Political punditry threatens to turn us all into cynics. Maybe conservatives are not cynical enough. Sadly, though, cynicism detracts from the kind of heartfelt “live our beliefs” brand of conservatism that defines most Americans. Conservatives tend to be optimists but, this year, we were the Charlie Browns to the liberal Lucys holding the football for us to kick.
During a radio debate, I was asked if I felt Barack Obama warranted being Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Since Time’s liberal bent seems focused on rewarding political success over actual achievement, I snidely suggested that free contraception advocate and short list nominee Sandra Fluke might be more deserving. Remember, she helped convince many Americans that Republicans were waging a “war on women.” It didn’t make sense that a president who mismanaged one of the worst recoveries in history, who obfuscated the truth about why Americans were killed in Benghazi, and who ran an incredibly negative campaign, could be lauded for winning. Conservatives are still surprised that his campaign could overcome his poor performance.
After the debate, I realized that the role of vocal conservatives is to promote the good that is in America, reflected in the timeless values (not just held by conservatives) of hard work, sacrifice, freedom and altruism. It is not the Sandra Flukes whom we should consider, but the events involving two Sandys — the superstorm and the elementary school. In these and other tragedies this year, we saw true heroes — the principal and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary who died defending the most innocent, first responders rushing to action, a 22-year-old confronting a manic rifleman in Oregon, agents trying to save embassy personnel, neighbors and complete strangers helping each other. Tragedy, disaster, unemployment and re-emergence of old threats characterized 2012. It was also a year that saw what makes us good first responders. All of those Americans are truly the Persons of the Year.
In honoring the year’s heroes, it is a relief to put away the divisive labels that characterized this past election. Conservatism’s aim is to honor people as individuals based on their free actions and accomplishments, without regard to membership in a church, club, union or political party. Yet pundits tended to view the Sandy tragedies through the prism of politics. We heard how the late-October superstorm saved President Obama’s re-election by affording him the opportunity to look engaged and presidential, unlike his performance in the first debate. The action in the aftermath of Sandy Hook is focused inordinately on the politics of gun control. These “silver lining” consequences, while politically expedient, fall short of addressing the real tragedies — either big government’s inability to manage disaster relief or why troubled young men commit mass murder.
Pondering the role of conservatism in America, and possibly the Republican Party, we must ignore the recommendations of the pundit class. We don’t have to change the values or makeup of the GOP. We don’t have to give on issues intrinsic to our Constitution, such as religious liberty, freedom of conscience, limited government or even the right to bear arms. Conservatism is strong when we promote the values that are already in us. We tend to hold these values quietly and without fanfare. Yet, liberals give great lip service to them without considering whether their policies solve real problems. They want to legislate and have government control what is, by nature, free human action. Who wants to be against a tax law that merely wants us to share with others? When conservatives push back, they are made to look mean, miserly and selfish. Just Google “negative ad Santa Claus.”
If conservatives are to convince Americans that the policies based on the principles of unlimited individual ingenuity and limited government are better for all Americans, we need to stop being surprised by the tactics and cynicism of the other side. We need to go on the offensive and find a craftier way of conveying our message and educating the public. We need to be less apologetic about what we believe in. We look like Republican Charlie Browns apologizing to Lucy for running up to the ball too fast, forcing her to pull it back. We need to anticipate the game plan and change ours. Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” should be read by all conservatives if we are to understand how and why we lost. Alinsky’s name is tied with Mr. Obama’s political success, but remember — it was Hillary Rodham Clinton who actually worked with Alinsky. The campaign for 2016 has begun and, right now, Hillary is holding the football.
Stephanie Hitt, a former attorney, was a delegate to the 2008 Republican National Convention.