Sunday, March 14, 2010

Republicans: It’s Not Hip To Be Square

Let’s continue our rebuilding the Republican Party series by answering a question asked by Scott. What can Republicans do to attract young, middle of the road, independent types. On the one hand, this a good question. On the other, this presents a bit of a false dilemma. Let’s explain why that’s the case first, then we’ll talk about how to make the party a little more hip.

Why The Youth Don’t Matter

The children are the future. . . yeah, but they don’t vote. It’s an undeniable fact that the youth don’t vote in nearly the numbers that older people do. Why does this matter? Because not all votes are created equal.

Politics is about getting enough votes to get your agenda into place. If a particular group isn’t large enough, like six-fingered soccer uncles, or they don’t vote in large enough numbers to help you, then there is no reason to risk losing other supporters just to attract that group. Because the youth don’t vote, there is little reason to pursue them. In other words, it would be unwise for Republicans to risk alienating their other constituents just to pick up additional youth voters.

But if we ignore them, won’t the youth turn into older liberal voters? No, not really. It is the nature of youth to be leftist, but it is the nature of aging to make them conservative. That’s why Francois Guizot once astutely said, “Not to be a [liberal] at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” (A quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill.)

Here’s why this is true. Youth knows nothing of the real world and it lives in an affirming cocoon of friends, teachers and family. Moreover, it knows so little about the world and humanity, that it doesn’t even have a sense of how little it truly knows. That gives it a tremendous sense of certainty and idealism because it sounds so simple to solve the world’s problems when you don’t understand how complex they truly are. Idealism goes hand in hand with a sense of activity. . . a desire to change the world -- letting the world change itself is, in fact, anathema to idealism. Thus, youth is a sucker for utopian leftist thinking.

This means that it will be inherently difficult, if not impossible, for conservatives to make many in-roads with young voters, and the risk likely outweigh the rewards

But as people age, experience changes them. Youth soon learns that the world is not as black and white as it once seemed, that problems are more complex than it imagined, that people have different values, and that there are genuine disagreements. This slowly erodes the sense of certainty, and with it the messianic zeal to remake the world. Soon youth gets a job and learns the value of labor, and the value of property, and it starts to wonder why the government has the right to take its labor and give it to people who won’t help themselves, the very people it once saw as victims. Finally, youth builds a family. Suddenly, it learns the value of an ordered and safe society, and of the moral values it once disdained. But even more importantly, being responsible for others teaches youth to think in the long-term. Long term thinking leads to conservative principles and a conservative world view.

Each of these changes robs youth of its liberalism and pushes it down the road to conservatism. In other words, time and experience will make the young into conservatives (unless something interferes with this). Consequently, the whole “attract the youth” issue is a bit of a canard.

How To Get Hip: Clean Up The Image

That said, it is always worth trying to improve our image across the board. In this regard, the right (and the Republican Party in particular) has been its own worst enemy in recent years. Conservatism, in general, once stood for competent leadership, fiscal sanity, smaller government, a strong national defense, and support for civic organizations, i.e. organizations that glued society together, like churches and the Boy Scouts.

But conservatism became unbalanced, focusing almost to an exclusion on wedge social issues like abortions and gays. It became knee-jerk and intolerant. It became anti-culture, grumpy and nostalgic. Then it was beset by scandals as elected Republicans, unelected spokespeople and many who simply claimed to speak for conservatives immersed themselves in corrupt, criminal, immoral and unethical adventures. Finally, Bush blew a hole in the idea of competent leadership, of fiscal sanity, of smaller government and less interference. Now, some are trying to add an ugly strain of populism that has more to do with paranoia and 1930s leftism than anything seen before on the right.

So the first step in any conservative/Republican strategy needs to be to clean this up. Return to fiscal sanity. Support only competent leaders with a proven track record. Drop the corrupt, the crooked and the hypocritical. And most importantly, divorce the party from the interest groups.

Secondly, the party’s thinkers and pundits need to return to rational argument and abandon the knee-jerkism, the nasty simplistic bomb throwing, the paranoia, the professed hopelessness, and the self-righteousness that has become the hallmark of so many conservatives “thinkers.” Smug kills. And even more importantly, stop defining conservatism by claiming it stands against everything liberals want. No intellectual movement worth surviving can define itself as "not them." Start looking at the world as a conservative, not as an unliberal.

Those two steps alone would go a long way to cleaning up the party’s image across the board, including with the young. And, indeed, if we don't take these steps, little else will matter.

