Historians tell us that during the founding era about one-third of the population didn’t favor separation from Britain, a third was ardently for separation, and a third was ambivalent. Today the fractions are similar in that a third of the public can be counted on by each political party. The battle each election is about who can win most of that independent third.
During the 2008 presidential race Kimberley Strassel wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Barack Obama’s political skills posed a big challenge for Republicans as they fought for those voters:
To GOP strategists’ frustration, focus groups still show that many people don’t know what Mr. Obama proposes policy-wise — and don’t care. They are drawn to his promise to move past political business as usual.
If that isn’t bad enough, she continued in the same paragraph with this:
John “My Friends” McCain won’t be able to match his rival’s verbal mojo. He’s instead going to have to counter with a compelling theme of his own. First, he’ll have to find one.
Many of those focus grouped people can’t be reached. They not only don’t care who is right and wrong in the left v. right political debate, they aren’t particularly interested in learning the facts. A large portion of them rely on emotion and no amount of evidence will make much of a difference.
Fortunately, Republicans have still managed enough electoral success in recent years to show that the rest of the non-caring demographic can be reached by our side. All fields must be fought on, however, if this is going to happen.
One of the battlefields our side fails on is the struggle to win over the cultural conservatives, many of whom attend church and belong to organizations defending the unborn and traditional marriage. Republicans think they do a good job here, but they’re wrong. We only get a fraction of the votes possible from this demographic and their support isn’t guaranteed going forward.
This problem is easily solved, though it’s going to take some courage and new thinking. The left is brazen in its use of the pulpit to preach its message. The mostly-ignored storyline about Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright centered on how Wright used his podium for politics. Conservative leaning Christians are more apt to be scared away from discussing the practical political realities of twenty-first century American culture and society by their 501(c)3 tax exempt status.
I’ve written before that it’s time for a little discussion by our allies in the churches. Maybe being bought-off by a tax exemption is too steep a price to pay when the government is bloated and the culture is going to hell. Silence is just what the left wants from the right, especially the religious right.
Another field of battle is the work of reaching more voters by big time writers and commentators who are fantastic communicators and have large audiences. They need to start bringing more attention to the places where the problems often begin — and that’s at the state level.
During much of the George W. Bush Administration reform minded Illinois Republicans found themselves up against a corrupt state party faction that had a friend in presidential advisor Karl Rove. In the normal course of events it’s difficult enough to rally people to right action. But when the institutional barricades are manned by people in the White House, taking power away from failed state party leaders can prove to be a bridge too far.
A good case can be made that the Barack Obama victory in the 2004 U.S. Senate race was made possible in no small part because the wrong people were running the Illinois Republican Party. And they wouldn’t have been without the help of good old Karl.
I have joked that Illinois was in danger of being kicked out of the union for giving the country both Barack Obama and Dennis Hastert in the short span of a decade. The reality, however, is that Illinois voters merely sent those two men to D.C. The guys and gals in D.C. made Hastert Speaker, and the national Democrat Party electorate nominated Obama.
Nevertheless, the political careers of both Barack and Denny were birthed in a badly dysfunctional state. The voices of a few reform-friendly people in high places could’ve made a big difference in the effort to cure an ill ‘IL.’
So, the new thinking has to start with those who hold power — whether it’s elected, party, or bully pulpit power. If it doesn’t start soon, we risk the equivalent of a third Obama presidential term.
This is only slightly altered from the orginal version of this article that first posted in June 2008.
Image credit: quietmike.org.