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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