Democrats Win Because They Talk Compassion – The Republicans Need A New Message That Can Appeal To The Disadvantaged – Extolling the Benefits Of Free Markets And Lower Taxes Does Not Do It

By Paolo von Schirach

January 6, 2013

WASHINGTON – Writing in Forbes, Carrie Lukas, (How Conservatives Can Win Over Women, January 21, 2013), argues that conservatives should do a better job at explaining why “progressive” policies really do not help the needy. In fact they often produce the opposite of what they promise. Lukas goes down the list. Almost each paragraph starts with “Conservatives should explain…”.

A message that will resonate

In theory she is right. However, from a political standpoint this is a totally ineffective, a losing proposition. Politics is not a policy analysis graduate seminar in which experts can dissect and examine, showing all the weak spots and empirically proven inconsistencies. Politics is about broad, uplifting messages. Faulty and misleading as it may be, the Democrats have a message (“We are here to help you”), that resonates with a majority of Americans. The Republicans do not.

Obsolete narrative

Republicans and conservatives lost the 2012 elections battle. It was not a horrible routing; but it was a defeat nonetheless. And why? Mediocre messenger, (Mitt Romney); and –worst of all– outdated and unappealing message.

The Republican-Conservative message focused on extolling the virtues of free markets and limited government is predicated on a shared understanding of and reverence for the social and economic environment all of us live in. Supposedly this is a good system. An open ended system offering great opportunity. A system in which all participants, no matter their socio-economic background, have a fair shot at getting somewhere. With simple and clear rules, light regulations and low tax burdens, all Americans have a chance to “make it”. They will go as far as their drive and passion will lead them. From this perspective, the primary purpose of politics is to preserve and, if anything, strengthen this free environment.

Going deeper, this is a morally superior system that allows free people to “really be themselves”. Unconstrained by oppressive rules, all people can unleash their creativity in whatever way they please.

Half the country believes system unfair

This is all very nice. The problem is that at least half the country does not believe any of this. At least half the country believes it lives in an inherently unfair zero-sum society in which the rich have cleaned out leaving nothing for all the others. (Remember the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement?). Worse yet, the rich and powerful have used their usurped positions of power and influence to game the system. They have made rules that favor them, this way making it virtually impossible for all the others to have a fair shot at anything.

A growing army of dispossessed

This narrative about inherent social and economic injustice has always been out there. The difference is that now it has a much bigger audience. American demographics have changed, rather dramatically. The political weight of recent (and thus economically more vulnerable) immigrants and minorities has increased, and so has the relevance of other groups that perceive themselves as weak or victimized: single women with kids, gays and lesbians, unemployed youth, seniors dependent on public programs, you name it.

For most of them it does not really matter that generous social policies promised by the Democrats in the end may not work as advertised. Nor do they think about how much all this will cost and who will end paying the bill. They listen to the rhetoric and they hear a message of compassion. “We want to help“.

Message of hope

They listen to the Republicans and they hear: “Pull yourself together. You have great chances. Just work hard and the rewards will come“. Unfortunately, this is not a reassuring message. For people who believe that they were born disadvantaged, the notion of “equality of opportunity” rings hollow, because they are convinced that only the rich have real opportunity. Hence their natural proclivity to listen to and vote, at the national level, for those who promise help. Whether the help promised delivers the intended results or not is almost irrelevant. The minorities, the single women and all the others vote for those who seem to be sympathetic to their plight.

The only way in which the Republicans will once again become relevant at the national level is to craft a credible message that will resonate with those who believe that they are excluded from the game. Extolling the benefits of free markets and lower taxes will not do it anymore.

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