The Difficulty of Selling Grown-Up Policies to an Adolescent-Minded Electorate
There’s a lot of wisdom in what Drew M. writes over at Ace of Spades:
How many people who voted for Mitt Romney or actual conservatives for Senate and the House want their Social Security and Medicare left untouched? How many of them give lip service to a flat tax proposal but would freak if their various tax credits and deductions were eliminated? How many of them talk a good game about getting rid of the Department of Education but would freak if aid to their kid’s district were cut?
Of course Republicans are going to respond to these people. But these people who support all sorts of government spending while talking about “the damn government” and taxes are the problem.
It’s simply too much to expect a political party to stand up to voters and say, “no”. Politics is a market and voters have become consumers. If the GOP as a whole or an individual candidate won’t give the customer what they want, they will find someone else to do business with. Consumers don’t care about the health of the places they shop, they care that they get what they want. If Brand A doesn’t have it but Brand B does, who cares so long as their needs are met.
What America needs is a movement that will not just tell people “no” but also convince them to stop being a consumer of government and look at themselves as they were meant to . . . an owner of the government. Once you own something your value set shifts. Owners care about efficiency, quality and the long term survival of the organization. Owners invest not simply take out. No political party is set up to do this. It’s irrational for someone selling a product to ask their customers to take on the responsibilities of ownership. Selling is about making things easier, ownership is about hard work.
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days. A slim majority of the voting public doesn’t want what we’re selling, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the solutions we’re offering are wrong. That slim majority of the voting public may think they’re wrong, but a large portion of their assessment is driven by a dedication to ignoring the problems that we want addressed.
We’re attempting to sell them policies of limited or reduced spending, but many Americans don’t really see why spending has to be cut, or why the particular spending that they like has to be cut. This doesn’t make our concerns any less valid; it just means that a large swath of the voting public would like to pretend that adding roughly a trillion to the debt each year is not that big a deal.
We’re attempting to sell them various efforts at entitlement reform, but Americans again would prefer to believe the problem isn’t that bad and can be taken care of later. We’re right, and they’re wrong, but it’s particularly difficult to persuade someone to undertake a painful remedy when they’re not convinced that the problem exists.
I think you can argue that what constitutes “socially conservative policies” has gotten fuzzy beyond opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But broadly speaking, conservatives have wanted to see strong families, children in stable families, husbands and wives trying to work it out through tough times, making sure every child has a mom and a dad who loves them and hopefully a strong network of support from the rest of the family and the community beyond. We’re attempting to sell the public a lifestyle of responsibility and putting others’ needs first — particularly children’s needs first — and it cuts against a culture of instant gratification and irresponsibility and perpetual adolescence.
We’re (in part) attempting to sell them a foreign policy/national security stance that is variously strong/hawkish/interventionist, when they’re exhausted from Iraq and Afghanistan and feeling pretty isolationist. Now, I’m sure within our own ranks we have a lot of folks who are seeing the appeal of isolationism right now.
So let’s take Syria for example. I know the place is a pit of vipers, and that we’re not even sure if there are many folks in the Syrian resistance who count as good guys. But when the U.S. doesn’t intervene, or we use the Obama administration’s approach of sorta-kinda intervention, giving the resistance some sorts of aid but not others, well . . . we see what we get: 60,000 deaths so far, perhaps 100,000 deaths in the year to come, millions of refugees, violence spilling into neighboring countries, and the risk of the country collapsing into anarchic bands of warlords and bands struggling to control the rubble.
I can hear the argument, “we can’t save everybody, it’s the Syrians’ issue to work out, it’s not our problem.” But how many deaths does it take before it becomes our problem? Does anybody feel confident that at no point this won’t become a major problem to our interests? How about if Assad starts tossing around chemical weapons? I’m not saying we have to invade tomorrow, but the administration’s policy is by and large, leave the place alone and hope for the best.
The opposition’s policies lead to crushing debt, sluggish and anemic economic growth, miserable lives of dependency upon government, and a chaotic world beyond our borders. They can coast along on luck for a while – help for the economy from a fracking boom they haven’t managed to regulate to death yet, our enemies preferring low-level antagonism to direct confrontation – but sooner or later reality gets a vote, and it gets the biggest vote. The problem is that a lot of damage can be done while we wait for the electorate to start absorbing the lessons from the School of Hard Knocks.