How To Get Hip: Targeting The Youth

With regard to specifically reaching the young, the Republican Party/conservatives need to first drop the sham marketing ideas like putting up a tent at CPAC for videogames. Young people see right through clichéd marketing gimmicks. What the party really needs to do is to change the attitude it projects.

First, stop sending out spokesmen who are (1) grumpy, (2) judgmental, (3) out of touch with the culture, (4) suffer from nostalgia, and (5) incapable of enunciating conservative ideas in ways that real people understand. Clever counts. That’s why people like Bugs Bunny, not Elmer Fudd.

Moreover, intentional or not, the right always seems to choose middle age/old white dudes as its spokesmen, except when its intentionally trying “outreach.” This plays into the caricature image of the party as the angry-white-male party, and it makes the outreach look like pandering. It’s time to make an effort to promote more competent women and minorities -- and I don’t mean affirmative action. They’re already out there. What I’m talking about is to stop automatically sending the old white dude to represent the movement at all events and to stop treating minorities like special occasion props.

And when you reach out to the youth of today, send young Republicans who actually have a foot in the culture. Stop sending the pale-white, home schooled kids in the suits and ties who quote Cicero like it’s cool, but have never seen a television and look intensely nervous sitting next to the minorities. You've seen these kids thrust into the light as "youth spokesmen" at conventions and on Fox News. They may be bright, but no one believes they represent youth.

Further, youth worships celebrity, as do many others. We do have celebrities, even if most aren’t in Hollywood. We should be recruiting athletes and country music singers en mass. The rest will follow.

Fifth, find a way to get involved with the youth. They are looking for something to do to let them make the world better. Offer it to them. Recreate community programs where kids help pick up litter, build homes for charity, clean up parks, participate in sports leagues. Sponsor music festivals and athletic camps -- which are a big thing now. Hip corporations do this, leftist groups do it, we should do it.

Sixth, kids love tech. Adopt it and use it. More importantly, learn to have fun with it, and stop whining when other conservatives have fun with it. If a conservative makes a rap song, let it be. . . don’t run out and condemn rap. If they poke a little fun at Obama, stop calling it undignified. Stop being uptight. And stop issuing Fatwa against everything in the culture you don’t like. Just accept that others do like it and change the channel. Why do a thousand conservatives need to whine about every stupid word that comes out of some actor's mouth? This only makes conservatives look hypersensitive. Have a little more faith that our beliefs can withstand the inane yammerings of Sean Penn without every conservative whipping out the cannons.

Finally, develop a sense of humor, and not one based just on taking cheap shots at the other side. That's the difference between the Onion, which mixes political and nonpolitical humor, and conservative imitation sites which do little more than sarcastic, angry anti-left humor. That's the difference between Bill Clinton, who seems like a fun guy to get a beer with, and Newt Gingrich who seems like a man who's never told a joke. Nobody likes uptight, grumpy, overly-critical as~holes, and we seem to be overstocked with them.

These are thing we can do to make the party more attractive to young independents without alienating the other people the party needs. Beyond this, it’s probably not worth trying much more.


Anonymous said...

I am out of town and typing this on my phone. I will have more to say tomorrow.:-)

Anonymous said...

And great article!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Scott. We'll wait for you on the comments! ;-)

Have a nice trip.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Well said (from a South Park Repubican, so consider the source). I guess that means I can't be the youth spokesman? LOL

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, South Park Republican is a good way to put it. LOL!

That's actually a very good example of a conservative show that pushes conservative values fairly overtly, but does it in a way that really connects with the modern world. In other words, it doesn't fall for the "Leave it to Beaver" mentality to which so many conservatives succumb.

Writer X said...

Young and old alike can tell when behavior is forced, regardless of the snappy t-shirts or We Are The World theme songs. After a while, even the slogans wear off when the party doesn't deliver. And I agree with you completely on technology. That is where the Republican Party can make some serious inroads. And it's not just about having a Twitter account or a web site. It's about how they're used. I remember reading a post where Newt Gingrich was all giddy because he had a Twitter account to which I said, "Big whoop."

Excellent ideas, Andrew!

P.S. I also think that the huge success of books written by Conservatives shows that there's a real hunger for understanding these principles as well as the people involved. I think people like and understand conservative principles; they're just not crazy about many of the people leading the cause. Example: John McCain.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, Thanks, I'm glad you agree.

