Outrage, Apathy and Elections
Bush approval ratings are up! The Democrats are in disarray! The Republican leadership announces, happily, that they have been buoyed by recent events regarding their chances in the upcoming elections.
They are kidding themselves.
Tragically, the damage done to the conservative cause by the White House and Congressional Republicans is much deeper than they seem to realize.
The essential ingredients to winning elections include many elements; energy, hope, meaning, purpose, and most importantly, belief. Voters want to believe they are making a difference. They need to trust that candidates they support will sincerely follow through on positions and policies they espouse during the campaign. For conservatives, this trust has been lost. The scales have fallen from the eyes of many former believers and they have been burned beyond salvage. The jig is up
It is inexplicable, but somehow Republican leadership just doesn't understand that vast numbers of their party members are beside themselves with outrage at the state of the conservative agenda. They find themselves, after years of dedication to the cause, to have been duped, dismissed, and derided.
Of course political outrage can be channeled into positive energy, but it depends upon the cause of that outrage. So while a righteous anger with the likes of a Clinton, Kennedy, or Biden, can fill a warm spot in the heart of Republicans and grease the wheels of a healthy activism, the fury unleashed by Republican betrayals on outrageous spending, pork—barrel gluttony, nanny state meddling, bone—headed port deals, crony appointments, and of course, illegal immigration, has resulted in a demoralization engendering apathy.
True lovers, zealots, know that the opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference. When you cease to care, then you are really lost. In the political realm it means opting out, not voting. If during the war on terror a willful disregard for executing the immigration laws of the land can be evinced by the President, lawmakers, and most recently by the Mayor of New York, (of ground zero no less) then really, what is the point?
Understandably, such a nihilistic view from the conservative side is regarded with derision by the realpolotik operatives. Realists with a legislative scorecard in hand and a long to—do list regard this line of thinking with contempt. 'It is not a perfect world', or 'to be right and powerless is no solution' they will remonstrate angrily. Thus, in order to keep in majorities and keep out the bad guys we are instructed to once again forego principle and saddle ourselves with the likes of Arlen Specter.
But this is getting very old.
Rick Santorum, Senator from Pennsylvania, about as solid a conservative as one can hope for is, unfortunately, facing the music in his reelection campaign this year due in large part to this paradigm. Running against a democrat cipher with a well known family name, Bob Casey, Jr., Santorum's seat is in jeopardy due to an anti—Bush backlash of both conservative and liberal voters. Yet, even given the profound ennui of his former secure voter base, strategists, pollsters, and advisors have Santorum running left with a series of 'kinder, gentler Santorum' ads. Perhaps they are buying into the old theory that conservatives have nowhere else to go. May I suggest they will go to the movies instead of the polls?
To really understand the depths of conservative despair one only has to imagine how things can be righted. What issue can be used to change current perceptions and revitalize the enthusiasm of the right? The sad answer in the short term is ——nothing. For credibility has been lost. If Bush were to make a speech tomorrow promising great things; a sweeping change in direction, a drastic cut in wasteful spending, the elimination of the Department of Education, a wonton use of the veto pen, and a determined advance on all the important social issues, the response of most conservatives would be.... 'Yeah, right.' It would, if anything, be counter—productive.
Republican leaders need to understand finally that in the long run election victories alone do not matter. Governing with integrity matters. Lip service is fine, when you are out of power. It is insulting and infuriating when you are currently in office and have had substantial power for decades.
The most difficult and perhaps only questions that Republican candidates need to address and answer for conservative voters are:
Why should we believe you? And why should we care?
Andrew Sumereau is a frequent contributor.