What Republicans need to do more of

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., rehearses the Republican response to the State of the Union on Capitol Hill that she will deliver in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) is getting kudos for her State of the Union response. In particular, she is getting praised by mainstream media outlets not often complimentary about conservative Republicans. If the goal for Republicans, a minority party, is to win over non-Republicans and win elections, it is worth looking at what she did and how she did it.

She talked about America as distinct from government. “The president said many things tonight. But now, we ask him to listen — to you — for the true state of the union lies in your heart and in your home. Tomorrow, I’ll watch my son Cole get on the school bus; others will wait in the doctor’s office or interview for that first job. Some of us will celebrate new beginnings. Others will face great challenges. But all of us will wake up and do what is uniquely American. We will look forward to the boundless potential that lies ahead.”

She talked in concrete concerns, not ideological abstractions. Politics is not a political science lecture. Do Republicans need to tell voters a plan is conservative or is in keeping with conservative principles? She told viewers why their proposals are good for them and the country. “We’re working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest and hardest-working from around the world.”

She talked about the GOP’s positive agenda, not merely what is wrong with President Obama’s. “And with too many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, we have solutions to help you take home more of your pay — through lower taxes, cheaper energy costs and affordable health care. . . . No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but this law is not working. Republicans believe health-care choices should be yours, not the government’s. And that whether you’re a boy with Down syndrome or a woman with breast cancer, you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you.”

She acknowledged opponents’ shared goals, but stressed the different means by which GOP ideas will attain them. “We want you to have a better life. The president wants that, too. But we part ways when it comes to how to make that happen.”

She explained what connects her to every American, thereby dispelling the notion that all Republicans are privileged. “And a nation where a girl who worked at the McDonald’s drive-through to help pay for college can be with you from the United States Capitol. . . . I grew up working at my family’s orchard and fruit stand in Kettle Falls, a small town in eastern Washington — getting up before dawn with my brother to pick apples. My dad drove a school bus and my mom worked as a part-time bookkeeper.”

She promoted life as a value, rather than argue against abortion. “Three days after we gave birth to our son, Cole, we got news no parent expects. Cole was diagnosed with Down syndrome. The doctors told us he could have endless complications, heart defects, even early Alzheimer’s.  They told us all the problems. But when we looked at our son, we saw only possibilities. We saw a gift from God. . . . We see all the things he can do, not those he can’t. Cole and his sisters, Grace and Brynn, have only made me more determined to see the potential in every human life — that whether we are born with an extra twenty-first chromosome or without a dollar to our name — we are not defined by our limits, but by our potential.”

She talked about the value of earned success, which nearly all Americans want. “[A] job is so much more than just a paycheck. It gives us purpose, dignity and the foundation to build a future.”

She didn’t scowl, lecture or holler. She projected optimism. (“I’d like to share a more hopeful, Republican vision. One that empowers you, not the government. It’s one that champions free markets — and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you. It helps working families rise above the limits of poverty and protects our most vulnerable. . . . It’s a vision that is fair and offers the promise of a better future for every American. If you had told me as a little girl that one day I would put my hand on the Bible and be sworn in as the 200th woman to serve in the House of Representatives, I never would’ve thought it possible.”)

She explained the higher purpose she seeks to advance. (“Because our mission, not only as Republicans, but as Americans, is to once again to ensure that we are not bound by where we come from, but empowered by what we can become. . . . That is what we stand for — for an America that is every bit as compassionate as it is exceptional.”)

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.
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