I think you're absolutely right about conservative ideas v. conservative politicians. Everything I see in polls and on the streets tells me that the American public is overwhelmingly conservative. They just don't like the guys who claim to be the leaders of the movement. McCain is a perfect example. I don't believe for a minute that he even understands conservative principles -- his debate performance was awful. And he comes across as nasty and out-of-touch. How can he inspire anyone?

You're right about conservative books too -- huge market. And I think that comes from the fact that people don't feel like those ideas are being represented in the public sphere, so they are doing self-study.

As for twitter, you're right there too. It's not just having technology, it's what you do with it. Fortunately, our side is learning that one slowly.

Tennessee Jed said...

Have to go down stairs and fire up the projector in the theater for Pacific. I do hope this is devoid of liberal bullshit.

It struck me that Bush, like Obama, essentially ran against the Clinton presidency and was never really pushed hard on his fiscal conservatism. Back then, I was not into the internet so there was not a lot of material that I read, but seem to recall Bush ran as a "unificator" rather than a fiscal conservative. Even against a wooden turd like algor, he barrely eked out a victory. After 911, he was virtually assured of victory since Democrats are viewed as soft on terror.

What is hip always becomes unhip. There in lies hope for change.

Individualist said...

This is an interesting article Andrew

"Why do a thousand conservatives need to whine about every stupid word that comes out of some actor's mouth?"

I guess when it comes to this I am one of the offenders on the Big Hollywood posts as I can't resist bringing the snark.

But the short answer to your question is I guess

"Because there doesn't seem to be anyone answering them?"

I did not used to so caring about what a democrat said, I thought these statements were meaningless. I grew up with comedians slandering Reagan and then HW after him and I thought that was part and parcel of being in the white house. When Clinton was in office I thought well at least I can have fun as the shoe was on the other foot. That did not happen instead it was jokes about conservatives until Clinton got caught harassing an intern. Still it did not register with me.

My father is an executive at a college and a few years back he had to fire a subordinate who was a favorite of the leftist paper. The vitriol and lies that were printed were amazing. There was a concerted attempt to oust my Dad and if not that he was so integral to the running of the college it may have worked. My father was everything they hated a retired Air Force officer and a Republican.

This women ran a museum the college controlled, she was a nasty “uptight” liberal with a Napoleon complex who got fired because she mouthed off to the wrong person, not my father but my Dad was he heavy. An assistant at the museum wrote a letter that was “edited” by the paper and printed in her name. They removed every positive thing said of my Dad and added a statement denouncing it. The assistant complained but was told they had to right to “edit” letters to the editor. She showed the original letter to my Dad who believed her as he knew she hated the woman she worked for.

After that I take these “comments” much more seriously. See I never spoke out because this was just “comedian’s” jokes or “politics”. It did not hit home with me until it became personal. I can’t put this slander in the category of “that’s just business”. So when they come to me with snark I answer them in kind. If it’s wrong to do it’s wrong to do but honestly I find the People’s Cube to be the most hilarious sites out there even if they just take shots at Obama.

Still I can see how that attitude can be off putting to someone unawares of what is going on. So I just don’t discuss it and let Big Hollywood be the place that I vent this but I try to be funny about it. But I tell you I cannot listen to a “statist” democrat slander a conservative and not get Angry. The only thing I can do it try to suppress that anger. Maybe I let that event color my perspective too much.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think the real problem with Bush was that he was never a conservative and only marginally a Republican. There were lots of warning signs and we didn't pay attention. The damage he did to the conservative brand was enormous and now needs to be cleaned up over the next few years by words and deeds.

But Bush hasn't been the only one. Think of all the scandals, the complicit Congress, the whole neo-con foreign policy crew that wanted to turn Iraq into the 51st state. There is a lot of blame to go around. Bush Sr. disavowed Reagan before he even left office.

Fortunately, I think that the people are in the right mood to set this thing right and I think that most of the leadership genuinely wants to change.

As for Obama, change has already come and it's not the change he was expecting.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, A couple points. First, let's separate the outrage that happened to your father with what I'm talking about with the whining about Sean Penn.

The left is a nasty creature and it does need to be combated, there is no doubt about that. And when it unfairly goes after people like your father, everyone needs to stand up and say enough.

But that's different than what I'm talking about. I'm talking about how every pundit on the right seems to have given up any pretense of talking about the issues and has gone into the business of sniping. Some idiot actor says something and a 1000 conservative "thinkers" fall over each other to come up with the nastiest comeback. . . like angry lemmings.

