This article does not pretend a definitive treatment of the political art. It was written early in the 2000 American Presidential campaign (the third week in September) for the purpose of pointing out major Republican tactical errors: To urge a remedy in time to achieve the result, which most Conservative Americans devoutly wish. Thus the sub-topics will be those which have direct bearing on that purpose.
We like Governor Bush's personality. His confident charm, properly directed, could be almost unbeatable. His refusal to discuss his youthful follies, when pressed by the media, strongly reminds one of the attitude of the central figure in the political novel from which this web site takes its name. We believe that he, like that character, is genuinely devoted to the perpetuation of our way of life. Unfortunately, he has not been getting the sage advice that our hero receives.
To understand American politics, one must understand the subject of motivation. Throughout this Century, motivation has been the key to American elections. With only a minority of potential voters actually voting in most, the problem that any campaign faces is how to inspire those necessary to get out the more favorable segments of the electorate (our vote) while sapping the enthusiasm of opponents to get out theirs. Most elections come down to a question of who is voting and why!
The vast majority of Americans are not truly ideological. Nor are most of them single issue voters. Many react as much--some far more--to personalities than to issues. How most folk line up in any election, or whether they vote at all, will depend on the impact of those issues and personalities, which seem relevant at that moment in time. What grabs attention may be a chance occurrence; it may be a predictable occurrence; it may be a particular image--one image may only be worth a thousand words, but many cannot be duplicated in ten million. And in the dynamic flux in human attention, yesterday's configuration of sentiment--yesterday's poll results--have only academic interest. It is not that people are fickle. Their lives are complex. They are pulled in various directions, often in opposite directions, by a vast sea of emotion driven perceptions.
The mechanism that provides continuity to American politics is not, therefore, that either party is ideological--they seldom have been;--but past identifications with this or that group or party. For many, it is more a family or social item than a matter of a particular set of beliefs. The one thing that will get people to abandon a pattern of past identification with a particular party, is the perception that a particular candidate--even one with whom they disagree on many issues--has a level of intelligence, integrity and courage, that separates him from the basically unrespected run of the litter type of politician. And it generally helps the few real men of courage, if they are perceived as being the victims of special interests (of whatever stripe) trying to purge them. The concept of the heroic underdog, can be far more significant in voters' minds than almost any issue.
There is also a fundamental difference between voters (including those with strong group identification) who are "self-motivated" and those who are "group motivated" (which may include those who do not actually have strong group identification yet have become used to being told how to think). The self-motivated voter tends to be one far more likely to be ideological; and far more likely to make an effort to influence others. He is also many, many times more likely to watch a political convention, or to listen to a political speech on radio or television.
Most of Governor Bush's potential base--certainly outside of Texas--is among voters whom we have described as self-motivated, people who have always thought for themselves; who vote their conscience not what some interest group directs. Those who have been primarily group motivated, who vote for candidates some interest group tells them are their candidates, are not going to become suddenly self-motivated because a candidate appeals to them in the same manner that one might appeal to the self-motivated. Such group motivated voters are going to vote with the group--if they vote. They may not even be aware of the speeches and interviews of individual candidates. They are not watching political programs. For them, a political spot is a time to get a drink or flip the dial.
The self-motivated voter is far more likely to believe in such concepts as limited government and individual responsibility. Even if he is somewhat Liberal, he is probably a bit skeptical of politicians. Unless he is that type of "Liberal," who is really only a doctrinaire Socialist playing Fabian word games, he will tend to be offended by a candidate appearing to be appealing to a group motivated segment of the electorate by promising to spend more money.
There is also a difference in how Conservative and "Liberal" voters react to a candidate's willingness to compromise on basic issues. The popular misconception, encouraged in the media, is that the pragmatic course for a Republican Presidential candidate is to talk Conservative in the Primaries, and then move towards the "center"--which they define as something very "Liberal" indeed--in the fall campaign. The corresponding course for the Democrats, is to talk very "Liberal" in the Primaries, and then move towards that same really "Liberal" center in the fall. The idea is that the core constituencies have no meaningful alternative but to dutifully support the ticket, whatever its transmutations in pursuit of new support. It is assumed that those core constituencies have no choice but to support the lesser of two evils.
