Run it up the Flagpole

“Let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes,” was a popular advertising catchphrase back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. And it’s about to be adopted as a Democrat slogan for the upcoming election. 

Without the office of the presidency at stake, many voters will feel less incentive to vote in November. Motivating people to participate in the democratic process in off-year elections is always a harder sell, perhaps for the same reason that we are more likely to buy into a lottery when the payoff is big and driven by media frenzy.

Typically, Republicans vote at higher rates than Democrats in such elections. If this holds true in 2014, it would pose a significant dilemma for this administration. Aware of the consequences of a possible Senate takeover next January, Democrat spinmeisters are conjuring ways to combat lethargy and propel the faithful to the polls on election day, now less than half a year away. 

To add to the urgency, pollsters have been delivering a steady stream of disappointing news for Democrats. The results of last month’s joint survey by Pew Research and USA Today indicate that Democrats are losing ground over a similar survey conducted last October. For starters, President Obamas’s approval rating has slipped from what it was in the midterm election four years ago. Still, he is supported by 44% of likely voters, which is higher than George Bush’s numbers in the midterm election of 2006. 

Two of the most contentious policies hounding Democrats on the stump will be the anemic economic recovery and the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act. Despite the supposed surge in signups, Obamacare is still a thorn in the side of candidates whose party passed it into law.

As a result, they will be forced to put the focus of their campaigns elsewhere, the goal being to make Republicans look like bad apples who will (a) reverse all economic progress and plunge us back into another recession;  (b) deny hard-earned rights for minorities, women, and gays; (c) stop at nothing to use bogus scandals for political gain; and (d) lead our country into another war.

No stone will be left unturned -- or unthrown. As Obama is fond of saying, all options will remain on the table. And some will even lurk under it. Hoisted to the yardarm will be anything that has the remotest chance of resonating with constituents, many of whom seem to have puzzlingly tuned out completely.

But Democrats know they cannot continue to hang on the ropes, battered by a barrage of current blows like IRS prejudicial treatment, NSA spying, Putin’s power plays, Benghazi’s unsolved mysteries, and the VA’s incompetence. So far, their retaliatory charges of trumped-up scandals haven’t resonated with voters.    

Let’s be clear. The liberals’ appeal will not be grounded in fact-based evidence.  Their “proof” of choice will be personal and anecdotal. They much prefer to put a “face” on an issue in order to bypass the brain and head for the heartstrings. In elections, their objective will be to find enough partisan voters who believe whatever they are told, whether it is the Republican war on women or America’s shameful responsibility for global warming. Expect to hear them use the term “Tea Party” a lot, by way of defining the GOP. In the liberal vernacular, what could be scarier? 

Well, here’s what might be: a Republican Party that stays on message. A GOP campaign that continues to pummel its Democrat opponents on the issues that resonate most with voters, like the economy, the ACA, the Keystone XL pipeline, and a foreign policy that spawned the dangerous decline of our credibility across the globe. A savvy party that knows the political price of getting mired in matters that swing wide the door to charges of bush-beating and overreaction. Placing the Benghazi scandal at the forefront of the coming campaign, for example, could prove to be a political blunder. Yet when candidates speak out about that travesty of incompetence and deceit, it should be with candor and directness in the manner of  subcommittee chairman Trey Gowdy.

Republicans must guard against wandering aimlessly into potentially lethal minefields of so-called “social” issues, like abortion, wage inequality between the sexes, the minimum wage, gay marriage, and immigration reform tantamount to amnesty. If they do not maneuver carefully, their opponents will delight in making them appear bigoted, mean-spirited and out of touch. Judging by the results of recent primaries, Republicans seem to be learning the lesson of past elections, and choosing competitive candidates who know the high price of imprudence.

Above all, Republicans need to go beyond complaint and criticism of this administration. Pummeling the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is meaningless if the GOP does not offer an alternative. Sniggering at a sluggish economy is far less effective than touting proposals to get it moving again. 

The GOP has to roll up its sleeves.  Or -- to continue the original analogy -- it needs to start running a few ideas up its own flagpole to see if anyone salutes.