Monday, November 10, 2008

Trumpet, Don't Whine, GOP

Highly effective pinko Saul Alinsky is not an inspiration most wingers would list. Yet his tactics and rules, as well as his seminal activist tutorial Rules for Radicals, might help liven up the woebegone Massachusetts Republican Party.

What if they advanced — surreptitiously if they are cowardly — the Democrats in name only (DINOs)? In as few as two elections, the statehouse and perhaps some commonwealth-wide offices, not-really-Democrats would color the political environment more to their liking. Then in that world, they would surely stand a better chance of 1) getting legislation and regulations they want and 2) creating a milieu more amenable to electing Republicans.

There are plenty of DINOs. During the same-sex-marriage wars, I was astonished at positions, statements and votes from nominal Dems. Also, I'm left enough that neither Deval Patrick nor Barack Obama is progressive enough to suit me. At the commonwealth level, I find far too many DINOs, social conservatives who vote anti-choice, anti-marriage equality and against the interests of the working poor.

Of course, calling themselves Democrat is Massachusetts is politically savvy. Particularly in suburban and exurban areas, they have a much better chance of being elected against a Republican even if their platforms are pretty much the same.

Consider a few aspects of Republicans here:
  • Our General Court just went from 24 to 21 Republicans
  • Our Congressional representation is fewer than one
  • The national GOP has seemed to work hard to earn an un-American reputation, in the sense of advancing intrusive and large government that strips citizens of freedoms from the Bill of Rights
  • Here the GOP has been pretending that if they only muddle through long enough that the pendulum will swing their way
  • For most offices, the GOP here didn't even field candidates

You got to earn it to own it.

Alinsky's neatest fix may work here, adapted. I used the idea in college, in a pretty reactionary South Carolina. To establish a presence, don't just have your radically different organization. Instead, infiltrate and take over an existing and accepted group, alter its goals and emerge like our old friend the old mole.

That Marxist scheme doesn't map directly to this case. Literally trying to take over the Democratic Party won't work either. However, leveraging the common ground with many non-Republicans is better than helpless bitterness.

The alternative is a more parochial and provincial set of attitudes, including the self-defeating:
  • Supporting any Democrat, even with the same political aims, cannibalizes the small Republican potential.
  • Working with any Democrat, even to increase the number of conservative legislators, likewise lessens any drive to elect Republicans.
  • Culling the herd of the most vulnerable Democrats is the preferred (although clearly failing) strategy.
  • More and more voters will eventually come to their senses and go for Republicans.
  • Extreme, stereotypical calumnies (e.g. tax-and-spend, one-party-government autocrats and corrupt Democrats) somehow will catalyze GOP victories.
  • Likewise, a confrontational verbal assault (√† la Jeff Beatty v. John Kerry) is the best chance for victory, not yet another example of their candidate being an ill-bred, overly emotional jerk.
Unfortunately for Republicans, here as well as nationally, they don't seem to have much short-term chance of expanding beyond their base by convincing the independent and Democratic voters. For me, this is not surprising because of the weak arguments they offer for change.

The biggest problem is the shift from a Reagan and post-Reagan environment with real differentiation. Certainly the class-based trickle-down/tax-cuts-for-the-rich economics have been a drastic failure. Moreover, the previous distinctions of looking for small government, having high moral postures, and being fiscally prudent are risible for Republicans in Congress and the White House since 1988. Circling Bill Clinton and his cigar pointing has limited impact. More important, big-government, borrow-and-spend Republicans have been as fiscally imprudent as any political group in the history of our republic. Less easy to measure but with great impact on non-camp followers, the illegal, unethical and immoral behavior of politicians and their aides from Nixon to Rove to W. to McCain does not provide a convincing haven for the voter seeking assurance and trust.

I have seen and heard many in newspapers, magazines, broadcast and blogs — left, right and squishy — giving the same message. The cheap shots and Karl Rove strategies that got the Bushes into power have outlived any utility. The failure to do what they say in governance and their own lives has been at levels of hypocrisy that exceed voters' tolerance. Most significant, if you say small government and prudent finances, do it or at least have a specific set of plans.

The independent as well as the moderate and conservative Dems need more than trust me and because I say so. You got to earn it to own it, as the hip hop lyrics go.

Trumpet. Don't whine.

Honestly, it's somewhat boring to have to look to the right-leaning Democrats for a political debate with the mainstream and lefty ones. It is more boring to hear Republicans whine about being so outnumbered in registration, not to speak of representation. There are enough Republicans and moderate or conservative voters in Massachusetts for a good debate and good contests.

Thus, my proposal is for augmenting the revamping of the party with piggybacking on the Dems.

Massachusetts Republicans can address their two fundamental issues at the same time. They need to give voters a reason to believe that their platform and programs would be better than what we have. They also need to convince voters that there's a reasonable chance they will finally begin to do what they say — walk it like they talk it as the older clich√© goes.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the victim act doesn't do well for local Republicans. It recalls the nursery school rules of equal division and sameness. My eldest son and his chums discovered different and same. From then on, they'd delight at school and home discovering and exclaiming, "We have the same!"

Alas, there's no teacher in the adult world dividing the brownies into equal squares. There are fewer Republicans here and many fewer Republican legislators.

A futile and annoying response to these discoveries of difference is to cry foul. It's unfair and unequal. Of course, when people gain their public offices not by the largess of the head teacher, rather by the response of the voters, the remedy is also different.

Fortunately for the local GOP, the nationwide party will be re-evaluating and revamping. Those here can benefit from their work and coordinate with them. Of course, given their pathetic representation in office here, even with 36% (1,104,085) of the voters being registered Republicans), the locals need to tailor their campaigns, candidates and positions for the commonwealth and region.

Again, I hold that their greatest chance for overall and individual election success is recognizing the constituency's bent. They can start with leveraging the huge identification with fiscal conservatism. Both major parties and the ranks of the unenrolled here are rife with voters who would proudly say they want what the Republicans used to stand for in money terms. At the moment, from considerable history, they need to be convinced that the new, improved Republicans really, finally mean it again.

I won't reveal too much about how to work with center to right-leaning Dems. Perhaps pointing them to Alinsky's rules is already too much.

On the other hand, shifting from self-pity to action would be a great improvement. Crisp and clear debate will attract many more voters than unprovable slander. Smug reasoning beats bitching and whining any time, just look at how well the Dems used that this year.

The woe-are-we Republicans need a new shtick. Aren't elephants supposed to trumpet?

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