Category framing

GOP Must Be For Something Or Be Gone

For those of us who follow real news and actual facts about the election, it was no big surprise that Barack Obama outlasted Mitt Romney to win a second term. David Plouffe ran a disciplined, micro-targeted closing four weeks that pushed every swing state in the direction of the President, mobilized another historic turnout, and kept the party on message to bring home the prize. Mitt Romney, by contrast, sank deeper and deeper into desperation after a brief, albeit limited, post Denver surge. Game, set, match, Obama.

And this brings us to the GOP.

Basically, the GOP the day after Romney’s loss is the party equivalent of an ocean front house on the Jersey Shore after the Sandy storm surge swept through.  They are still there, but the election washed them off their foundation and scattered everything that used to be inside to the four winds–even that old stuff in boxes above the work table in the garage.  Trying to clean up would be futile.  The time has come to acknowledge the cataclysmic scope of the disaster, grieve for a short time, and then start over from the ground up.

Where to begin?

My advice is focused on one particular aspect of the current party: The GOP must be for something or it will never recoup.

Think about this: In every policy area, the current incarnation of the GOP does not advocate for, but against.  Republicans in 2012 do not talk about building a future, they obsess over dismantling aspects of American Society that have been with us for decades.  Republicans are not “conservatives” in the sense of wanting to keep what is good here. They are just demolitionists obsessed with gutting, sledge hammering, and knocking down.

The result of this policy approach is an internal party culture in the GOP that is pessimistic verging on depressing.  Republicans do not draw voters into their vision, so much as they trap voters in an endless cycle of grousing.

Just about only thing that Republicans talk about in positive terms is Ronald Reagan–but even that hagiographic narrative has a bitter tone to it.  “Things were so much better under Reagan,”  Republicans say. Or:  “There will never be another like Reagan.”

Reagan for Republicans is no longer a positive symbol. He is now the hero in an endless lament about a world overrun by debt, government, and liberal debauchery.  No wonder the GOP base was so fickle about their nominees.  The slightest hint of Reagan-esque charisma sent flocks of GOP running to this candidate or that, only to be disappointed when the newest flash in the pan turned out to be less-than by comparison to the distorted memory of Saint Ronald.

I cannot help but ask: What is it that Republicans want to actually do? I know what they want to undo–but what do they want to do?

This was a huge part of Mitt Romney’s problem.  “On day one,” Romney would say in his stump speeches,”I will dismantle Obamacare” and unravel the  tax code and gut business regulation and slash Medicare and cut loose Social Security and open public lands to drilling, etc., etc.  Given power, Romney had no blueprint for building anything that he wanted to start following.  He just wanted to stop things that were long running.

All this pessimism–all this cutting and gutting–it can garner about 25% of the vote for the GOP, maybe more in some districts.  But it cannot get them a majority of the vote in a national election because voters want to believe in something, not just stand around and grouse.

Consider, for example, the GOP position on science.  Maybe talking about science as if it is some liberal conspiracy is a good way to get partisan crowds to cheer or a good way to seed fake debates on a FOX news show.  But it does not give people a sense of being apart of something larger than themselves–of joining a party that has a payoff of accomplishment at the end.

Moreover, no child makes decisions about their future based on grousing about science.  Nobody says “When I grow up I want to complain about science.”  So, the GOP narrative of demolition fails to provide a big story inside of which young people can see themselves for a lifetime.

Now, if you present this critique to Republicans in your family or network of friends, it is very likely that you will elicit nothing but rants and raves about Obama and debt, about how the country will soon be worse than Greece, and about how “government” should not have a role in our lives. All these responses are symptomatic.

“What is the GOP for–what do they want to do, as opposed to undo? Why would a growing number of people want to be a part of a movement built on pessimism and demolition?”

It is unlikely that anything approaching an answer will emerge.

The larger problem, therefore, is that allegiance to the GOP has become less a about ideas than a way of responding negatively to anything that smacks of vision or achievement by government.

This issue, I believe, has a far greater implication than whatever problems the GOP may be causing for itself at the level of how its members talk about women, cultural diversity, and religion.

It is possible, for example, to build a far-reaching, uplifting political narrative grounded in the idea that religious principles form an integral part of American democracy.  One could argue that Martin Luther King, Jr., did just that.  The GOP does the opposite: religion becomes a way of grousing about all the things in contemporary America that need to be demolished.

The same for women’s issues and questions of race or diversity.  Democrats speak about these issues as a way of talking about the hopes and challenges of building the future. Republicans, by contrast, talk about them within a broader lament about how bad things are now compared to how they used to be. “Tear down affirmative action,” “Get rid of Title IX,”–these are the cries of a party that cannot talk about social issues in a positive light because it has no positive mode in its vocabulary.

What do you want to build? What will you do if given the opportunity to lead?

None of the leading lights of the GOP know how to talk this way anymore.

Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan, arguably the heirs apparent to the GOP 2016 field, are candidates whose entire modus operandi consists of talking demolition.  What does Rick Santorum want to build? Nothing.  He is obsessed with tearing things down.  What does Paul Ryan want to build? Zilch. He spends all his time complaining about the things we need to dump.

