Archive for November, 2008

The Problem With Language and the Current GOP Debate

November 25, 2008

UPDATE: Ed Feulner, President of the Heritage Foundation, has an interesting post up at the Next Right that address the problems with language from a different perspective.

As my poor friends can attest I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the future of the Republican Party lately.

As I watch the ongoing debate that is spawned by the proposals from the growing litany of voices offering their solutions to the party’s woes I grow increasingly frustrated by the role language is playing in making it difficult for the various coalitions that comprise the GOP to come to some kind of consensus on how we should move forward.

There is a reason why “communication” professionals have become, and will continue to be, an important part of our society’s landscape. Each of us interprets messages contextually, based on our perception of the world around us, the messages vehicle and our own experiences.

This dynamic is a large part of the problem with the current intra-party debate.

One word is particularly responsible for these problems: ideology.

As I mentioned before, David Brooks recently penned an editorial that sought to categorize the two camps of thought currently emerging with the GOP. It’s not perfect but its broad generalities make discussions like this one much easier so for simplicity’s sake I will continue to use his Traditionalist and Reformer groupings. If you haven’t read his article yet give it a quick look before continuing.

I plan on putting together some thoughts about the biggest areas of disagreement I have with the Traditionalists later. For now I will just say that one of their biggest problems is that the phrasing they are using to defend the party’s core ideologies is from a different era with different problems. As such, what many Traditionalists mean when they invoke certain phrases and what voters hear are very different things.

Reformers recognize the need to reformulate our ideological expressions to address the problems of today. The problem is that much of the language they use to make their case is interpreted very differently by the party’s base – a segment of the party that largely comprises the Traditionalist camp.

The problem the Traditionalists have is that they are failing to delineate between ideology and the application of ideology.

Although I identify more strongly with the Reformers I strongly agree with Traditionalists when they say that voters are largely supportive of much of our core ideology. The GOP’s messages of limited, fiscally responsible government, lower taxes and a strong defense have gained broad enough acceptance to force noticeable shifts in the policies of today’s Democrats. Our failure to remain true to these ideals has certainly played a role in our losses.

I also believe that the GOP has relied on decades-old applications of those values. Here is where we have a problem.

Instead of arguing that we must update the application of our ideology to address the problems that most concern voters today the Reformers simply say “we need to modernize our ideology.”

Traditionalists hear Reformers say “we need to modernize our party’s ideology” and they bristle. What they hear is “We need to CHANGE our ideology.” What Reformers actually mean is “we need to modernize the way in which we apply our ideology to today’s problems.”

I am certainly over-simplifying the issue here but if we are to show the American people that we have heard the message that they have sent, with increasing volume, over the passed two elections, those vying for control of the heart of the party must pay heed to the importance of language.

If we do not, the leaders with the ability to renew the GOP’s ability to proactively provide solutions to today’s problems will fail to earn the support of the party faithful and we will be stuck making our case with phrases and arguments that will not resonate with voters.

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The Republican Party of Strategies and Tactics

November 21, 2008

There is an enormous amount of talk right now in the Republican Party about what the election results mean and how they should impact the future of the Republican Party.

It appears that there is a consensus that we lost – that’s good I suppose – and it also appears that there is an understanding that the nearly abusive level of voter-administered corporal punishment was caused by some sort of systemic failure within the party. Trouble is we can’t quite agree on what that systemic problem is.

David Brooks has labeled the two camps that have developed the Traditionalists and the Reformers. As he explains, the Traditionalists believe voters support our small-government, lower-tax principles but rejected the Party because we abandoned those principles with big-government initiatives. The Reformers, according to Brooks, argue that times have changed and our defeat was the evidence of a party whose priorities and concerns are out-of-step with those of the voters.

They are both wrong. They are both also right.

Of the two generalized camps I certainly agree with the Reformers more strongly – in fact my only disagreement with them is a very slight and very nuanced level of focus. The Traditionalists, on the other hand, are dead-on when they say that the general voting public subscribes too many of our core values and that part of our losses can be attributed to our inability to remain true to them. Where they grossly miss the mark however is in their prescription for the problem.

Who am I and why should my thoughts on the matter be of any consequence to you? I’m no one – just a mid-level campaign hack who loves his party who can no longer stand silent as I watch my party reach a hand out of the toilet to grope for the handle. Based on my name alone there is no good reason why you should pay attention to a word I say – so don’t filter what follows based on what you think of me – base them on the arguments themselves. If I am wrong, I would love to hear your thoughts as to why.

The Republican Party of Strategies and Tactics

There were certainly a number of factors that contributed something to our losses this November – I would even grant that some of those factors were completely out of our control as a party. That said, our problems did not begin with the 2008 election and I strongly believe that there was one factor that, far above any other, has lead to our downfall: We.Stopped.Solving.Problems.

We elect our leaders to solve problems in accordance with the values and priorities we express through the electoral process. If we feel the government is getting bloated and taking too much of our money in the process, we support candidates who commit to trimming government and cutting our taxes.

Problem is for years now the Republican Party has made strategic and tactical perfection in both the policy and campaign arenas our focus at the expense of generating ways to solve the nation’s problems in accordance with our philosophy. And make no mistake, until recently we have been VERY successful to that end.

Am I saying strategies and tactics are bad? Absolutely not – like it or not the best-intentioned candidate with the best ideas in the world who pays no heed to the need for strategic and tactical excellence will have a very hard time winning against an opponent who is largely devoid of ideas but superior in their strategic and tactical approach.

Strategies and tactics in the political realm provide candidates and parties with the ability to efficiently and effectively share their ideas with voters and make the case that they are the better choice. They are tools that are vital to success but they are, at the end of the day, still only tools. They are both the cart and the horse but the greatest vendor in the world, with the strongest horse and most beautiful and ornate cart will still go home broke if they take rotten, moldy fruit to sell at the market.

For a few years now a question has been brewing: what does it mean to be a Republican? A few weeks ago, voters got tired of trying to figure out the answer.

Some of them may not have liked everything he stood for and some of them may have wished for a more detailed list of solutions but they supported Barak Obama anyways because he was able to convince them that he was more likely to solve the problems that concerned them than his opponent.

More to come…