There's a minor flap about Republican participation in "the YouTube debate." And at least one Republican candidate has stated that he won't answer questions from a talking snowman. This is rather cute, but it reflects something I detest about American Politics of the last couple decades. You see, I felt George Bush Sr's pain during the 1992 presidential debate: the one where he looked at his watch and some pony-tail guy was asking the US Government to be his parents. That was a complete waste of time to WATCH, much less participate in. And it handed an advantage to the more touchy-feely Slick One.
Message to politicians: you don't win playing the game the other guys try to foist upon you.
Now it's wrong to just sulk and say, "I'm not going to play." Or "This is beneath MY dignity." (particularly when true.) But think back to earlier in the political season. Of how Fred Thompson became the "mirror of desire" to every Conservative. He did two things that are Right Moves:
1) Michael Moore challenged Fred Thompson to a debate. What did Mr. Thompson do? He produced a video and posted it on YouTube wherein he responded to the "humorist," asserting that Mr. Castro is a dictator wont to put people into insane asylums and that Mr. Moore should think about insane asylums.
2) Periodically during this campaign season, Mr. Thompson has written short essays describing the way things ought to be. They sound thoughtful and they clearly define the sorts of general-principles-of-conservatism that have gotten lost. While everyone is trying to claim the mantle of Reaganism, Mr. Thompson has used the non-sound-bite medium of the short essay (delivered on radio, or in blogs) to articulate what exactly he has in mind.
I have a friend who recently confessed to me that he doesn't think he's a conservative any more. I asked if he was wavering in his Conservatism or in his Bushism? Look at what Washington Republicans and even Lansing Republicans have been doing for the last few years. They've failed to express any principles that define why they're Republicans, and in the case of Washington, they've proven just as profligate at growing government and spending money as the Democrats ever were. Mr. DeVos lost the governor's race to a fairly inept Democrat because he uh ...why was he running? If the only difference between a Republican and a Democrat is that they'll cut the same pie differently and hand out goodies to different people, it makes little difference to me.
Republicans hereabouts did some finger-pointing about failing to "go negative" in local races after the Democrats handed us our butts in the last election. Yes, the other guy WAS a convicted criminal, but dammit boys, what were you FOR?
Mr. Reagan won elections by "going positive" on what SPECIFICALLY he believed government should do (or better, NOT DO). Where are the principles of Conservatism articulated by Republican politicians? Don't say that you can't get into the nettles of political philosophy in a "sound bite age." Mr. Thompson demonstrated the power of the short essay in drawing support to himself.
We need something better than the politicians we've been getting. Leadership is about ideas as much as it is about political fundraising. I think Republicans have done well when they've articulated Conservative ideas. And we have the means in hand to articulate our ideas on the Internet.
You can talk to your base in codewords like "preserve the sanctity of life" which denote nothing meaningful. (Doesn't sanctity have something to do with church?) Such talk does nothing to move the uncommitted middle and provides nada in terms of post-election mandate.
Incidentally, Mr. Thompson's recent trouble with pro-abortion agitprop stems from the fact that although he has a good voting record on abortion, his essay response was about the attorney-client relationship and not the state's obligation to secure the rights of the unborn.
Politicians have learned to be vague about the specifics of what they think. When the TV coverage allows only 30 second spots, it's impossible to delve into details or be nuanced. But now a lot of people read the Internet and get their news therefrom. The next generation of politicians will be able to communicate with the electorate in a much more detailed and nuanced way.
Last night I was sitting at my dinner table and I heard a knock on the door. Thinking a friend was visiting I waved for him to come in. He didn't. He was a politician going door-to-door seeking votes. I had his opponent's sign in my yard, but I asked him to make his case for my vote and he did a good job. I asked him some "why" questions and he did a better job of selling himself than his opponent had a few weeks ago.
You can't personally go door to door when you're running for a bigger office. BUT NOW, Fred Thompson has repeatedly come into my family room and given me (and everyone else who's read his essays) a thoughtful exposition of how he thinks. Since I've heard him on Law & Order, I can fill in the accent and tone of voice. That's powerful. If you are a politician, make your case, put it in words and blog those words for all to see.
OR you can task focus groups to devise snarky responses to talking snowmen.