18 November 2006

The Big Idea

The Republicans brought virtually nothing to the elections this past November, nothing except a disillusioned base. Still, nothing versus nothing should still have been a tie, right? Should have been, except that the Dems did have something -- the "Big Idea".

It's pretty clear that our public discourse is not able to sustain any more than one issue at a time. The trick in politics is to make that issue one of your choosing and then pound away at it. The "Big Idea" that carried this past election was "Iraq war, bad." It's so vague and broad that it is impossible to refute. How can one argue with that simple idea? You can hardly say that any war is good. You might say that it's worth fighting or even necessary, but it's still "bad."

Using a "Big Idea" of such simplicity makes it easy. Everyone can take a part -- even your political opponents! Some people have argued that we did not (or still don't) have enough troops in Iraq. Others will argue the opposite: that there are too many there or that they've been there too long. But, both sides are supporting the BigIdea. The moonbats can help with their "Bush lied" piffle. Hawks can chip in too and say that the politicians aren't letting the troops fight aggressively enough. (Everybody's a critic.)

The BigIdea is the key part of winning an election and changing the balance of power. The full recipe includes two more ingredients: "The Blunder" and "The Campaign." The blunder is self-explanatory -- the other side has done something stupid or corrupt, you exploit it. Even if your opponents haven't done anything unusually stupid, you've got to find something and make hay. If we're going to choose one blunder for this past election cycle, I think it has to be the Abu Ghraib prison scandal -- a disgusting episode to be sure. Notice that the blunder dovetails nicely with and reinforces the BigIdea. An interesting thing about it is that any direct connection between any U.S. politician and the crimes commited at Abu Ghraib is dubious at the very best. Nevertheless, with events so ugly and harmful to our nation's cause, even a tenuous connection is sufficient to get the desired effect of political damage. We are a conservative country and leaders must always bear some responsibility for the behavior of their subordinates.

Also of note with this "blunder," the news of it broke in the Spring of 2004, well before even the previous election. This brings us to "The Campaign." In this case, it was a very long campaign. The important thing is to stay on message and repeat it every day and in every way. Awfully easy when the main stream media (MSM) is sympathetic to your political goals in the first place. To be fair, with American soldiers in harm's way, the Iraq war was going to be in the news either way. For that reason, I think that this BigIdea found the Democrats as much as they found it. After the 2004 election didn't go their way, they seem to have decided to stop equivocating and fully exploit the difficult situation in Iraq for political gain. (Yes, they're slime balls.) Enough time had passed that people would forget that they pretty much all voted for this invasion just like the Republicans. And, hot dog!, where ever Cindy Sheehan went the news cameras followed. Like a bee to a flower goes the politician to a camera.

(Some people may differ with me and say that the Foley kerfuffle was "the blunder" of this past election cycle.)

To recap then, for 2006 the BigIdea is "Iraq war, bad," the blunder is Abu Ghraib, the campaign is ... relentless, as always. I think this formula for election success is broadly applicable. Just thinking about other successful shifts in power in my living memory, consider 1994: the BigIdea was "The Contract with America," the blunder was "Hillary health care." For an individual political contest, it's a looser fit, but still works. Take 1992 for example: the BigIdea was "the man from Hope,"* the blunder was "read my lips, no new taxes."

And what of other elections? Let's say 2000 or 1996. These elections are not examples of the BigIdea because there was no sort of change in power. (In 2000, Gore was not an incumbent.) You don't need a BigIdea to keep the status quo. But, 1980 should fit the mold since it unseated a president. (Someone older than myself will have to provide that analysis.)

So, WHAT IS THE BIG IDEA?! What are the Republicans going to do to get back into power? So, far nothing. The PR campaign is a key ingredient and they will need a long one to restore confidence, so they'd better put on their thinking caps and find their BigIdea soon.

*(Yes, "the man from Hope" was the BigIdea -- because no mere idea is big enough to share a stage with Bill Clinton. I apologize if you'd just eaten before being reminded of this nauseating jingle. I'll normally refer to him as "the man from grope.")

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10 November 2006

Two parties not working

I've had some time to reflect on the recent election. It wasn't surprising to me, or anyone with a passing interest in current events and trends. So, to try to understand why the Republicans did this to themselves, why they did virtually nothing with their six years in complete control of the government, I believe we've got to look back.

First, back to the 1995 budget battle with Bill Clinton where the Republicans got thumped. This was mainly a PR battle, like so many things in Washington, and ol' Bill is good at that game. After that rebuke, it seems like the Republicans gave up on serious budget-cutting. Not necessarily the right approach -- they might have worked on their message and strategy and tried again. No matter, with the tax cuts and the economy the budget got balanced regardless. But, this started the bad habit of Republicans being just a speed bump on the road to bigger and bigger government, rather than the avenging angel of real fiscal responsibility.

Isn't it bizarre today to think that Gingrich was later ousted because the GOP lost 5 House seats in the 1998 elections? Leaving them with a mere 223 to 211 majority?

After the new speaker Bob Livingston was very quickly dispatched by personal scandal, moderate Denny Hastert became the speaker. This completed the transformation process begun with the budget battle -- the House Republicans were now completely tamed and DC-ified. And, so they remained, right through the fateful, inevitable day of November 7, 2006.

Enough history. What's the problem with a two party system? There's the obvious problem of a lack of choice. Recall the Simpson's episode where evil aliens Kang and Kodos disguise themselves as Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Homer runs onto the stage during a debate and unmasks the aliens. The crowd gasps, but Kang says, "Well, what can you do about it? It's a two party system and you've got to vote for one of us." The crowd then reluctantly mutters that he's got a point.

Going beyond the obvious, however, there are several negative effects of a two party system. The one that I believe is most relevant to the recent election is that large blocks of the electorate really have no representation of their views in the government. America is in many ways a very conservative country. But, the representatives of the people do not reflect that conservatism. The two party system effectively filters out the views of a large number of the citizens, by forcing them to choose the side that is closest to their views -- though that might not be very close on a large number of issues. Undoubtedly, this is a problem for many liberals as well.

All of this is what allowed the Republicans to be comfortable in their moderate sham. The other side had bad ideas or unpopular ideas. The Republicans really didn't have to do anything except not be the Democrats. ... But, in the end, the dumb asses couldn't even do that. They spent as much money as any Democrat congress and have truly earned the title "Republocrats."

Another negative effect of the two party system is the in-fighting. Because each party becomes a coalition of people with wide ranging ideas, there's necessarily going to be a lot of conflict within each party. Conflict and debate are well and good, but I think a multi-party system would bring much more of this debate out into the open where it belongs. As it is, the debates often happen behind closed doors so that the party may proceed with a unified front. That's a reasonable tactic, of course, but in our two-party system it seems that important options and points of view are already off the table before the public debate begins on the floor.

Dude! More parties!

I believe that there is a large amount of pressure building on both the left and the right for new political parties to enter our system. Once a single third party gains some real measure of success on one side of the spectrum, I think that another party will immediately spring up on the other side as well. The Libertarian party is the only other party that appeared on the ballots where I vote. They don't fit onto the conservative-to-liberal spectrum very well. I believe that if either the Constitution Party or the Green Party can have a break out success, that the other one will also suddenly spring to life. There are many people in the two major political parties whose views would be better represented by these third parties, but feel trapped by the two party system.

My question is this: if we really could get a such shake-up and have a political system with 5 major parties, would the Democrat and Republican parties both survive? If each parties' moderate wing were freed from its ideological wing, they might just end up being the exact same party. Then they could merge and form the Republocratic party. (Because that sounds a lot better than the Democlican party.)

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