klan, these charges may seem opportunistic and implausible, but why risk even the vague appearance of race-baiting when it's entirely unnecessary?
Students of Reconstruction history may even recall that when the occupying Union Army abandoned the South after 1876, and white aristocrats regained power from the former slaves and Northern sympathizers who had temporarily taken-over former Confederate states, local sympathizers designated the Klan-backed process as "The Restoration."
At this painful passage in our national history, big majorities dislike and distrust the direction of the current government, but that doesn't mean they long for a "restoration." They want a change in course, a fresh start and an end to the bitter-end political gang wars that have characterized our polarized capital for more than two decades, but they don't believe that the nation has succumbed to some alien occupation.
With only three and a half months to go before a fateful election, President Obama still can't stop talking about the failure of Bush and most Republicans can only talk about the (admittedly more relevant) failures of Obama. Meanwhile, the public might appreciate an alternative narrative that emphasized future triumphs rather than past disasters. Conservatives will succeed most substantially if they pledge to take America forward, not back.
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