Republican politicians need to prove they’re not insane

It’s now a cliché, but it’s still true: insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Judging by their actions, is it then right to conclude that Republican candidates and Republican elected officials are more than a little loopy? They’re all doing the same things they’ve always done and hoping and praying for change to magically occur.

For example, while they campaign they tell us how much they agree that reforms are needed, but once in office the only thing they excel at is constituent service. Some might think this is a good thing. I don’t agree.

Having done a bit of that kind of work both on Capitol Hill and in state government, I’ve seen that most constituent service merely serves to prove that government is messed up and in need of reform. Instead of fixing the problem, our elected officials help people live with it.

Instead of our political class pitching top to bottom change, we’re lucky if once in a great while they have some meaningful quote in the newspaper. Ah, but they sure know how to put together and send out a snappy newsletter or survey.

Although reform ideas can only be seen on the printed page, the politicians can regularly be seen equivocating, pandering, and responding to poll numbers. We also get to witness a good dose of self-congratulatory thinking. That surely helps them maintain their self esteem.

It’s a sad fact that most Americans will only look to the political class for information about their government and its direction. So while commentators and think tanks play an important role, large scale public sentiment will only be impacted by those who campaign for and serve in public office.

In light of this, a lot more things will have to be done and a lot more things will have to be said by the men and women in the arena of elective office.

Synthesizing information and artfully using language to connect with busy people will require a lot more thinking than we’ve seen in politics for some time. The targeted audience for all this work is obviously not the died-in-the-wool partisans. The battle is always over the changeable minds in the middle.

What has to change, in a nut shell, is this:

  • Our party, our candidates, and our office holders need to become credible sources for information and persuasive arguments.
  • All venues of communicating with the public must be utilized to passionately sell common sense solutions to the problems of the day.

Newt Gingrich has said it. If you take the principles that worked historically – such as the free market, entrepreneurship and the work ethic, and take the core values of American civilization, which have made us the freest, wealthiest and most integrated society in American history – and reapply them again and again, you begin to see specific solutions to the mess we’re currently in.

Gingrich has cited polling data showing how many Americans actually do agree on some important issues, and said this:

“The truth is you have a liberal minority that dominates The New York Times, the academic world and Hollywood… And the combination of Republican incompetence and Democratic cleverness makes it look like it is a narrowly divided country, when in fact the country’s not divided, the politicians are. I want to reunify the country around values that are absolute massive majorities.”

Note that the words “Republican incompetence.”

We recently put it as follows.

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.

If you’re in office and unable to help in this work please resign or at least don’t run for reelection. If you’re not in office but have the ability to help in this work, the country needs you to join in a Republican Renaissance. We can’t win unless we start to do things differently.

©2007 John Francis Biver