Time to look on the bright side

  • 19 December 2017
  • NormanL

Republicans are closing out the 2017 year in politics on a mixed note. Yes, they have a tax reform success in their sites. Yes, they have seen regulations rolled back, judges approved, and watched as the economy has (according to the official numbers, at least), surged to new heights of growth and employment.

But on the campaign trail, things aren't quite as rosy. And as our friend Quin Hillyer writes in the Washington Examiner, one simple thing they could do to change those fortunes heading into 2018 is to embrace the optimisim they once used to great electoral effect:

Didn’t anybody learn anything from Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp? Or even from losing in 2008 to Barack Obama’s “hope and change”?

Doesn’t anybody know hope is more attractive than fear? Honey better than vinegar? Laughter more contagious than angry yells?

Aside from a few exceptions such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, House Whip Steve Scalise, and Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, it’s as if nobody on the political right even remembers how to smile, much less how to entice others likewise.

Conservatives certainly push forward nobody with Kemp’s infectious optimism, or his insistence (to quote from his 1992 Republican National Convention speech) that “the purpose of a great party is not to defeat its opponents. The purpose of a great party is to provide superior leadership and a greater cause. It's not to denounce the past. It's to inspire our nation to a better future.”

At that same gathering, in the final Republican convention speech of his career, Reagan spoke of America as “an empire of ideals. For two hundred years, we have been set apart by our faith in the ideals of democracy, of free men and free markets, and of the extraordinary possibilities that lie within seemingly ordinary men and women.”

Crucially, Reagan also said this: “We are all equal in the eyes of God. But as Americans that is not enough; we must be equal in the eyes of each other.” Against what some now refer to as “blood and soil” patriotism, Reagan insisted that “in America, our origins matter less than our destinations.”

That 1992 convention was important, and instructive. Alas, the Reagan and Kemp messages there were lost. The media instead portrayed that convention as an orgy of anger represented by the “culture war” speech of Pat Buchanan. It wasn’t pretty. Against that image of Republican fist-shakers, Bill Clinton was able to consolidate his newly found advantage in the presidential race – and then to win the White House and usher in the political and cultural pathologies for which the Clintons are infamous.

Yet, Buchanan was a model of restraint compared to the bile of Bannonism.

Since that 1992 demarcation point, Republicans have only once won a majority of the popular vote for president, and even that one time the GOP garnered just 50.7 percent.

Sure, conservatives can keep trying to divide and conquer, and perhaps eke out an occasional small victory. But we can’t build, or effectively govern, by division. It’s time to stop sharpening our differences, and start broadening our appeal.

We should do so with smiles, and a few chuckles, and a lot of winsome insistence that for seemingly ordinary Americans of all creeds and colors, “extraordinary possibilities” lie well within reach.

We get the appeal of being a prophet of doom: fear, anger, and hate tend to motivate people against something. But optimism -- not the Mary Poppins variety, but an honest belief that our best times are still ahead -- can be  powerful antidote to the snarling partisanship that infects official Washington, the media, and large pockets of the nation.