This concept has some efficacy for the group motivated voter who, often as not seeking special treatment, will gladly take half-a-loaf in preference to no loaf at all. It also has some efficacy for the "Liberal" theorist. At war with nature and with traditional society, motivated by anger and hostility; he or she will certainly take some change rather than no change at all. It is not so with the Conservative. Self-motivated by a love of heritage, he or she will not be stampeded by group motivation into supporting just anyone the party nominates. Motivated to preserve, any departure from the path of preservation into that of unwelcome change is seen not as a partial victory but as a painful defeat. In 1948, 1960, 1976 and 1996, the Republican Party lost elections because it did not understand this principle. (The Republican debacle in 1964, had nothing to do with Goldwater's conservatism, but with factors that have no pertinence to this election--as the Reagan victories in 1980 and 1984, on Goldwater's principles, clearly demonstrate.)
One might illustrate this further by observing the different motivational patterns of those taking the Conservative versus the "Liberal" position on certain issues. While many who accept what they consider the "politically correct" "Liberal" views on gun control, asexual values and abortion, will certainly lean against the Republicans; those voters are far more likely to be responsive to economic issues than those who take the Conservative position on the same issues. If their attention is not diverted by other issues, they will probably vote for what they consider the Lesser Evil, between a Moderate and a Conservative. It is very different with those who take the Conservative view on such issues.
The fear and outrage at the thought of being unable to defend your family, in rural and small town America, will not be over-ridden by any economic issue. If the Republicans become too "moderate" on the right to keep and bear arms, those to whom that issues is dominant will stay home, or cast a protest vote. Similarly, the moral outrage at the asexual policies of the Clinton Administration or over Abortion, are not the sort of issues where the motivated Conservative is likely to accept the Lesser Evil. Republicans who try to avoid these issues as too "hot" to tackle, simply kiss a significant percentage of their total potential vote goodbye. These are issues over which religious Americans believe they are answerable to God. For such Americans, it can never be "the economy, stupid." Anyone who does not fully understand the distinction, we make, has no business advising any candidate.
The single most important skill that a Conservative candidate can acquire is to understand how to turn the predictable "knee jerk Liberal" bias of the media to his own advantage (a technique well illustrated in the novel). Once mastered, this can be the key to a vast amount of positive free publicity. Basically, you let the blunders of the enemy bring out your vote.
The most serious mistake of the early Bush campaign lies in a failure to demonstrate understanding of the art of issue selection and control. Rather than further develop those issues with which he won the Primaries--issues which rally his base--with a focus on the strongest emotional issues that would bring out the largest possible Conservative vote, thus enlarging that base--Governor Bush's advisers have had him focusing on an effort to counter the Democrats on their issues--ie. solving problems via Federal intervention;--choosing a field of battle where Gore has the advantage. This is not a clever move. It is a colossal tactical error.
Take the Governor's Medicare proposal as a clear example:
Medicare was a Democratic program; one of the major initiatives of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It was originally opposed by the Conservatives in both parties. There is no provision in the Constitution that could possibly be construed to authorize it. It has proven enormously expensive, a major contributor to the huge Federal deficits of a few years ago. It has had the effect, also, of bidding up the costs of all forms of health care, and has contributed significantly to a growing mountain of paperwork in which Doctors and Hospitals are beginning to suffocate. With ever more expensive medical technology, an aging population, and increasing demagoguery on this issue, it is a potential quagmire for Republicans--a disaster for America.
It is true that Democrats used fear tactics against Bob Dole in 1996, over his one time opposition to Medicare, to convince the susceptible to support the Clinton/Gore reelection. Is Governor Bush's prescription drug program designed to prevent a recurrence of that result? Is it likely to do so?
For 35 years, Medicare has been a Democratic issue. Those most concerned with extending it, have voted Democratic throughout that period. The Democrats have been perceived as the Medicare party. Can Governor Bush turn that around with one proposal? Will his proposed subsidies for prescription drugs even be noted by many of the group motivated voters he hopes to target? Or will he, at best, only cut into the percentage of the Medicare motivated who will vote Democratic? And will that increase in the Republican percentage even offset the likelihood that the very publicity, that he is giving to the issue, will bring out more Medicare motivated voters intending to vote for Al Gore--so that the gain, if any, will be inconsequential?
And at what price will he score such "gain"?