That's counter productive and it presents the wrong image. Not only does it turn off the people who don't want to hear pure nastiness, but it lowers us to their level, and it dilutes our criticism. In other words, how are people supposed to distinguish between the real issues, like your father, and the whiny ones, like Sean Penn, if these pundits whine about every single slight all the time?

Consider this, do you take the rantings of the left as serious debate? And when you see a leftist who spends all their time ranting, do you bother to keep reading for the times that they aren't ranting but are making serious points? If not, then why should anyone take the rantings from our side anymore seriously? And do you think they'll sift through our garbage to find the better stuff or will they just write us off?

Don't get me wrong, there is certainly a place for attacking the other side, and there is certainly a place for attack humor -- though that shouldn't be all that gets offered. Unfortunately, that's almost all that our side is offering these days.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, Let me add. Look at the comparison between what a guy like Rush does and what the imitators are doing. Rush talks policy. He informs. But he also uses humor, and it's effective. He enjoys himself, and he knows when to be serious and when to be lighter. He also understands that parody is often the best weapon and that some things aren't worth worrying about.

BUT, his competitors get on the air, wrap themselves in the flag as the only true Americans, and then proceed to just rant about every single ignorant thought they've ever had. A lesbian wants to go to a prom, and the knee-jerk says it's the end of the world. Obama sends a stupid gift to Britain, and it's the end of the world. Obama did drugs when he was younger (just like the talk show host) and it's the end of the world.

There is no event too small not to blow way out of proportion and everything is delivered with pure venom and outright panic.

And if it was just these jerks, then I'd say fine, they can preach to the choir. But it's crept into every aspect of conservative thought. Everything coming out of conservative corners these days, has fallen to this level.

That's what I'm talking about, I'm not talking about something like the Cube poking fun at Obama.

Also, as I note in the article, I have no patience either with the people who can't make this distinction and who get all bent out of shape about anyone who tells an Obama joke. They're just as bad, just from a different direction.

StanH said...

“Build it and they will come.” Just as Reagan did, simply espouse conservatism without apology and the people will follow. As you said George H. W. Bush was disavowing Reagan before he was out of office, and the American people went back to their families and businesses and left Washington to the statist, and right at the time when the ‘60s generation was coming of age…not good!

I’m with individualist when it comes to smacking back at an actor, for so many years they spewed their venom and hate of America without retort, no more can we cede the town square to the left. But I agree this is not the purview of our elected officials, but the new media, and smart Alec’s in the blogosphere, and it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

And the most unhip thing is someone trying to be hip, it comes off as contrived and the kids pick it up instantly.

Good read Andrew!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Stan, and well said. I think you're right, I think that conservatives got turned off under Bush I and left Washington to the very worst people to leave it to. I hope that now the people are back and won't go away again.

In terms of fighting back, you've got my point exactly. Let the blogosphere have its fun and fight back all you want. . . but the elected officials and the "real" pundits need to raise the level of debate -- they need to get back to explain to America why it should adopt conservative values. Unabashed and understandable.

Individualist said...


Don't get me wrong. I am not arguing with you. I think you are right on with these comments! It's just that it got me a little introspective.

I will say this I did not get uncomfortable around liberals who talked like this until after the event with my father. When a Maher type would make a statement that conservatives should be beaten or some other terrible thing I did not give it any consideration. Now when I hear that I think, If you could get away with it you'd actually do it wouldn't you! It does not come off as a joke. The thing is many liberals are completely obtuse to what it is that they are actually saying.

So while I don’t take it seriously from the standpoint of giving their viewpoint any consideration I do take seriously what they might do if I let them. My perspective on it has changed for good or ill.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I understand. And I agree that many on the left are truly rotten human beings -- you see it in the way they prefer personal attacks to intellectual discussion and the way they want the state to force its will on people and pubish anyone who disagrees with them.

And even those who aren't so bad certain aid and abet that kind of behavior with the "hate-speech" that comes so easily to them.

So I can't fault your reasoning at all. I just think that the people at the top of the party (the most important ones) needs to get away from this and go back to selling the pros of our side rather than focusing just on the cons of the other side.

patti said...

i think humor is key. #1 people can relate. #2 points made with humor tend to be remembered. #4 humor drives home hard issues with a soft touch. #3 everyone wants to be with the funny group.

AndrewPrice said...

