- - Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why do the Republicans have so much trouble getting people to understand their message?

First of all, what is their message?

Since Ronald Reagan, the Republican message is simply stated: “smaller government, lower taxes, strong national defense, balanced budget, lower taxes, fewer regulations, lower taxes, and the rule of law”. (Did I mention lower taxes?) Another theme is becoming more prominent, namely, religious freedom.

Since Lyndon Johnson, the Democrat message is even simpler: “the federal government is the last resort for curing all the problems of the nation.” Thus the federal government has a duty to the people of the United States to do whatever is good for the people. This mandate includes jobs, food, housing, public safety, public charity, health care, research and development, education — and also, we have recently discovered, cell phones!

In order to understand the Republican message, you have to think about it. Why should I want smaller government? I like lower taxes, but what does a balanced budget have to do with lower taxes? You don’t really have to think about the Democrat message; it is intuitively understandable – the more the government does for me and my family, the less we have to do for ourselves, and the more time we’ll have off from work. We don’t wonder about the source of all this service; the source is the government.

It is also instructive to look at the “bad guys” of each party. The bad guys for Democrats are all those rich people who got rich by stepping on all us little folks. The buzz word for these bad guys is “corporations”. Most of the evil in America is the consequence, intended or otherwise, of “corporations”, by which they mean “big business”. The Republicans’ “bad guys” are the government itself.

“Corporations” in the form of big business, is everywhere, easily seen in every mall, household and car. “Big Government” is much harder to see. While government’s hand is everywhere, it seems far from most people’s daily experience. When most people think of the federal government, they think of the presidential inauguration pageantry every four years, or the crisp young faces of the military, or the beautiful buildings and monuments of the nation’s capital. It is harder to defeat an almost invisible foe.

Then there is the way in which Republicans frame their message. All too often, it is negative: “don’t spend so much money, don’t let the government expand, don’t starve the military, don’t violate the Constitution, don’t allow so many regulations, etc.” Ronald Reagan was arguably the most successful politician of the last 50 years. One of the reasons was that his message was always positive. “We can win the battle of ideas (against the Soviet Union), we are the shining city on the hill, we stand for freedom from the tyranny of government, lower taxes mean that we can spend more of our own money … . .” He shared this characteristic with two other notable presidents, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Outrage and criticism can go only so far; at some point a successful messenger must send a message of hope, paint a picture of a better future.

Another feature of modern “polit-speak” is emphasizing positions on specific issues. One effect of this practice is to encourage single issue voting. There is no obvious way around answering questions about specific issues, nor should there be. However, another page from the Reagan book tells us that, like the Roosevelts, Reagan stressed his philosophy of government as the basis for all his positions. He always talked about the “big picture.”​

Another way of looking at this strategy is that he stressed the practical results of his philosophy, rather than specific issues. We have some contemporary examples of this approach, such as Newt Gingrich, the Pauls – father and son, and to some extent Barack Obama.

Such a theme is freedom – freedom to live your own life without having to answer to government at every turn, freedom to spend your own money rather than to give most of it to the various governments who tax us (federal, state, county, city), freedom to marry whom we wish, freedom to travel, worship, associate, congregate, speak, and act freely. Most of all, freedom of opportunity.

Money allows the expansion of these freedoms. If we depend on government to feed us, we have no freedom. We have to earn our way to more personal freedom. The way to do that is to make a contribution to our community which is valuable enough to others that they are willing to pay us for it. The more value the community places on our contribution, the more money we will make – if we are willing to participate by our work and diligence. Those among us with more talent will tend to make more money, although hard work frequently trumps talent.

The “American dream” is founded on the belief that a successful life is open to every American, whether that success be measured by happiness, reputation or money. And a successful life is based on personal freedom, the chance to become the best that we can be. Our forefathers recognized this fact of life. When they saw the British government trying to curtail their freedoms by excessive taxes, they reacted with the American Revolution. Even after they won, they still feared big government, because big government is the most powerful of all the threats to freedom. Ask the Russians, or the victims of the Islamic State, or the people of Hong Kong.

This is where the Republican Party stands: it stands for freedom. The other party believes that government has the right and the obligation to change your life in any way they see fit. Frequently, they do so with good intentions, but intentions are not enough.

Look at what Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society did. By trying to eliminate poverty through legislation, he created a horrific system which has virtually destroyed much of the African American community, trivialized fatherhood, condemned whole segments of our cities to slums, and fostered an inequality of justice, housing, education, and opportunity. Indeed, a culture of dependence has been created which carries the seeds of civil unrest.

Another result is that the taxes required to fund such huge programs have fallen disproportionately on the middle class in America. All this sudden concern of Democrat politicians about “income inequality” shows that they don’t even yet realize the tragic consequences of their own agenda. These developments are not due solely to the Great Society, but substituting government largess for individual initiative is dangerously ill-conceived.

Now comes terrorism. Increasingly, individuals disaffected from American society as well as foreign fanatics are rising up to inflict murder and mayhem on our people. This is a perfect cause for advocates of the expansion of government powers. But, remember that “government” really means people —politicians, judges, and bureaucrats. All want more power over us. We must therefore be vigilant against efforts to take away our freedoms. Some measures make sense — like screening incoming travelers, seeking the cooperation of the American Muslim community for leads to radicals, and licenses for guns, among others. But the primary burden rightly falls on our enterprising citizens to take responsibility for their own safety as much as possible. We cannot allow this threat to undermine our personal freedom from excessive police power.

The Republican message should be clear, positive, and easy to understand. Building that message around personal freedom is a good place to start.

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