Younger voters without aging relatives--or simply indifferent to any problem--may be offended by what they see as catering to a special interest with their tax dollars. Worse yet, the Medicare drug stand is inconsistent with Governor Bush's pledge that he is a "strict constructionist"; that he believes in limiting Government; that he believes that people should be able to keep more of their hard earned money.
Such inconsistency casts doubt on his integrity, perhaps on the mettle to hold fast to traditional American views under incessant attack. It depresses the enthusiasm of those he needs to inspire to go out and bring in the vote. It will undermine his credibility in the coming debates. It makes him sound, more and more, like just another politician--without sense enough to hold his own against the sharks in the media. There is no way that he can be elected against the sitting Vice President in a time of perceived prosperity, if he lets that become his image.
[Notwithstanding the point above, we do not suggest that it would be good politics--or even fair--for Governor Bush to call for an immediate end to Medicare. At the end of this essay, we will suggest how to handle Medicare. But other problems, first!]
The management of the Republican Convention displayed another serious misconception on how to motivate. The images reminded one of the politically disastrous McGovern Convention of 1972. Of course, the intention was to give the impression of a "Big Tent," where everyone is welcome. But in grossly over-emphasizing the presence of minorities and the afflicted in the Republican Party, the managers forgot the likely profile of the person actually watching a Republican Convention--especially this year, with major network coverage pared down to almost nothing. And they ignored the fact that images, intended to convey one message, may convey an entirely different message to those viewing that image from a perspective other than that of the planners.
While we have seen no survey as to who watched the Convention, we would hazard a common sense expectation that the percentages of some in the major outreach categories were somewhere between low and infinitesimal; that outside of Texas, most of those of an "Hispanic" background were from the most affluent classes, those already planning to vote Republican; that the overwhelming majority of viewers were people whom the Media would disparage as "Middle American"; predominantly types who might be expected to limit the degree of "diversity" they would choose to enjoy in any one day.
In an era when "politically correct" aspersions against normal human preferences are the order of the day, far fewer will publicly protest the excesses of the Republican display than would actually be offended. That does not mean that few were offended. It is also extremely doubtful that the political power brokers, who have regularly delivered votes from their ethnic minorities to the Democrats, would be likely to drop personally aggrandizing associations, simply because the Republicans display a new concern for those whom those brokers have previously exploited.
By contrast, the Democratic Convention had its usual more offensive rhetoric, deriding values of the American mainstream. But this was more than offset by visual images. The Democrats suddenly seemed more akin to established small town and suburban family types than did the Republicans. Thus while Republican sophisticates were still congratulating themselves on how "inclusive" they had seemed, the Democrats were surging back into contention. It was not the Al/Tipper kiss. For the first time in a generation, the Democrats had appeared more like the people next door than the Republicans, who had abandoned any sense as to what motivates normal people in order to pursue a more "correct" image with the media. Thus they convinced many in the silent majority that their values are shallow; that they lack both principle and common sense as well as courage.
There would clearly have been nothing wrong--and a great deal to be gained--if the Republicans had celebrated the American tradition of George Washington as avidly as they honored images of many newer more Democratic cultures from South of the border. Indeed, their open door to other cultures might have seemed more truly inviting, rather than a cynical ploy, had they shown more convincing respect for their own. Does anyone, after all, really value an invitation from a family deficient in self-respect--or too dumb to recognize their own good traits?
There is no need to panic. But we need to act, and act now! There are a great many emotionally charged issues that can work for the Republicans and against the Administration; but they must be raised. The calls to arms--and they are plural, because the motivations are many--must be sounded.
The Republicans may not need to spend a lot of money on Gore's pro-Abortion stand, or over his betrayal of the Bill of Rights in denying our Second Amendment guarantees. In each case, private groups can be expected to carry the torch very effectively. (Of course, Governor Bush must not appear to weaken previous stands. He must not let himself be coerced by deceptively worded polls or media hype into believing that people are far more "Liberal" than they actually are on abortion and firearms. That would be fatal. There is no way that he can win without the millions of uncompromising voters that these issues motivate.)
It would be nice if all issues were so simple. Unfortunately, many do not have well organized and funded groups to raise them. Many require an insightful campaign by the candidate, himself, to realize their potential. Otherwise, they are seen as being "off the table."
