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Let’s Not Open a Catering Firm


Everyone is saying the Republicans need to adopt policies that will appeal to this or that group: the middle class, Hispanics, women, Asians, whatever. They call this “putting together a coalition” or “modernizing the party” or “adapting to demographic reality,” but whatever they call it, it’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

True, it is classic party politics: Put together a set of gifts, favors, preferences, and tokens to rope in 51 percent of the voters, and screw the other 49. And you can’t deny that it’s very effective when done right. But the GOP should ignore that siren song, for a number of reasons:

1. It’s opposed to everything we stand for. This is not normally a consideration in politics, but it should be one here, because if Republicans suddenly came out in favor of (say) looser immigration standards, or “free” birth control, (a) it would be hard to defend these things convincingly, (b) our support would sound fake even if we could make an airtight case, and (c) it would alienate the Right’s considerable contingent of true believers.

2. It doesn’t work. Affirmative action (or green-energy subsidies, or whatever the latest wheeze to come out of a focus group may be) would still have all the things wrong with it that we’ve been saying for years, so even if we could temporarily peel off a few voters (which is questionable), it would damage the country in the long run, and that’s no way to win support.

3. It can’t be done partway. Once you start pandering, you need to go all out and throw as many bones to as many special interests as possible, because everybody will want one, and every preference you grant to one group harms another. This also means that . . .

4. It will fragment the conservative movement, as members will vie for favors instead of pulling together for the common good.

Most important of all:

5. If the Republicans adopt a strategy of catering to interest groups, they will be playing the Democrats’ game. It’s much harder than it looks, and the Democrats have nearly two centuries of experience. What can we offer, to what group, that will be more enticing than the shower of free stuff the Democrats are already heaping on them?

The conservative approach, by contrast, rests on shunning special favors and doing what’s best for everyone. This is a harder sell, but it works, and the way things are going, the literal and metaphorical bankruptcy of Obamanomics will soon become all too apparent to everyone, and sound management will once again be attractive.

In the long run, moreover, we will win out over the caterers as identity politics dissolve under the weight of intermarriage, globalization, telecommuting, mass culture, etc. As Obama always says (even when responding to “You want fries with that?”), we are “on the right side of history.” And now is not the time to wuss out.

In my justly overlooked Right Field post the other day, I recalled that “Bill White used to say during the slow parts of Yankee broadcasts, ‘You know, Scooter, the best way to get fans out to the park is very simple: Win.’” Similarly, the best way to get votes is not by pandering to special-interest groups, but by putting forth good candidates and good policy. (For example, we should support a child-care tax credit because it makes economic sense and is fair, not as an attempt to win middle-class votes.)

If you look at where Obama’s policies are leading, and at the history of midterm elections and presidential second terms, it’s clear that things will be pretty bleak for the country in 2014, and the GOP will be due for a comeback. Let’s focus on that, and on winning the votes of everyone who has an interest in peace, prosperity, freedom, and fairness — instead of chasing the will-o’-the-wisp of capturing specific voter groups with targeted appeals.


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