How to Give GOP Elected Officials Some Backbone

I write about it often: Leadership, in fact statesmanship, requires “taking the whole nation to school.” That’s not some dreamy over-idealistic thought — it’s what happens every time a country has to be rallied to take important action.

During the founding era those who took a leadership role had to muster many to help them spread the word and win support for declaring independence. During an eight year war with Great Britain it was necessary to maintain the support for the effort. In 1787-88 the same work was needed to win ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

The big tasks of history continued on in Lincoln’s time. Can you imagine trying to keep up morale in the North when hundreds of thousands of men were being killed and wounded? In January 2010 I wrote the following about what was accomplished during WWII:

When World War II began in Europe in September 1939 the Unites States was woefully unprepared for a fight. Even after we finally entered the war in December 1941 the country was a long way from being fully mobilized. By May of 1943, however, President Franklin Roosevelt said that “the American people have accomplished a miracle.” By the fall of 1943 the American war machine was operating at maximum capacity. By then the factories and shipyards ran twenty-four hours a day.

Rather than rallying anyone, current day Republican leaders fear being called “obstructionists.” They should be proud of the label; after all, what they would be obstructing is the continued destruction of the American economy and the fiscal condition of the nation. Instead, they cower.

Most GOP elected officials are afraid of their shadow because even with unpopular programs like Obamacare they didn’t know how to move public opinion, never have, and still don’t.

I’m convinced that the only way our Republican and conservative elected officials will learn how to do so will be for the rest of the “army” to throw itself into experimenting with old and new ways to reach and effectively connect with the public at large.

Think tanks and issue advocacy organizations need to spend more time on outreach and less on preparing reports that not enough people will ever read. Tea party and patriot type groups need to hold fewer poorly attended events and think primarily about how many of the uninformed they are actually connecting with. Individuals of all ages need to stop being fearful of the backlash that comes with expressing their opinion (see the two quotes below on this topic from George Washington and Patrick Henry).

It’s the same dynamic with all the public policy issues. So little of the facts make it to the public through the old liberal press — yet many on our side seem to think that’s going to change. It hasn’t for decades and no one should wait around for it to change.

Americans can’t support what they don’t know about or understand. We need to get the idle conservative army in motion and that takes leadership. Like any army, that leadership will be required at all levels — from the top brass on down to the platoon. Our side has so much talent that can and must be tapped — that’s where the leaders will come from.

After an initial spark — and as the tide gets rolling — it will be easy to send battalions of front line soldiers into the information skirmishes. As increasing numbers of organizations and individuals are seen in motion, such activity will act as a magnet to motivate others to do their part — even fearful politicians. Most of them are not going to do the right thing until they see more of the citizenry lining up behind the right policies.

We can win this information war — but to do so we have to fight it.

Here are the two quotes I referenced above — the emphasis in mine:

It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn.” — George Washington

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Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.” — Patrick Henry

(First published November 2013)