What Were All of You Thinking?
Add me to the list of people who have harsh words for shocked conservatives. As it turns out, talking endlessly about the economy and the Constitution is a great way to lose elections, because people find the economy and the Constitution boring. Sorry to say it, but that's the way it is.
Conservatives have great, stirring human stories to tell: the tragedies of abortion and a sexually unraveling culture, the need to exalt the sacrifices and dedication of married couples who stay together for their children, and the courage of the faithful to defend religion and decency in an increasingly vacuous, untethered, secularized world.
Unfortunately, those wonderful stories were kept out of the discourse by supposed pragmatists who thought such sentimentality embarrassing. So instead, for several years, America listened to conservatives talk about corporate tax rates, the deficit, and the Federalist Papers. To millions who felt their souls being drained by a corporate consumer culture that treats humans like products and reduces people to animal urges, the Republicans quoted Hayek and offered free markets. In other words, "go sell your soul on eBay; if you're worth anything, you'll fetch a decent price."
Meanwhile, the Democrats pulled at the voters' heartstrings by caterwauling about bullies, weeping about the poor, and making everyone feel bad for Sandra Fluke.
By now it's widely understood that all politicians are scum and that voting is a choice for the lesser of two evils. Nobody who's rational would have reason to believe that Mitt Romney's promises to cut the deficit would be more bankable than Barack Obama's long-forgotten promises to close Gitmo and scale back the use of drones. Yet Romney's love for the unborn was less convincing than was Obama's instinctual love for underdogs, the oppressed, the little guy, or whatever you call that class social justice theorists have dubbed "subalterns."
What happened? Twenty-twelve was, perhaps, a choice between mercy (Obama) and efficiency (Romney) in a lot of Americans' minds, and they asked themselves, "What does it profit a man to get a 4% unemployment rate and lose his love for the oppressed?" The question may sound naïve, but it nonetheless runs through people's minds. Republicans never bothered to ask the question, let alone answer it. And so Barack Obama got elected amid a burgeoning deficit and four years of unconscionable unemployment.
By now it's clear that "it's the economy, stupid" is not a timeless nugget of wisdom.
Rather, we ought to start saying, "It's got to be more than just economics, idiots."
Mitt Romney was a decent man in all outward ways, but he didn't seem all that concerned with the indecency of America's rotting culture, and particularly the indecency resulting from untrammeled consumerism. He didn't even seem to know that the culture is rotting at all, because he lives far removed from the effects of promiscuity, broken families, drug wars, pornography, and godless schools. He talked a lot about Bain Capital and investment strategies while people were secretly contending with far more personal demons like loneliness, sexual guilt, addictions, sadness, and self-hatred.
Many, like me, voted for Romney despite our relative poverty (I am in the lower middle class) and despite the fact that Obama's social program could benefit us financially. On the other hand, many wealthy people who stood to gain from Romney's promises of lowered capital gains taxes pulled their levers for Obama. Homo economicus is not as powerful as is our humanity. We Americans care about higher things.
So, about those higher things...let's be honest. We had little reason to believe that Romney was truly dedicated to improving our social and cultural conditions -- indeed, that all-important thing called the human condition -- because he talked endlessly about his business experience. Most Americans don't like their bosses and have trouble with landlords and creditors. Talking about one's business experience is not usually a good way to win them over.
On election day, it became clear to me that the Republican Party had been led into Purgatory by the Laodicean wing. In case you aren't familiar with Revelation 3:14-17, here is what God says in that text:
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked[.]
Here's the simple version: stand for something important, damn it. Articulate human values. Be about something more than numbers. Be hot. Be cold. Be a flavor. Don't be Mitt Romney: lukewarm, milquetoast, centrist. The Laodiceans were warned -- God will spew thee out of His mouth. So it came to pass.
Where were the Republicans who were either hot or cold? During the nomination process, each of the compelling, colorful Republican options, ranging from Herman Cain to Michele Bachmann, was thrown into the GOP dumpster by establishmentarians who were convinced that instead, voters needed to be lectured about statistics and given free copies of the Constitution. Spicy and engaging Marco Rubio was snubbed for wonky Washington careerist Paul Ryan. Human stories like Bachmann's foster children and Santorum's dead son were thrown out as sidebar clichés. As an Evangelical values voter, I felt like I was the dirty family secret asked to come into the "big tent" through the side flap. In the end, I voted for Romney, but many people like me voted for the Democrats because at least the Democrats had a relatable message about compassion and mercy. Or, in many cases, they decided to stay home and spend the day praying to God for strength. At least God, unlike the Republicans, will never forget us or be ashamed of us.
It was with tremendous relief that I read Jonathan Last's post-election piece in the Weekly Standard, as well as Selwyn Duke's cri de guerre behooving conservatives not to flee into libertarian logic.
Jonathan Last said what I've been thinking for months now: namely, that 2012 is for the right what 2004 was for the left. Liberals thought the world ended for them and that the Democratic Party was on its way to dissolution after Kerry lost to Bush. Eight years later, where is the all-powerful Republican Party the left so feared? Pendulums swing. If your values are solid and time-tested, you will survive to catch the pendulum on its rebound.
Selwyn Duke noted, as I've been thinking as well, that ethnic minorities have only one reason to vote for Republicans: social conservatism, not worship of the U.S. Constitution or a flood of economic numbers that are, when all is tallied, still just numbers. As a member of that sought-after class of people known as Latinos/Hispanics/people-of-color/call-us-what-you-will, I could not agree more with what Duke wrote. I voted for Mitt Romney because he stood up for traditional marriage and against abortion -- had he talked only about states' rights, due process, and lowering unemployment, I would have voted for Obama. If Republicans are looking to break the 30% barrier in the Latino vote, dumping social conservatism might be a good way...to drop that share down to 15%.
Like many voters of color, I consider that the right's economic message does not compel me. Had the left not sexualized its social justice message so much after the 1960s, I would be a liberal to this day. It is in the personal virtues of conservative thinking -- modesty, self-sacrifice, chastity, fear of God, decency -- that I find a reason to be on the right side of the dial. Cut ties to the social agenda, and you will cut ties with me.
Perhaps I am the only Latino who thinks this way, but I doubt it. I think the conventional wisdom of 2012, which was to turn libertarian and set aside "wacko" religious causes, imploded on a dreadful Tuesday in November. Do not go the way of Laodicea.
Robert Oscar Lopez is the author of The Colorful Conservative: American Conversations with the Ancients from Wheatley to Whitman.