Governor Mark Sanford, giving advice to the Republican party, writes
If John Deere’s tractor sales are declining, they don’t say, “Tell you what, let’s make cars and airplanes, too.” Instead, they focus on producing better tractors.
Everybody’s got advice for the Republicans. A lot of that advice is coming from people who didn’t vote for John McCain but would like us to run more John McCains. I’m writing as an independent, one who often but not always votes Republican. Someone who found McCain a decent choice policy-wise, but would have preferred someone with both policies and principles, such as Fred Thompson. For all the talk about McCain’s anger problem, his real problem appears to be that he’s a nice guy. He refuses to criticize his colleagues when they’re wrong—even when running against one of them. And he trusts his colleagues far too much when they state their legislative goals. For example, the described purpose of the pre-election rescue bill was a whole lot more palatable than the practice of it.
Over on Hot Air, Ed Morrissey listed these conservative first principles:
- fiscal responsibility
- smaller government
- national security
- free market economics
- lower taxes
These are the principles that drive me, as an independent, to vote for Republicans. Every single one of them, with the possible exception of national security, either leads to more individual freedom or is more individual freedom.
Notice, however, what’s not in that list: gay marriage and abortion. Opposition to gay marriage and legal punishment for abortions are losing issues. Allowing same sex marriage is inevitable, not just because it is the right thing to do (as I believe) but because it looks like the right thing to do. If Republicans choose to make being anti-gay a defining characteristic of being a Republican, they’ll fall further behind with each generation. Yes, Proposition 8 won in “liberal” California despite California overwhelmingly voting for Barack Obama. But the converse is also true: despite supporting Proposition 8, California still voted Democratic. The issue has no coattails; soon it won’t even be an issue.
Republicans who want to oppose gay marriage would be better served by trying to get the government out of the business of deciding who can and can’t be married. That will be difficult as well, but it will at least align with Republican principles and won’t sideline them as irrelevant or out of touch on other issues. Within twelve years anyone still campaigning as anti-gay marriage will be treated like someone campaigning against miscegenation today. And there’s only room for one Robert Byrd.
Abortion is a tougher issue. Abortion is wrong. But it’s also legally problematic: few voters want to punish women for choosing to have an abortion. Republicans who care about ending abortion should follow Governor Palin’s lead: personally against abortion, legislatively neutral, and publicly working to make other alternatives a better choice. For all that abortion is wrong, abortion laws strike at the heart of individual freedom and privacy. The only way abortion can go away in a free country is if women no longer want to have them.
National security is important insofar as successful national security reduces calls for limiting freedom. Beyond that, we can no longer afford a national security that actively supports brutal dictators just because they’re currently providing a precarious stability we think we need. The strong-man theory of stability is wrong for America, and it is a good thing that Bush moved the United States away from it. To the extent that immigration is tied to national security, we need to understand that we can’t stop immigration, we can only force it underground, which is dangerous. As I’ve written before, I think that the Bush immigration policy was a good one.
Principles confuse the beltway
Ace at the Ace of Spades is suggesting that Republicans look for Six at Sixty: six issues that command 60% support. These should be issues that show people once again what conservative principles can do for them.
Politicians are confused by principles. Today’s parties are not composed of principles but rather of a hodge-podge of often contradictory policies. If the Republican party could convince their members to support Ed’s conservative list, it would throw the Democratic base into disarray, or force them to identify based on principles as well. The Democratic party is filled with “core constituencies” that hate each other, and agree on only one thing: Republicans are worse. Six at Sixty can change that.
Imagine if, for federalism, smaller government, and free-market economics, the Republicans united to say, “this is what federalism can do for you”, and chose a policy supported by well over 60% of voters; an issue idolized by one of the Democrat’s core constituencies and hated by another: states’ rights to medical marijuana. Medical marijuana consistently receives 60% or greater support in polls. But there’s one core Democratic constituency that consistently opposes it: California (and possibly other) prison guards.
That’s just an example of the kind of principled thinking that Republicans are going to have to do. Democrats have been carefully cultivating core constituencies that they don’t have to work for. Make them work. Make them have to explain to prison guards why they’re not putting more easy-to-manage people in jail or go over to students and explain why they can’t get this through even when they control the House, the Senate, and the White House—while the Republicans are pushing for it as an example of Republican principles. It’s one thing to have a big tent, it’s another thing entirely to have a circus tent of people who really hate each other. Principle can cut through the circus.
The elephant in the schoolhouse
One of the biggest problems that Republicans need to face, however, is the tendency for government programs to become money laundering systems lobbying for more government programs. Whether it’s the prison guards or ACORN, it’s pretty rare to see government funding used to support less government funding.
The elephant in the room for advocates of smaller government is the increasing government control over information and education. If you want to win on message, you need to get your message out. Until average people can send their children to schools whose teachers don’t ridicule fifth-grade McCain supporters, candidates who support reducing the size of government will always face an uphill climb. Heaven forbid if the ailing newspapers ask for a bailout and we get an industry czar for the news industry. During this election we asked if the newspapers could be any more biased. If that happens, we’ll find out.
