I may be the most apolitical writer in the OCR stable. Not that I take my civic responsibility lightly, mind you. I have voted in every election since 1976, even in off-years. But I don’t keep up with politics and races, especially local ones. I can remember “cramming” with a voter guide as I walked down the sidewalk on my way to the polls. And, I must admit, there are sometimes races and issues in which I cast no vote at all because I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion.
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But I’m not a keen observer of the political conversation. Radio talk-show hosts may inform the views of the base, but I’m not a big fan of talk radio. It’s too cynical and far too redundant. And “dittohead” — seriously? What thinking person would want to be known as a “dittohead”?
All this to say that I am political, but only marginally so. In that respect, my view point is probably similar to millions of Ohio voters: politically aware but not deeply involved. So for what it’s worth, here’s what the current national political scene looks like from the viewpoint of a marginally political values voter, the guy who keeps up with the news and votes regularly but doesn’t keep up with Sean or Rush.
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1. The GOP looks to be in disarray right now, but that’s not really a big deal. It’s just our turn. I can remember when the Democrats thought they’d never make another serious run at the White House. After Reagan’s two landslide victories, and after his VP and successor, HW Bush, led an international coalition to oust Saddam from Kuwait, things did look grim for the disorganized Dems. But then a charismatic young governor from Arkansas changed the political landscape. And the blue party occupied the Oval Office for the last decade of the twentieth century.
Now it’s our turn to be dismayed. But, not to worry. President Obama is discovering what every second-term president discovers: things go wrong the second time around, and people’s mood sours. Think Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinsky, and economic collapse. You get the picture. These things run in cycles.
2. The American people aren’t as ideologically committed as we’d like to think. It’s more about charisma and personal credibility than ideology. It may be that the swing to the left in presidential politics we’ve seen over the past decade is more about the man than his ideas. Presidential politics is not quite the “beauty pageant” that cynics like to call it, but it is about bigger-than-life personalities. There are lots of bright people with good ideas, but only a handful can communicate those ideas effectively. Those are the people who win voters’ confidence. The GOP needs not just a set of winning ideas but also a Big Personality to make a serious run at the White House in 2016. Reagan will beat Mondale every time. And Clinton will beat Dole. And Obama will beat McCain.
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3. But it’s not just about personality. It’s also about organization. The Obama Vote Machine proved too much in 2012. When there are that many dedicated volunteers deeply committed to getting out the vote, big money and good ideas and a Big Personality may not be enough. It’s not clear yet to this casual observer whether that Vote Machine was loyal only to Obama or if it belongs to the Democrats/liberals. If the Dems are able to generate that kind of voter participation in 2016, the GOP must be ready to respond in kind.
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4. Finally, enough with the cynicism. Does anyone remember how toxic the airwaves became in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election? Maybe wedge issues and attack ads have worked in the past, and maybe they’ll continue to work in the future… maybe Karl Rove is still right. But voters are rightly offended by a steady diet of cynicism and attack.
That’s what politics looks like from where I stand. What’s my point? If we conservatives want to reach a broader audience, we’ve got to temper our enthusiasm and refine our message. My money says most of the folks conservatives want to reach are not dittoheads. I think we forget that sometimes.
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So at the risk of offending some of my more conservative friends, here’s some unsolicited advice from the margins:
1. Talk about people, not ideas. Politics is ultimately about people. Ideas are the means, not the end. The perception is that Democrats care about people and all we care about is ideology. Don’t play to type.
2. Sunny optimism beats nasty cynicism. For all our praise of the Great Communicator, we seem to forget that his greatest asset was his ability to inspire hope. The GOP has earned its reputation as the party of No. As long as we’re on our heels, we’re not leading anyone anywhere.
3. Be patient. If our ideas really are better than theirs, we will win the confidence of voters. The Middle has grown weary of failed messianic expectations. It will be our turn soon, if we don’t fumble the opportunity.
Paul William Pyle has taught high school for 36 years and serves as an elder in a Dayton-area church. He studied English and music at Evangel University and holds the M.A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife have four children, ages 18-33. His blog, “Noticing,” can be found at paulwpyle.blogspot.com.
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