Very true Patti!

Anonymous said...

And I'm back home. I know I'm late to the party and what follows is some random thoughts...

For starters, I've never taken any kind of formal political survey but, other than gay marriage and maybe one or two other issues, I'm certainly sympathetic to right-leaning ideas and opinions. I've matured (slightly) over the last few years and while I might've been more interested in what someone like Michael Moore had to say in 2004, today... not so much. But there are folks on the right I don't like, although I can only judge them on their public personas. (A certain acid-tongued blonde comes to mind.)

"Youth soon learns that the world is not as black and white as it once seemed..." I always thought most conservatives aren't fans of moral ambiguity, or at least that's the general impression I get from reading blog posts railing against certain movies and TV shows. (I realize the real world and the reel world are two different things.)

Re: smugness, it may or may not be intentional but when Sarah Palin and others talk about "the real Americans," I can only get turned off. I'm a secular Jew who wants to work in the entertainment industry - to paraphrase Annie Hall, I might as well be a Communist homosexual pornographer! Remarks like that only divide and turn off potential voters like me who don't work on farms or in coal mines.

"Stop sending the pale-white, home schooled kids in the suits..." I think I know EXACTLY who you're talking about. :-) I'm all for kids who want to get involved but I totally agree with you.

I'm also for technology and humor but I think the lesson here is: if they don't proceed intelligently and with caution, the right risks becoming the mirror image of everything they hate. I'm not exactly a fan of the "Let's use Alinsky tactics against them!" school of conservative journalism. Besides, not everyone on the left reads the same books! :-)

Re: celebs and changing the channel, you and I both know that there will always be crotchety old farts like Brent Bozell who won't be happy until there's only one TV channel that airs nothing but Michael Landon shows. This goes back to the "Think of the children!" brigade (and both sides are guilty of that).

As for celebs, while I can't disagree with the "If no one calls them out, then we should" idea, but a little discernment is needed. Actually a lot of discernment. Tom Hanks being wrong about WW2 (despite his good intentions) is nowhere in the same universe as Sean Penn (whose file should be closed).

AndrewPrice said...

Hey Scott, Welcome home. Late’s fine.

In terms of not liking some people on the right, I understand your point. There are many that I don’t like. But there are many more that I can’t stand on the left. But that isn’t what guides my ideological thinking.

I agree with you on the “real Americans” bit, but for different reasons. I don’t see it as smug, but as a nasty form of populism that mimics much of the hate spewed by the American far left in the 1930s. It’s dangerous, stupid and stunningly self-righteous.

When I say “smug” in particular, I’m talking more about some of the pundits you see on tv (usually neo-cons) who see themselves as superior to everyone else.

Re: the pale kids, I figured you’d know who I was talking about. . . at least one of them. ;-) I agree that getting kids involved is great. But this isn’t that, this is the party putting Stepford Clones on television and deluding themselves into thinking this is outreach to the young. It comes across as creepy, and it calls into question how the party sees kids.

As for celebs, yeah, there will always be people who just complain about everything that isn’t a repeat of Leave it to Beaver, but the key is to stop pandering to these people. Too many Republicans feel like they need to placate these nostalgiacs. And you’re right, as I always say, pick your fights carefully.

Alinsky is for idiots, so is fear of Alinsky.

On the issue of moral ambiguity, I think you have to separate out several things. First, learning that there are legitimate differences of opinions and learning to accept that people can have different views without it being a personal affront is not the same thing as moral ambiguity -- it’s just realizing that not everyone sees the world the same way. That comes with experience, and it’s called tolerance. So let’s distinguish moral ambiguity and tolerance. Most conservatives are very good at saying, “I think this is wrong, but I recognize your right to be wrong.” That’s tolerance, not moral ambiguity. Moral ambiguity is “there is no right and wrong.” Also, you need to consider that while the left has been hiding behind words like “moral ambiguity” and “relative morality,” they are in fact seeking to impose an extremely harsh moral code by first claiming that there is no such thing as morality and then imposing a new moral code but calling it something else. (see my article on political correctness today).

You also need to remember that not everyone has grown up, some just grow old. Also, some like to exploit people, and having absolutely certainty is a great way to do it because people are always looking for meaning out of life. So much of what you hear is nothing more than an immature few and a few demagogues. These people are small in number, but the media loves to play them up because of the stupid things they say. It’s the same with the left. The media seeks out the freaks and presents them as representative of the rest.

Post a Comment