Well, I’m home with a sick kid who is trying to take a nap, so while I’ve got a moment,

1. Peter Lawler says:

I don’t agree with Yuval that “the pursuit of happiness” is replaced by “collective effort.” That does sound kind of socialist or fascist, but the president doesn’t call individuals to do anything much that would get in the way of their private pursuits, their personal choices concerning what happiness is. Enhanced security comes with little self-sacrifice, or not anything more than slightly higher taxes that liberal oligarchs (well, apparently not my favorite left-handed golfer) can easily weasel out of and surrendering your firearms with due compensation.

There is a lot of truth to that. The appeal of Obama’s ideology is less that we will all be in it together in a heroic struggle, than that we will be freed from necessity, family and civil society in order to be who we want. A key part is where Obama says:
The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

It is worth remembering that while the fantasy Julia seemed to have zero enduring relationships with anybody or anything other than Obama’s policies, she was also an entrepreneur. So Obama can be pro-business (especially green businesses getting subsidies) and pro-letting us be ourselves (unless maybe you want to own a gun or buy high deductible health insurance that only covers catastrophic costs) without having to worry about anybody else. So it is statist individualism. Just one of the problems is that this statist individualism will come at the cost of those individuals paying higher taxes, having the state decide what health care they get and when, and having the state allocate the capital for the new energy industries that the president imagines will happen if he sufficiently structures the market in their favor. This individualism could become a much more expensive and constricting (to say nothing of lonely) place than you would think from listening to Obama’s words.

2. So why are Republicans (and really conservatives) losing to this guy? Here is maybe the single biggest reason: Walk around any city of over one hundred thousand people. Just stop people going by randomly and ask, “What have the Republicans proposed that would benefit you?” You might be surprised at how many “nothings” and “I don’t knows” you get, but I won’t. Part of it is the lack of an emphasized middle and working-class agenda. But at least as big a part is the failure to ever communicate meaningfully with a large fraction of the population. The next time they hear the Republicans suggest something that will benefit them in language they understand will be the first. So reaching them between elections should be a priority. My personal suggestion would be ninety second to two minute ads on nonconservative media pushing ideas like premium support Medicare vs. IPAB, or family friendly tax reform or Jim Manzi ideas for dealing with climate change.  The particular channel for communication you use isn’t important as long as you talk about things that matter in a comprehensible way to people who don’t listen to talk radio or watch Fox News . Just giving the people who don’t consume right-leaning media the notion that Republican have some ideas that will benefit them will be a step forward. Or you can give Karl Rove $300 million to spend in the six months before the next presidential election.

3. My sense is that entitlements as such were not the biggest problem for the Republicans in 2012. When Romney chose Ryan, that first week or so was about Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. Romney actually fought Obama to a draw or better on Medicare during this period. Then came the Republican convention of “you built that” + Ann Romney’s “I love you women” + Mitt Romney’s dad buying Mitt’s mom a rose every day. The Republicans just looked like the party of high earner interest group politics with some really cheesy attempts to build a personal rapport with the rest of us. The forty-seven percent remark wasn’t so much what did Romney in. Romney was behind in the polls before that video even came out. What the video did was validate an impression that Romney’s convention and campaign helped create: that Romney was all about the rich job creators who “built that” and was uninterested(at best) in everybody else. And for a lot of people, this validated a lot of what they thought about the Republican party for years before this election.

4. Peter Lawler is right that some Tea Party Republicans sometimes sound like they are against the very existence of the federal welfare state and this can become a political problem. You had the fellow running for Senate in Alaska who said he thought unemployment insurance is unconstitutional. He lost his Senate race in a Republican-leaning state in a Republican-leaning year. That is pretty obviously a political dead end. I don’t know how much of a role that played in 2012. What is probably more damaging (because more widespread) is the belief among Republican politicians that they have to come across more radical and/or belligerent than they really are in order to win party nominations. You had Romney calling himself severely conservative and Tim Pawlenty talking about how we should “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government.” Yeah, Pawlenty really said that. The irony is that, if you look at their voting behavior, Republican presidential primary voters are more likely to reward organizational competence, an ability to talk about issues in detail, and principle (in that order), than belligerence or policy radicalism. Romney got to be the nominee and Santorum finished second. Cain dropped out before the first contest, Bachmann finished last in Iowa then quit, and Gingrich only won two states.  It is okay for Republican presidential candidates to sound well informed and emotionally balanced.  Despite what your consultants tell you, Republican presidential primary voters (as distinct from poll respondents the year before) actually like that.  General election voters too.

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Articles by Pete Spiliakos

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