Mitt Romney, for all the wealth and jobs and opportunity he supposedly created in the career that made him a millionaire many times over–he was never able to talk about the GOP vision in a way that would get people excited about building the future.

Be for  something or be gone.  That is the choice facing the GOP the morning after the re-election of President Barack Obama.

Ready it or not, Republicans, the bulldozers are on their way.

Romney’s “Europe Stinks” Narrative

A new poll out, this week, suggests the damage Mitt Romney has done to  himself and to the GOP on foreign policy competency is far more extensive than previously believed possible.  Bottom line: If Romney wins the election, Europeans will hate the US even more than they did during Dubya’s reign of never-ending stupid.  What’s going on, here?

Europeans, obviously, do not follow the endless fascination of the Romney campaign (zzz…). So, this negative view of Romney cannot possible be the result of evaluating his foreign policy positions.  Also: Romney does not articulate any policy positions. No, the problem Europeans have with Romney is most likely a frothy mix of European stereotypes of the dumb American, Romney’s “tour de blunder” overseas trip, and a broad story that the Romney campaign has used as an attack on the Obama administration’s domestic policies–a narrative I call: “Europe Stinks.”

That’s right: Romney has most likely damaged his foreign policy potential with our allies in Europe as a result of being the leader of a party that has tried to rally voters with the accusation that Obama wants us to be like Europe.  Spend months and months on the trail talking down Europe as some kind of Socialist economic nightmare awash with immigrants, out of control debt, hate for Christians, riots, and: “Tell him what  he’s won, Johnny!” It’s a giant shiny box of: Europeans resent you, now.

The irony in all this, of course, is that Romney spent his draft-dodging youth in France.  He could have played up that aspect of his character development and positioned himself as a Commander-in-Chief with an organic connection to our most important global allies.

Imagine a candidate Romney saying, “I know how to work with Europeans better than the President because I lived there, I spoke the language, I got to know run-of-the-mill European citizens in the same way that I know Americans–by talking with them about their hopes, dreams, and prayers. Not only do I know how to work with them on foreign policy issues, I know exactly how to bring European investment to the places we need it most in the United States.  My experience in Europe means more security and more jobs for America.”  Say something like that for a few years and Europeans will be eager to see you take the reins.

But, alas, that Mitt Romney–if it ever existed–is nowhere to be found in a GOP currently lost in the Twilight Zone of its own xenophobia.

In other words: the “Europe Stinks” narrative Romney has embraced by way of lambasting Obama’s domestic policy will, if Romney wins, not only have derailed any chance this country ever has at maintaining our social safety net, but also have deep-sixed diplomatic and economic relations with the EU.

A permanently damaged middle class and the end of European allies–you’re welcome!

Democrats should tread lightly on these EU opinion polls, but should remain aware of how much damage Romney has done to himself and the GOP brand. Nobody likes a candidate who brags about being liked more in Paris than the other guy–unless, of course, you are talking about Paris, Texas.

Still, Democrats would be wise to see how Europe has become a campaign topic in discussions of both foreign and domestic policy.  That is a big deal.

As debate prep revs up, Democrats will want to put a new card into the deck for Obama and Biden: a story about how economic recovery and the generation of new jobs depends not just on investments at home, but also attracting investments from our European allies.

And on the question of working with Europe to invest in, say, manufacturing plants in Ohio, North Carolina, or Michigan, the Obama campaign has a real opportunity to paint Romney as someone who has poked the EU in the eye with a sharp stick instead of extending an open hand.

It’s a way of shining a light on the Romney campaign’s language that could leave a bad taste in voters’ mouths about the GOP “Europe Stinks” narrative. Ultimately, all this talk about Europe could lead many people to give the Obama-Biden ticket a second chance.

Eyes Open, Imagination Awake

NEW YORK (Frameshop) – Yesterday, at 1am, the three-term billionaire Mayor of New York City sealed off all bridges, roads, and public access to lower Manhattan, then sent police in riot gear to raid Zuccotti Park in the name of public safety.  Don Hazen expressed it best when he described Bloomberg’s  offensive–thrust upon the protesters like a knife in the night–as the latest failure of imagination by America’s ruling class.  Beyond all the legitimate outrage against  ridiculously out of proportion police violence, Hazen directs us to a clarifying keyword.  What has OWS achieved in this first stage of the movement? It has pulled back the veil for so many millions of Americans, helping us find the courage to see past the endless cycle of corruption, violence, and failures. 

Two Words that Shed Light on Occupy Wall Street

NEW YORK (Frameshop) – One of the most common reactions to the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) has been for media and politicians to ask “What is it about?”  Former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson is the latest visitor to Zuccotti Park to take this approach.  Curiously, though, there is another version of this “What is it about?” meme emerging in the form of questions that ask “What is the difference between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street?”

As it happens, what is going on in OWS and how to distinguish the Tea Party from OWS are both possible with a fair degree of certainty.  The key is to introduce two basic terms to set the stage for discussion.

Real Change No Longer Just “Vote”

NEW YORK (Frameshop) – Barney Frank has added his voice to the chorus of Democrats trying to close their eyes and ignore Occupy Wall Street by (OWS) with the false argument that real change only happens when people vote.  Speaking to Rachel Maddow, Frank offered this nugget which passes for Washington wisdom, these days:

%d bloggers like this: