I Don’t Have the Answers

…but I think I know the right questions to ask.

Since I jumped into the tea party movement headfirst in 2009, I’ve often wondered how the rightward coalition (for lack of any better way to describe it) could band together to shape policy and win elections on a long-term basis.  I wrote about it  ages ago, and I thought we had a pretty solid formula.  When we began our group here in Houston, we had a mantra:

Build the largest possible coalition to defeat the greatest number of threats to our freedom.

We had gay leaders, pro-choice leaders, Jewish leaders, black and Hispanic leaders.  And when we began, every member of our leadership team was under 40 years old.  But we all had signed on to the tea party principles:

  •  Limited Government
  • Fiscal Responsibility (Reducing Taxes and Spending)
  • Following the Constitution

The election in 2010 which unseated so many Democrats (and targeted a few Republicans with pretty awful records as well) seemed like a good start.

So what happened?  How is it that Barack Obama is president for another four years?  There are hundreds of answers to that question (which I did ask on Facebook) and I don’t think we’re ready to sort them all out just yet.  But it is illustrative that there are so many answers out there, even among people I talk to on a regular basis.  Everyone has a scapegoat, a favorite whipping boy for the 2012 election.

But I want to get back to fundamentals.  I want to restart that conversation on principles.  I think we need to start there before we talk about strategy and tactics.

If you have been following my articles here on FRN, you may have run across my piece on being a Conservative Woman.  I gave my list of principles, rather than attempt to define “conservative”, but when I posed the question on Facebook, here are some of the answers I got back:

  •  Individualism. Personal responsibility and accountability
  •  Small government, fiscally responsible, personally responsible and above all else, moral
  •  Conservatives see the Constitution as a whole document and not a living document
  •  Conserving the power of the people
  •  1. Respect for and reverence for the constitution as a document based on the context of when it was written, not as a “living” document. This also covers such issues as “right to life” since it is the most fundamental of all the rights guaranteed by the constitution.
  • 2. Personal responsibility.
  • 3. Limited Government.
  •  Conservatism grows out of traditional American values, morals and principles. It isn’t politics as much as it is a set of beliefs that encompass personal responsibility (in all areas), respect, honor, faith in God, respect for life, prudence, humility, honesty, kindness, charity, love of family and country.
  •  Respect for the Constitution; Respect for life; Belief in individual responsibility; Belief in limited government.

Those all seem to be coming from the same vein, if worded somewhat differently.  There doesn’t seem to be a huge disconnect between people and their principles in the abstract.  One might argue that the application is where things tend to break down, but that’s an upcoming topic I’ll merely tease here.

The immediate questions that come from this:

  •  Why don’t these principles sell during election season?
  • Why doesn’t everyone respond to freedom?
  • What do we do about it?

Long-term, I think the answer is the culture change we often talk about, a subject near to the hearts of the FRN team.  But in the meantime?

Starting now, I think we need to get better at messaging liberty.  For instance, Texas is considering legislation to restrict people on food assistance from purchasing things like Valentine’s gift baskets, energy drinks, and junk food.  Leftists are going to howl about mean conservatives taking things away from poor people, just because they hate them and are evil racists.  We already know this.  The problem is not that they do it; the problem is that they’re successful at it.

So why couldn’t we do that, AND simultaneously message to people on these programs that THIS is what big government does – it limits your choices?  Why couldn’t we say that what conservatives REALLY want is for people to be able to make their own choices?  And that helping them get OFF assistance and find work is the best way to give them control over their own lives?  Why couldn’t we spend a little time learning how to make the argument personal?

And before I get the counter-arguments about “we shouldn’t have to water down our message” stop and think a second.  Did I alter or water down ANYTHING in my previous paragraph?  If I did, you show me where, because I’d sure like to learn.

So my challenge to you is to find some traditional conservative argument that is made intellectually, and figure out a way to make it in a more personal way.  Post it here in comments, and let’s see what we can come up with.  If we’re going to Radically change things (and do we ever need to) then we have to start thinking Radically as well.