The far right has gotten into a dangerous habit (well, many habits but we’ll focus on one for now). Those who claim to be guardians of conservative purity assume what they advocate is popular. Therefore, the explanations for failing to get what they want must be betrayal or cowardice by their party, lies by the media, or inarticulateness. They imagine if they speak in shrill tones and hammer the same message over and over again they will prevail — provided of course they are not betrayed, undermined and hobbled by their own elected leaders and the devious vast left-wing conspiracy.
Unfortunately, for the cocooned world of the right what they want and how they want to get it are often very much at odds with what the voters and even self-described conservatives want. The right insists a shutdown of the government is the way to go, concocts a misleading poll to show that it is so, and then declares that the two parties are standing in the way of what they and the “people” want. In fact, the idea is unpopular with voters across all ideological groups.
It can’t be — everyone on the radio call-in show thinks it is a swell idea! Alas, Pauline Kael-ism is not unique to liberals. (Her oft-repeated comment about Nixon voters in fact was this: “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”) Conservatives might be less self-aware than Kael, who, the quote reveals, flaunted the narrowness of her worldview and associations. This is the downside of living in an intellectual ghetto — you come to believe your views are universal and all evidence to the contrary is wrong.
This is not merely a matter of tactics, as with the government shutdown. In the selection of candidates, many staunch conservatives attribute losses to the personal shortcomings or rhetorical limitations of their nominees rather than examining whether what they are selling (e.g. “self-deportation”) is popular. They therefore conclude that the prime consideration for office should be someone with verbal skills and undiluted ideology. It doesn’t dawn on them that less may be more when it comes to preaching ideology to a pragmatic general-election audience.
I don’t mean to suggest for a moment that politicians must serve up what is already popular. To the contrary, I’m asking them to be forthright about the gap between themselves and the electorate. If they understand they must persuade skeptical voters and not merely bloviate, they might get further. And they would avoid misleading their colleagues as to the political implications of their position.
In the case of the government shutdown the entire gambit rests on the notion that the public is enthusiastic about the scheme and will rise up to pressure Democrats to abandon Obamacare. The whole thing makes no sense if one acknowledges reality — that the shutdown is very unpopular and the public will blame Republicans. You see why the phony Heritage poll was needed.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), when he introduced Medicare reform, was candid with fellow Republicans. He said it there would be an avalanche of Mediscare ads and speeches and voters initially might recoil. But he told them Republicans could explain themselves to voters and it was the right thing to do for the country’s fiscal health. He was right on both counts.
It’s only when conservatives are honest with themselves and their colleagues that they can assess the plausibility and wisdom of their proposals and devise a strategy for obtaining the desired result. Otherwise it’s a dishonest charade and political suicide.