How Conservatives Can Read America Accurately

It’s a sad fact that countless conservatives misread their own country, the same way that liberals misread the world outside their country and advocate wacky foreign policies.

What follows are basic guidelines to be used to evaluate our own country accurately (for a change). They’re persuasive for reasonable people. They’re about the big picture and common sense, not policy details.

1. America is center-right, not hard-right.

Let’s assume that one-third of America self-identify as conservative and twenty-five percent as liberal. What about the forty-two percent? What if many of them live in the center?

What if a significant number of the twenty-five percent live left-of-center?

Horror of horrors, what if a largish number of the thirty-three percent live right-of-center?

But how can self-identified conservatives live near the center? Read for yourself. The real question is, how can self-identified conservatives live so far right and scare away many people, all while being so danged confident that their brand of conservatism is the only way?

Conservative talk radio hosts as a whole (some individuals are reasonable) are especially guilty of misreading things. Perspective, however: about 125 million voted in 2012. How many tune in to talk radio? A tiny fraction of that number tune in; maybe they don’t like it.

Bottom line: “True” conservatives fail to understand that a larger percentage of Americans than they live near the center. Meanwhile these conservatives turn the rest of us into the “shy Tory” or the “embarrassed conservative,” though I personally am not embarrassed by conservatism (just them).

2. Right imaging is almost always decisive in elections.

This is the main guideline nowadays.

It is a startling fact that 400 million pictures are uploaded to social media each day, not each week or month. They don’t care about the weeds of detailed policies. They need to “fall in love” with their future president.

Though you and I prefer an America that goes deeper, superficial imaging matters. This (and race) is the main reason Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

The image factor, within the bounds of conservatism, can decide presidential candidates -- do they look or sound right on TV?

Currently, the only candidate who fits the right image is Rubio. Not Cruz or the others, and certainly not Trump.

Policy wonks, left or right, lost in the daily polls, miss this and do things like predict a Hillary or Cruz victory in November. If you believe (or are scared) that Trump will win the nomination, you misread your own country.

This brings us to the next point.

3. The majority of Americans don’t vote for angry, scary politicians.

Despite the media prediction that 2016 will be the year of anger (drummed up by the same media because they know Trump can’t win), it won’t be for average voters.


Obama talks gently; call him the “quiet radical.” Yet Americans don’t like radicalism, left or right. He moved too fast. Scary. That’s why his party lost the House in 2010 and almost lost the Senate in 2012, and finally did in 2014. But his race and imaging (see no. 2) carried him over to a second term.

Further, it is a given that the forty-two percent and many “untrue” conservatives don’t like shrill rhetoric against Hispanics and their immigrant parents or grandparents.

To wit, a Christian TV network named Salsa, mainly spoken in English, is on the rise. Hispanics are coming to historically white churches (like mine) or starting their own, to the tune of 40,000. We like them among us. We even sing in Spanish sometimes.

Yet a certain kind of conservative miscalculates this inexorable trend line and fails to see the growing rift between these churches and themselves.

They don’t represent conservatism at large. Certainly not my brand.

4. Americans hate government only when it directly hurts them; otherwise they’re mostly enamored with it.

Gallup polls show that Americans hate government. But that’s too abstract or out-of-context.

Let’s think it through.

Here’s a simple formula that can help conservatives read the love-hate issue:

Self-interest + benefits = love for government

If the second element is denied (harms or hinders people), the outcome is hate or repulsion.

There’s nothing new here. You’ve experienced it in your own life.

Examples in national politics:

Americans hate ObamaCare because it hurts their pocketbook here and now. It’s a bad program all around. It denies the second element in the formula. Only the very few who benefit from it like it.

Medicare and Social Security, in contrast, are directly beneficial. We’re way beyond the 47% who use or will use them in their old age. It affirms the formula.

For the number crunchers, what are the polling data that people like government -- maybe even a sizable one? Here it is: Libertarians don’t win important elections; they deny the formula.

Solid punditry, that.

Americans don’t like the shutdown strategy. Seventy-two or eighty percent blame the GOP as a party (the “Big Bad Establishment”), even though only two “true,” so-called anti-Establishment conservatives (Cruz and Paul) unwisely shut it down. Formula again.

Like it or not, we will have to live a little while longer with a morbidly obese Uncle Sam, until we win the White House in 2016 (and we will) and reform entitlements, slowly and gently, with lots of reassuring speeches from the right-imaged, smiling president.

Four exceptions to incrementalism: overhaul the IRS, simplify the tax code, repeal and replace ObamaCare, and dismantle the business-hindering regulation bureaucracy in the first two years.

Those programs, as they are now, deny the second element in the formula.

We’ll be viewed as heroes of America and keep the Senate in 2018.

5. Americans are not as politically pure as the hard right is.

The forty-two percent -- and the self-identified liberals and conservatives who live in the center -- want politicians to “work together.” Give and take.


The Constitution teaches (me at least) that government, especially a divided one, grinds slowly and finely. Obama grew impatient with it and has gone around it with executive orders. Are conservatives every bit as impatient -- i.e. radical -- as he is? If so, see no. 3.

Yes, we must use wisdom on how far we compromise, but can “true” conservatives figure this out? Probably not. By definition they misread America.

That’s why they sit in ashes and talk of betrayal and the end of the GOP when “RINO” Paul D. Ryan signs an omnibus bill, even though he inherited a process and Obama has the veto in a divided government.

Let’s wrap this up.

How do we win nationally for a long time?

Well, since America is center-right, how about nominating conservatives -- yes, principled conservatives -- who are not scary or angry; project a positive, friendly image; will reform government slowly, quietly, and behind the scenes, yet appreciate (but not bow to) it; and are pragmatic and undogmatic?

Thus, it’s mainly (but not exclusively) about the imaging and tone, as conservatives show the persuadable forty-two percent and centrist liberals why we need incremental, strong conservatism at this time in our history, our better solutions for terrorism, debt, regulations, slow economy, and so on.

Conservatives can use these five principles so we can unify and win more presidential and senatorial elections far into the future.

James Arlandson’s website is Live as Free People, which is updated almost daily and where he has written two pieces on what New Conservatives believe, Part One and Part Two.