I got a lot of feedback last year when I wrote a column entitled “The Problem With Libertarians.”
Seems they didn’t like anyone saying they had any problems at all, but they did, and they still do. The same problems, in fact. Many libertarian friends, including quite a few who work at the organizations I cited, privately thanked me for writing it because they felt the same way but couldn’t say it publicly. And many more conservatives and Republicans were glad someone said it as well. Well, that probably will change, maybe even flip, after this one.
There are major differences between the various factions of the political right – social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, national security conservatives, Tea Partiers, etc. – and all bleed into each other to varying degrees. Each has individual problems and strengths, and I understand that. But for purposes of brevity here, I will just refer to them all nebulously as “Republicans.” It may irritate some, but tough. This is about politics, not pandering.
Republicans are awful at messaging. I don’t care where you fall on the Republican spectrum, you are awful. It ranges from passionate people who say stupid things to stoic people who have a strong command of facts at their fingertips but can’t articulate the message. There are few people –a very few – in the middle.
Voters won’t follow someone who says stupid things (see the last round of elections) no matter what they may have meant. Nor will they follow someone who says all the right things in a way that makes the teacher Ben Stein played in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off sound like he’s tweaking on meth.
Without naming names – because that’s not the point – when was the last time a really smart Republican senator, congressman or activist, made you laugh? Not at them, but at an off-the-cuff joke or analogy they made? Months? Years? Never? When was the last time one made you cringe? Bet it was sooner.
We don’t need stand-up comics, but we do need people who not only know what they’re talking about, but can convey it in a way that is less painful than home dentistry.
Sad as it is to say, presentation matters as much as, if not more than, substance. How do you think Barack Obama won twice? He reads a good speech off a teleprompter in a way that makes people think he believes what he’s saying, he’s passionate and cares about it, and he speaks like a normal human being. None of that is true – he lied repeatedly, he doesn’t give enough of a damn about anything to cancel a fundraiser or a round of golf, and he stumbles over his words like M-Mel Tillis. (If you don’t get that reference, click here.)
None of those facts matter because it worked. You can’t discount the role of the media. The value of having a gaggle of throne-sniffers parroting your talking points and extolling your greatness to the American people on a daily basis can’t be overlooked, but it can be circumvented.
Ronald Reagan didn’t talk to the media, he talked to the people PAST the media. No one does that now. If could be they simply aren’t that good, or it could be the layer of consultant class that has infested the right like termites on a dead tree.
There is a class of people who, despite having lost elections that should have been won, make huge sums of money advising candidates how to speak and campaign. This is because of a closeness they have with the establishment who recommends them and a failure of the candidates themselves to be their own people.
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. No adults should need to be told how to speak about something they’re passionate about. But so many of those adults can’t seem to convey their thoughts without saying them in a stupid or offensive way.
Campaigning isn’t hanging out with friends at the bar or union hall, even when candidates visit those places. It’s more like going to your significant other’s parents’ house for dinner for the fourth time. You’re comfortable. You speak to them like you know them, even though you really don’t. And you resist whatever urge you may have to make fart jokes.
Somehow, even in this day and age, how to talk and use words properly is still a mystery to some people. On the left, your gaffes, errors, stupid statements or flat-out slanders are ignored; on the right you’re crucified for them. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it is. If you can’t exist inside this basic fact of politics – on your own without overpaid consultants – you probably shouldn’t enter the field.
That this needs to be said is a big part of the problem. There were quite a few incumbent candidates who could have been picked off this year and replaced with more conservative ones. But the options offered up and rallied around fell flat and failed miserably. Too many Republicans think simply having the right ideas, or even better ideas, than your opponent is enough in politics. It’s not. If you can’t convey them and speak about them in a way the guy down at the end of the bar can understand and get behind, save yourself the trouble and don’t run.
This is the 21st century. Cameras are everywhere. Hypersensitivity, hypocrisy and double standards are the currency of the day. And this, after all, is still politics. Whining about how unfair “dirty tricks” are or trying to explain what you “really meant,” along with $3, will get you a cup of coffee and nothing else. Too many “shoulda beens” trip over themselves trying to be safe and/or boring, or they simply make stupid mistakes their opponents can and do exploit. Either way, they lose.
How messages are conveyed is one thing, and a very important thing. If I haven’t angered you yet, I will in part two on Sunday when I write about what is conveyed.
There is no silver bullet to winning elections. Simply not being the “other guy” isn’t going to get us there, no matter who the “other guy” is. If you can’t talk in a believable, passionate way about what you believe, you should sit it out. But, just as important is what you focus on. And when it comes to Republicans, especially upstart challengers, the issues they focus on would be great for winning a local Republican-only popularity contests, but not elections. See you Sunday…