A U-Turn Strategy for the GOP
As we head into some crucial GOP primaries -- Arizona and Michigan on February 28, then Super Tuesday one week later -- grassroots Republicans remain sharply divided over which presidential candidate to support. A lot of us would vote for None of the Above, if we had that choice. But we're united in the belief that if our country continues on its present course for another four years, the damage to our economy and our national security will be catastrophic and irreversible.
And we're perplexed by the obstinate refusal of so many Americans who aren't Republicans to acknowledge the acute danger we're in, and to at least consider voting in November for whichever candidate the GOP finally chooses to run against President Obama.
Is the problem that these people cannot see we're heading toward a cliff? Or can they see it just as clearly as we do, but they hate the GOP so much that they would rather go over that cliff with a Democrat at the wheel than be saved by a Republican driver who's made a last-minute U-turn?
My guess is that they do see we're heading toward a cliff. After all, it's obvious -- and these people aren't stupid. But they don't believe we're in immediate danger. More precisely, they cannot bring themselves to believe that. Which means they may acknowledge to themselves -- but never aloud, to us, or to some pollster -- that at some point they'll need to vote for a U-turn. But not now, or any time soon, because they believe the cliff is still a long way down the road.
If this perception is accurate, it suggests a wholly new approach to the 2012 election -- not just for whoever emerges as the GOP's challenger to President Obama, but for Republican candidates at all levels of government. We should talk to voters the way a physician would talk to a patient who's got some serious health problems: calmly and professionally, but bluntly:
I've been going over your test results, and I'm sorry to tell you we've found some serious problems. You're overweight, your blood pressure is high, and I don't like what I'm seeing on your x-rays. In short, you're unhealthy. But rest assured that none of these problems need be fatal. We can restore your health with a combination of better diet, exercise, medication, and, perhaps, some surgery. The regimen I want to put you on won't be pleasant, or easy, but I'm confident that if we work together you can look forward to a long and healthy life.
You're probably thinking that I'm trying to scare you. Well, I am. You may feel okay right now, and be reluctant to face up to what I'm telling you and what needs to be done. You may believe I'm exaggerating, and that you can wait for the results of next year's annual physical, or the one after that, before coming to grips with your health problems.
And you may be right. I've had patients in worse shape than you're in survive for years without making any changes in the way they live. And I've had patients just like you thank me politely for my time and my advice, then walk out my door and drop dead waiting for the elevator.
My point is, with serious health problems like yours, anything can happen, at any time. It's impossible to predict just when. I can tell you only that if you don't start to change, now, you're playing Russian roulette with your life. So we can get to work on this new regimen, or you can go home and we'll meet again, either next year in this office or late one night in the emergency room -- or perhaps in the morgue. It's entirely up to you....
Enough already with the usual kind of politics -- the parades, the slogans, those carefully planned "spontaneous" demonstrations, those ghastly television ads with adoring spouses, cute children, and lovable dogs. No more pandering for votes by flipping pancakes at county fairs or showing up and demeaning ourselves on those idiotic late-night television talk shows. Let's stop playing the Democrats' game of pretending that we feel the voters' pain, when what we really feel is disgust with the poor political decisions so many voters have made, for so long, that have gotten our country into its present jam. Let's stop talking to voters as though they were children who need to be cajoled into eating their vegetables. Let's change the political culture itself by talking to voters as adults responsible for dealing with their problems -- or not dealing with their problems, if that's their choice:
My fellow Americans, we're in trouble. The national debt is staggering, government spending at all levels is out of control, and we've been passing laws that make it harder than ever for business owners to grow their companies and create new jobs. Congress has enacted a health care law that will devastate our country's health care system and reduce the services we depend upon, literally, for our lives. We're on the verge of turning our country's free-market economy -- the most productive, most innovative, most powerful economy the world has ever known -- into a socialist economy that will lead to decades of stagnation.
And our nation's security is at risk. At a time when radical Islam threatens to destroy Western civilization, and when Iran is on the brink of having nuclear bombs, we are slashing the Pentagon's budget. By pulling our troops out of Iraq too soon, we are now in danger of snatching defeat from the extraordinary victory our troops had won. We are about to give up in Afghanistan, precisely at that moment when our troops on the ground there are making real progress. And rather than taking steps to make our country energy-independent and no longer in need of Mideast oil, we are throwing every legal obstacle we can under the feet of our domestic energy production companies.
If we continue on our present course, more and more of you will lose your jobs, your homes, and even the pensions you've worked so hard, and for so long, to earn. The quality of our health care will decline. We will leave our children's generation crippled by debt and with no hope of prosperity or even economic stability. And we will leave our country vulnerable to another 9-11 attack -- this time, perhaps, with nuclear weapons.
You may believe we're exaggerating, and that you don't need to think about all this, at least not yet. Perhaps. There's just no way to predict whether our economy will hit the wall next year, or in the coming decade -- or two weeks from Wednesday because of a market crash triggered by the collapse of some obscure bank in Europe, or in China. Your own job may be safe, your pension well protected. You may not notice a drop in the quality of our country's health care system for quite a while, if you're one of the lucky ones who stays healthy. And while no intelligence service can prevent every terrorist attack on our homeland, perhaps ours will succeed in stopping the the next one, so we won't suffer another 9-11 for years to come.
All we can tell you is that if we remain on our present course, we're heading straight for that proverbial cliff.
We still have time to turn around. Changing course won't be easy or pleasant, but together we can do it. We can bring down the national debt to a manageable level, we can bring government spending under control, and we can restore the free-market incentives that will encourage business owners to invest in new products and services, and by doing so create new jobs. We can undo the health care laws that Congress has passed. We can make ourselves energy-independent. We can leave our children's generation with a robust economy that will enable them to live at least as well as we've lived, perhaps even to live in greater prosperity than we have known. And we can keep our country safe from the world's genocidal lunatics.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you're driving down the road and you realize you're going in the wrong direction, changing speed or changing lanes doesn't solve the problem. You have to get off at the next exit and make a U-turn. In politics, that "next exit" is called an election. Please, take this next exit and vote for us. Don't bet your money -- and perhaps your lives -- that there's no cliff up ahead, or that if there is a cliff ahead we're nowhere near it.
Reader, I know the question you're asking right now -- I can hear you shouting at me through cyberspace -- and the answer is: no. I cannot guarantee that this approach will win the 2012 elections for the GOP. The majority of voters may well conclude they're not in the danger we believe they're in. Or, they may accept our diagnoses but lack the fortitude to deal with it. If so, then so be it. I'd rather go over that cliff with a Democrat at the wheel than a Republican. At least they won't be able to blame us for the results of their fecklessness. And maybe, just maybe, the survivors will turn to Republican candidates to pull them out of the wreckage and get our country back on the road to a secure, prosperous future.
Actually, there's another possibility. If we start talking to voters the way I'm suggesting we talk to them, we might begin to change the political culture itself, from one that's become infected by soft thinking and emotion to a healthier political culture, based on hard thinking and analysis. If this new political culture takes hold, it might open the door for younger, less ideological Democrats who grasp the danger we're in and who have the communications skills and the body language to connect with voters in a way that we Republicans cannot. And if these Democrats can get themselves elected with a mandate to execute the U-turn that we Republicans know is necessary -- that's okay. Let them do it and take the credit, and they can count on us for all the help and political support they may require.
After all, we're Republicans, which means that unlike today's Democrats, our objective isn't to win the next election at all costs. Our objective is to rescue the United States.
Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan administration as special assistant to the director of Central Intelligence and vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council. He is the author of several books including Hard Thinking, How to Analyze Information, and The Cure for Poverty.