Call me nuts, but I think American politics go in cycles. Reagan’s victories, coupled with Obama’s, prove this. At the same time, I think there is some legitimacy to the idea that our sense of “right” and “left” drift around across time. Reagan was not about the same issues as Obama; those who seek to confuse and distort argue, and there is a kernel of truth to what they say, that Obama is “conservative” in some things and Reagan was “liberal” in some other things. But philosophically, there is some consistency across the decades and it is clear to me that our prevailing culture is picking one thing in one time, and another thing in another time.
Some say Mitt Romney lost the election because he came up with a plan to create jobs, and “fifty-one percent of the country said ‘fuck that!’” I think that’s true. Others say Romney lost because he and Paul Ryan were (demonstrably) less inspiring than John McCain and Sarah Palin, and there might have been some anti-Mormon bigotry feeding into it too. I think that is also true. But, in the 1980′s, a Romney/Ryan ticket would’ve fared better.
So if you can stomach just one more comment about what Republicans need to be fixing, this late in the game: I don’t think the country has gone liberal, quite so much as it has gone primal. We’re living in a time in which arguments are won by whoever appeals to base impulses, or demonstrates their own. It is the configuration of the contests, not the ideology of the options presented during those contests. This hurts conservatives because the default configuration is: Liberal says “I want” something-which-should-be-a-right, and the conservative says “All fine and good, but if that becomes a right, then there are consequences…”
People are bored, aggravated, impatient. They don’t want to hear about consequences. They’ve made anti-social behavior into — well, in this day and age that is how you behave properly in a social setting, by being anti-social. You’re supposed to have some other group in your cross-hairs, in order to get along with yet another group.
In this setting, people who say “I want” are generally more impressive. You remember The Hidden? Right before Kyle McLachlan immolated that guy with the flamethrower, the evil alien that lived in people’s bodies made this positive impression on the pool of reporters and spectators by saying “I want to be President.” Up until that point, this was just a calling-card of sorts, how you knew someone had been invaded by the alien — since real people don’t talk that way, of course. Someone would look at a red sports car and say “I want this car” and you knew the alien had taken ‘em over. At this point, it’s more like an ominous foreboding: Everybody loves the driven determined guy, so the evil alien is going to become President because it goes around saying it wants stuff.
Irony is: That’s the typical Hollywood lib’s idea of the eighties. People going around acting all selfish, making a big deal out of wanting to get things for themselves, and the poor proletarians being fooled into thinking this is somehow a good thing. But in reality, outside the Tinseltown fantasy land, that’s a perfect description of the Obama era.
Conservatives have a tough time with this. The very movement is about resisting the temptation to think like a toddler; it is about delayed gratification. Liberals are the child, conservatives are the parent, so the liberals are grabbing for the candies and the conservatives are saying no, we’re eating dinner in a couple hours. Or, we have to check that and pay for it first.
I don’t know if it’s this simple; but it could be. The odds do not favor, but the fact remains we haven’t tested it. When is the last time you’ve heard it stated in these terms?
If some suicidal maniac is picking people off with a pistol so he can go out in a blaze of “glory,” and I’m within that tragic vicinity, ya know what? I want to have a gun. I don’t WANT to be defenseless. Seriously, how do you argue with that? Point is, we can go back & forth all day long about the dead gunman’s motives, or how his mother bought the hardware, whether they were pistols or rifles, or whether the officials at the NRA have character defects or all sorts of other red herrings…but putting yourself in the situation, and asking your audience to put themselves there as well, cuts through all that. You can’t contest this directly. You can’t convincingly say “Oh yeah, well if I was there, then I’d have no problem being unarmed and waiting my turn.” This just steamrolls right over everything. Liberals do that and conservatives don’t.
I don’t WANT to pay for Sandra Fluke’s birth control. See how this works? Liberals accuse conservatives of acting simply out of selfishness. If it were really true, I daresay the liberals wouldn’t be winning all the time.
I don’t WANT to pay more taxes because some complete stranger I’ll never meet, thinks I have too much money.
I WANT to drive a real car, not a “smart car.” I don’t WANT to be a sitting duck in some chassis that’s about the size of my kid’s laundry hamper, and I don’t WANT to be forced to buy such a thing.
I don’t WANT to buy any carbon credits or pay any special carbon tax.
I don’t WANT to be delayed, when I’m driving somewhere, by some “occupy” protest.
I don’t WANT to be forced to join a union.
I WANT to make obscene amounts of money and I don’t WANT anyone else to sit in judgment of it, I WANT to choose my own charities.
I don’t WANT my son to be taught in school that whiteness, straightness, maleness or western-ness are bad things, that he should hide about himself as he goes through life.
I don’t WANT to listen to three hours of liberal talk radio for every three hours of Rush Limbaugh.
I don’t WANT to have to swap out magazines after ten shots.
I WANT to put out Christmas decorations.
I don’t WANT to have to pass a drug test, so I can work and earn money and pay taxes to support welfare people who don’t have to take drug tests.
I don’t WANT to have to live within my means, just to pay taxes to a government that doesn’t have to live within its means.
Conservatives try to avoid arguing this way. They think, because they have been taught, that this is an essential factor in behaving like a grown-up. This is probably true, I’ve been taught the same thing and I believe in it. But the fact is, it’s been put to the test and people aren’t responding to it; they can only muster up enough interest and curiosity to find out about motivations, the more personal the motivation, the more convincing the argument. So the delayed-gratification types end up looking dishonest, even when it’s the other guy who’s obfuscating.
Not sure this would work across the board. But the time’s come to give it a try.