As a Republican and as a Conservative, the election results from two weeks ago are still as painful as my stitches from surgery that same day. By any rational perspective, replacing the Republican majority in Congress with a Democratic one is sure to raise taxes, give away our rights to government control, and subject the nation to even larger doses of “Blame Bush” dysfunction. Perhaps thirty percent desires the last point, but I sincerely doubt that even one-fifth of the nation wants those other aspects of Donkey Rule. Yet the Democrats won, by playing on concerns about the Iraq War in many places, and by out and out lying to voters in many other places. It will be interesting to see how many of these “conservative” Democrats, elected in close races because they promised to avoid the extremism of Pelosi and Rangel, choose their word over their party, and who realizes that they cannot be Leftists and still be re-elected. But that is not what I am writing about today. Today I am writing about the myth of the average American.
I am an individualist. One reason I became a Conservative instead of a Liberal, was that in actual practice the Liberals demanded conformity to the party line far more often than Conservatives did. For all the claims by Liberals that they alone represented the people overall, it was always the Conservatives whose actual behavior encouraged me to think for myself, to express my opinion even when it was not in line with some national headquarters, and to advance new perspectives rather than just sit and listen to some appointed figurehead. That’s why I always found it so funny that Liberals accused Conservatives of supporting Bush in lockstep, when in actual fact the Republicans had trouble maintaining control at times because of the wide range of opinions on the key issues within their ranks. We are, by nature and by choice, far better in practice than they are, and truer to our promise than the Liberals have been for more than a generation.
But we failed. We let pettiness separate our different parts, and a struggle for supremacy pit us against each other. I have said before that a signal symptom of our weakness this year was that so many Republicans chose not to support President Bush, never realizing that the man who collected more votes in 2004 than anyone in history was key to their own survival – not because Bush was so popular, but because the Democrats’ plan was always based on pitting the Republicans against themselves, making Right-side voters choose between their President and their Congressman, which was finally resolved by so many who threw up their hands and stayed home, leaving the government to the people least trustworthy for the job.
This means we have a hard task ahead of us. First, the GOP has to get over its ego, stop playing territorial games and remember the lessons taught by Goldwater, Reagan, and George W. Bush. Then they have to listen to America, because even when the GOP comes back into power, it will be useless unless the party is serious about making promises which matter, and keeping them. Fortunately and unfortunately, the Democrats are fools.
There was a time when Democrats were formidable adversaries, who not only knew how to win elections but who had serious commitment to the health and welfare of America. Those days, however, were long ago – the Democrats have fallen into thinking that the win is everything, that popularity of the moment will somehow magically provide the legacy they crave, and that telling enough lies about Republicans will always fool enough people to keep them in power. That possibility exists, of course, as evidenced by the last election, but there is a crucial flaw in the Democrats’ thinking, one which could also hurt the Republicans, but to my mind not so much: The myth of Joe Average.
James Carville is pretty mad, but then, that’s normal for him. This time though, he’s blaming Howard Dean because he thinks the Democrats could have done much, much better in the elections, perhaps to the point of claiming veto-proof majorities now or in the near future. But Carville is wrong on this point. Not that the Democrats could not have enjoyed greater numbers than they gained; that could have happened if certain things had gone their way. But the Democrats made one crucial error; they looked at the collective demographics in each race and tried to appeal to what they saw as the Average American in each case. This was a mistake, and it says a lot about how the Democrats think of Americans, as if they were merely pawns rather than individuals. If you look at the ads the Democrats ran during the late campaign, along with the predictable slime attacks and lies about Republicans, there was a clear theme which tried to sell the Democrats as strong on National Security, dedicated to traditional American values, and determined to listen to the public, three key traits which in actual practice the Democrats as a whole and especially in their leadership have clearly not embraced in memory. So while resentment and anger in the guts of Republicans caused many of them to stay home, and bitterness about Iraq caused many Independent voters to forget about the strong economy, all the good done in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lack of terrorist attacks since 9/11 – three things we cannot expect a Democratic Congress to pay much attention to, either – and “send a message” by voting in the Party of Façade, not many people at all bought into the Donk ad campaigns. The Democrats won in spite of their advertising, not because of it. And while the actual ads will soon be forgotten, there is a taste in the mouths of the voters, best expressed in the sentiment sent to Democrats - ”You’d better not be lying to us again”.
Habits are hard things to break, though. For the Republicans, that means getting away from the turf fights and back to what made the party work – grassroots focus and listening to the people, all of them. Because there are tens of millions of people willing to speak their mind to the Republicans, and once they realize that the Democrats are only interested in selling to the theoretical “average” guy, with no mind to what real people need and demand, many more may be willing to give the Republicans a second chance, provided the Republicans show they won’t blow it.