Thus far, Governor Bush has largely avoided what is surely the single most advantageous issue of this campaign; advantageous because the position taken by the Clinton/Gore Administration can not be rationally defended. It is one supported by almost no one outside the Media extremists and the hard-core Left of the Democratic Party. It is an issue that can easily offset any Democratic advantage with the elderly. That issue is the almost unbelievable Clinton/Gore criticism of the Boy Scouts over a refusal to hire publicity seeking Homosexuals as Scout Masters! While at first glance, this is not really a Federal question, it perfectly illustrates the Administration mindset and, as such, is truly a Godsend. Consider the impact:
1. The Clinton/Gore position is not only morally outrageous; it is totally irrational. There is no way that you can defend the idea that men who have publicly renounced traditional male roles should be hired as male role models for adolescent boys in an organization dedicated to promoting traditional values. The more they argue, the deeper the hole they dig for themselves.
2. This is an issue that the media will pick up immediately, and in trying to put the Republicans down for raising it, will rally more and more of the uncommitted to the Republican banner. (This is an excellent example of how to turn media bias to advantage. They will fall all over themselves, rushing in--rushing in from a perspective that they share with almost no one else on earth.)
3. This is the perfect offset to Gore's Medicare advantage. Free prescription drugs might be nice; but not at the cost of your grandsons' future.
Governor Bush would also be well advised to again start speaking more aggressively on his tax cut. Here, also, he must ignore the carefully worded polls cited by the Media to "prove" that Americans do not really want a major tax cut. Otherwise, he will have both surrendered an advantage and displayed a weakness in critical perception, which the shrewder of his foes will be certain to exploit again and again.
The best way for Bush to enhance his image, and increase public confidence in his message, would be to deliver a series of half hour "fireside" speeches to the American people. Free of the acrimony and senseless media antics of the debates, such a platform could project the aura that he is a man of principle, and one who understands issues in depth--a concept impossible to develop in the media designed debate format. Bush has a good media personality--that of the wise father, both serious yet good humored--for the type of speech that garnered Roosevelt four terms; that Winston Churchill used to rally the British people in the darkest days of the World War II.
No, Bush is no Churchill. Yet were he simply to speak on the importance of personal responsibility to all of our free institutions; how it is the only system truly fair to the individual; how it brings out the best in people--whether you are talking about market economics, local schools, the responsible possession and use of firearms for all the purposes the Founding Fathers envisioned, or about people planning for their own old ages;--he could tie the Conservative message together with readily observable phenomena, with his sense of compassion and with the wisdom of the ages, in a package for which no cloud or airborne "Liberal," has any answer.
We have suggested that there is a legitimate Medicare issue. While Medicare itself is legally and morally wrong, millions of elderly Americans now have a legitimate claim against the Government for medical assistance. Let us explain:
There is a doctrine in Law based upon the concept of an Estoppel. Where one makes a promise, knowing that another will rely upon it, the law may actually enforce a duty on the promisor, even though there was no contractual or other legally enforceable basis for that duty before the promise was relied upon, if in being relied upon it caused that other to change his circumstances. Certainly Federal promises have been relied upon by millions of Americans, for more than a generation, in planning for old age. It would be manifestly unfair to them, were the Government to simply "cold-turkey" the program. On the other hand, the program is leading us toward an economic disaster.
Governor Bush would do well to explain this situation in a statesmanlike manner; to discuss how the Government might make this right with those who have relied upon its promises, while still setting plans in motion that, without harming anyone, will eventually get the Government out of something it should never have gotten into. The real issue, here, is not more and more Government; but rectifying the sins of the past. Well handled, he could gain support from both Conservatives and Liberals in a way that "free drug" offer will never do.
Similar statesmanlike approaches to the conflicting principles, that beset other aspects of interaction between Americans and Government, could reap many benefits for the campaign--and after the campaign, for the people. This is not a substitute for hard hitting choices of the right emotional issues, those needed to rally support and discourage opposition. Yet it could provide a worthy context and a soothing cushion for support once rallied. And there are few attributes, more prized in any office holder, than the ability to recognize and treat, fairly and wisely, more facets of the problems he must face than were ever recognized before.
The political novel, from which this Site derives its theme, graphically illustrates these points. It also deals specifically with how to handle media efforts to dredge up scandal. For more information, use this link.