Republicans need, also, to stick to their principles even when their opponent’s policies follow them. Too often in the past eight years Democrats have spun around to support things they used to oppose, solely because President Bush also opposed them (the intelligence czar, for example, and federal ownership of state disaster efforts). Republicans need to figure out what their principles are and act on their principles, and not mindlessly act in opposition to whatever the Democrats and President Obama propose.
They might have a long time to figure their principles out. As President, Obama only has to do two things to win a second term. Continue the victory in Iraq, and stand back to let the economy improve. You might think that a politician who has said the things he’s said will find it impossible to stand back and stop doing the things that brought this crisis on in the first place, but he also has a strong record of doing nothing. That’s all he needs to do to let the crisis run its course and let the economy right itself. If he can do that, Republicans are looking at 2016, not 2012, for the presidency.
On the other hand, if he ends up pouring money into expanding the scope of government, nationalizing the auto industry, the banking industry, and every other ailing industry, success will depend on how well the Republicans come up with an alternative vision that resonates with their own principles—and an alternative to a nationalized news industry.
- March 15, 2013: Conservative branding
We tend to brand ourselves—and worse yet, we’ve internalized this to the point where we think of ourselves this way—as “the conservative alternative.”
We need start branding ourselves as, and thinking of ourselves as, the Universal Default.
This is how leftists do it and they’re quite effective at it. On every cable TV show we see a debate between an “expert” and a “conservative.” The “expert” is actually liberal but he insists on not being branded as such, so he becomes just “the expert.”
Whenever I get involved in a discussion about marketing, I always think of David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising. Ogilvy is especially relevant for this election cycle because he’s a huge proponent of boring, workmanlike direct mail campaigns over flashy television campaigns. By most accounts, direct mail is a big part of how President Obama won re-election despite going into the election with high disapproval ratings. He just used email and texts rather than (or, more likely, in addition to) postal mail ads.
When I went to verify something Ogilvy talked about—the use of Latin to sell cooking stoves to people who would like to think they’re in the group that can speak Latin, even if they’re not—I also ran across a couple of things that really stood out for me.
What’s your big idea?
Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.
This is important: because the “big idea” of conservative ideals is important. And the big idea sells well. People tend to be very much in favor of not passing massive debt onto our children; they tend to be very much in favor of making their own decisions instead of having decisions made for them by government bureaucrats. They tend to be very much in favor of effective self-defense. It’s the details that get twisted, and too often conservative candidates and conservative spokespeople are all-too-willing to get tangled up in the weeds when guided there by the liberal media.
A rule of thumb is that you should always be saying yes, and convincing the voter to say yes. Telling women it’s wrong to abort a baby who’s the result of a rape is not going to help the baby and is not going to get that woman’s vote. Telling women that they should be able to effectively fight back against rapists1 and that rapists should go to jail for a long, long time so that they won’t rape again, that’s a yes.2
Less rapists = yes; accepting rape and just aborting the baby = no.
- November 18, 2012: Copyright reform: Republican principles in action?
On November 16, the House Republican Study Committee released an amazingly astute copyright policy brief describing precisely and succinctly how much current copyright law is at odds with the free market and with modern technology, and proposed serious reforms to shield individuals from excessive litigation and to turn copyright back into what it was constitutionally meant to do: provide a limited incentive to make new things public so that the public can use them.
The policy brief ended with “Current copyright law does not merely distort some markets—rather it destroys entire markets.”
Their reforms would have restored the requirement that copyrights be registered, reduced the free copyright monopoly period to twelve years and required a percentage of revenue to expand the monopoly beyond that; would have expanded the definition of fair use and made the lines easier to see; punished false takedown demands; and reduced the incentive to shakedown individuals for thousands of dollars in “go away” money.
Within twenty-four hours, the MPAA and RIAA apparently went ballistic and hit the phones hard successfully convincing House Republicans to remove the policy brief.
I’m reproducing the entire brief here because (a) it’s brilliant, and (b) it’s disappeared1. This is exactly the kind of principled reform the Republican party should be championing in order to convince voters that freedom works. Instead, they’ve fucked up yet again. Why should they care what the MPAA, the RIAA and, I suspect, the trial lawyers think about them? Those groups are already in the other camp and will never come out.
What threats could they possibly have received to convince them to back down? That Hollywood was going to go over to the Democrats if they didn’t back down? That MSNBC was going to stop being fair to Republicans if they didn’t back down? That trial lawyers would end their support of Republican candidates if they didn’t back down? Republicans don’t have Hollywood, they don’t have the media, and they don’t have the trial lawyers. Real copyright reform is a no-lose policy for Republicans.
This is the Republicans’ problem in a nutshell: they’re so worried about alienating people who already hate them that they aren’t even willing to stand behind their own principles.
- January 20, 2009: Republicans can’t count on media turning
Congratulations to President Obama. I hope he does good. There are some things I support that I can hope President Obama will also support; on the other hand, I also lived through the empty promises of President Clinton. Apropos of that, here’s a smart quote from an Ace of Spades commenter in response to some Republicans writing that they expect the media adulation to fade or even turn:
Yeah, Clinton was only out of office for seven years before they turned on him.
Principles, folks. Don’t count on the media becoming objective.