GOP communication baby steps have replaced inaction, but there’s a long way to go (Part 1)

This column isn’t about foreign policy – the subject here is about fundamental political communication using a foreign policy example. A few years ago when the war in Iraq wasn’t going well, this column contained the following.

Whether you’re talking about domestic policy or foreign policy the communications challenge is the same. For the public to back the right policy direction they must hear the case argued effectively, which means energetically.

Victor Davis Hanson, an accomplished author, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and classics professor, recently wrote in a piece titled “Honesty About Iraq, How are we doing?” that while we easily won the war to remove Saddam, a second war started immediately after. In it,

“Our soldiers are fighting brilliantly, and history will record they are defeating the enemy while suffering historically low casualties. But if the sacrifice of American youth is not tied – daily, hourly – to larger strategic and humanitarian goals by eloquent statesmen who believe in the mission, then cynicism follows and, with it, despair.”

That statement is incredibly important – and it goes to the larger failure of almost every elected Republican in the nation who supports the effort to win in Iraq.

Hanson points to a principle that applies for all matters of policy. If we are going to stay and fight in Iraq –

“…then we must start using our vast cultural and media resources to explain what is at stake – in a strategic and humanitarian sense – and precisely what it is costing America and why it in the long run is worth it, and how we have adjusted to counter our enemies who in the last four years have not won in Iraq or anywhere else either.”

Hanson calls what we’ve seen up until now from our political leadership on this “critical information” front is “relative inaction.”

Note the words “relative inaction.” I couldn’t agree more.

Hanson said exactly what’s needed:

“So more explanation, less assertion; more debate with, rather than dismissal of, critics. And the final irony? The more brutal honesty, the less euphemism and generalities, the more Americans will accept the challenge.”

The Republican Party doesn’t lack for good ideas. It lacks people able to run for office who can sell them.

In former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld new book, “Known and Unknown,” Rumsfeld addressed the Administration’s failures several times when it came to informing and shaping public opinion about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I have argued that this failure was far more the failure of the hundreds of Republican elected officials in Congress and across the country. No Administration can have a conversation with 300 million people without all hands on deck.

Lately our Republican majority in the U.S. House is doing better than I’ve ever seen it as far as reaching out to the public, but obviously there’s a lot of room for improvement. The U.S. Senate Republicans, not having a majority, don’t seem to be nearly as aggressive as their counterparts in the house – but there are a few exceptional senators speaking out such as Rand Paul and Jim DeMint.

At the state level, if our state house GOP caucus has an agenda, it hasn’t reached my eyes or ears. The state senate GOP caucus, on the other hand, has been putting out some great materials. I only wish they’d hire private sector public relations pros to help them reach more Illinoisans with that important information.

Back to Rumsfeld’s book. Between pages 602 and 625 he touches on the topic of communication several times. He bemoans “…the absence of a concerted effort to confront major untruths as they were continuously repeated,” and about the “avalanche of largely unrebutted misinformation…”

“Because those arguments were not countered effectively, they prevailed in the public debate. Half truths, distortions, and outright lies were too often met with little or no rebuttal. There is plenty of blame to share for the failures in communication.”

On every issue – government spending, energy policy, taxpayer funded schools, health care, etc. – it’s the same. And our side – the Republican side – the conservative side – has, for decades, failed miserably to reach enough Americans with an effectively made argument why limited government, a free market, and traditional values-informed social fabric are the way to a strong, stable, and increasingly prosperous country.