New Conversations and Political Tin Ears

A statesman must be a transcendent teacher. He must ‘take the whole nation to school.’

— from Morton Frisch & Richard Stevens’ book, American Political Thought

A confident candidate can rally the base while winning over the center. Timidity won’t suffice. It’ll take boldness.

Ideas come in all shapes and sizes, but we rarely hear the kind that are sold with passion. It’s no surprise that voters rarely awake from their cynicism and political snooze.

Listening to presidential candidate John Kerry or watching Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Nancy Skinner on a Chicago Sunday morning news show, I continue to be amazed that Democrats are still able to be taken seriously. We should be shredding them in the public square based on their decades-long record of public policy failures.

Instead, our Republicans candidates spout stale rhetoric or cower in fear at the prospect of engaging the debate in the way it needs to be: at the level of the fundamental principles backed up with the abundant evidence before us.

I’m still not hearing that “new conversation” I wrote about last April, but am not giving up. None of the candidates has yet to stand out, and from the poll numbers it appears my reaction reflects that of many other Republican primary voters.

The bored electorate awaits someone with the courage and ability to address these fundamentals:

  • We can’t continue Social Security in its present form. We can, however, transition out of it without harming the neediest retirees.
  • We can’t afford to continue to separate the cost of health care from health care consumers: we have to end health insurance as we know it.
  • We can’t continue to allow our taxpayer funded educational systems to be controlled by union members that are insulated from what brings excellence: competition.
  • We can’t expect to compete in a world burdened with our current tax and regulatory systems.
  • We can’t continue to ignore the simple discussion of morals, and how they are the bulwark against chaos.
  • cquiescing to the left’s intolerance of Americans who subscribe to traditional morality is a recipe for disaster.
  • And we can’t continue to allow government to grow causing the American spirit of rugged individualism to shrink.

This “new conversation” I speak of is actually new only to the political class. Americans in their private and business dealings experience change (newness) all the time. Most Americans in their cars and in their kitchens and around the water cooler or at the tavern already think about and discuss these problems.

Now they need a leader who will explain why what John Kerry and Nancy Skinner are proposing won’t work.

In matters of governing it all comes down to this: what does the public know and when do they know it? Setting foreign and domestic policy depends upon winning the consent of the governed. So when a government program or policy has gone awry, guess what you need? Consent to make the necessary changes.

We’re not going to get the course corrections we need without public consent, and we’re not going to get the mandate for those corrections without going after it during a campaign. And these domestic policy ills threaten our national health more than any WMD in the hands of barbarians.

As of February 10th, it appears that the last Republican man standing after the March 16th U.S. Senate primary in Illinois will owe his survival more to the weakness of his opponents than the strength of his own message.

We’re all familiar with the expression of the “tin ear.” There’s such a thing as a political tin ear, and it’s common amongst candidates and their consultants. They think what they are saying resonates. But it doesn’t.

All Americans, not just those in Illinois, need to and are ready to hear a serious discussion of the fundamentals of public policy and the campaign season is when that discussion must begin.

Lincoln and Douglas took the nation to school during their U.S. Senate Campaign in 1858. It could happen here again if our Republican candidate is someone able to hear the tenor of the times, and then boldly inspire the voting public.

I continue to hope, to wait, and to listen.