Hearts, Minds, Votes

Copyright © by Len Holman, 7/8/11


  So the race is really on now.  Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney, among others, have finally figured out that if they want the Republican nomination for President, they’re going to need more votes than they can get from survivalists in Montana, separatists in Texas, and those three guys in Alaska freezing their parkas off in a moose blind.  They need to appeal to the hearts and minds—and therefore get the votes—of the still-mostly sensible voters in the Great Middle.  They cannot be seen as wild-eyed fanatics intent on slicing the federal budget so much that children will be sitting around campfires in the middle of once-great cities being taught how to banish evil spirits by a shaman who used to be school teacher--when there were schools. 

  And teachers. This is going to be interesting to watch because many of the Republican contenders (would Honest Abe even recognize these people?) have beliefs which would make them feel right at home in the Middle Ages.  They are going to try to sound moderate, reasonable, and (dare I say it?) Presidential.  Now, Romney looks Presidential—he could win a Warren Harding look-alike contest if he had a little more meat on his bones—but he needs to sound that way.  This is going to be easier for Romney than, say, Ron Paul.  Romney can walk around his neighborhood, avoid the Mother Ship, and still find his way home, but it’s very difficult to say whether some of the other contenders could say the same. 

  Thus, the Conservative change of tone.  There really is no rational reason for having the Iowa caucuses, since there is no vote, just some folks meeting in houses somewhere, breaking into groups and choosing the conservative they love.  It’s New Hampshire where the rubber starts to meet the road, and where the voting populace is about 42% Independent, and where those independent people want to hear some serious proposals, and some serious arguments.  This is where some of the less-than-earthbound candidates have seen the handwriting on the wall (writ by God, no doubt), and have already begun to tone down the End of the World rhetoric and try to address what they see as the concerns of the electorate.  None of these candidates will get into the White House on their present platform of “God Loves America And So Do I.”  Or “Obama Is Satan, Let Him Burn.”  They need to address America’s problems with real solutions.  Remember Sarah Palin’s bumper-sticker slogan?   “Drill, baby, drill.”  Republican candidates who want votes can’t live on “Cut, baby, cut.”  The rhetoric the more conservative Republicans have used to rouse the crowds they faced will not do for the mainstream voter, and this is going to be a large, and fascinating, issue to watch unfold.

  The problem for the Tea Party people is simple: they have to go from telling everyone that the earth is flat to telling them they now believe that there might, in fact, be rounded edges on the planet after all.  They have to go from saying God talks to them after dessert on Wednesday night, telling them how to save America, to admitting that they don’t even HAVE dessert on Wednesday night, and that the voice of God might just be the wind whistling through the attic.  In other words, to get into the hearts and minds of disaffected Democrats and wandering independents, a potential nominee has to be an apostate, has to allow that some previous verbal bomb-throwing incidents were just momentary aberrations and that NOW the nominee can speak in complete sentence, with a beginning, middle, and end. 

  This is a problem, but not for the electorate, which needs to know what the candidate is for so that an informed choice may be made.  No, the problem is for the potential Republican nominee who must speak from both sides of his or her mouth.  This individual must convince the rabidly faithful that he/she is for God, the Constitution, and apple pie with a 100% real American slice of cheese on top AND must also convince the undecided voters and those voters who read and can follow an argument that they are rational and thoughtful, and can save America from becoming Greece.  A tall order.  It’s not impossible for a candidate to say it; it’s not impossible for a potential voter to believe it, but it IS impossible to get the money needed to run a campaign from, say, the Koch Brothers AND get those pennies and dollars from Mr. and Mrs. America who just want their kids to have a better life than they are presently living.  Could this candidate serve both God and Mammon? 

  Several weeks ago, the Daily Beast (which is what Newsweek has turned into—and the transformation has not been to Newsweek’s advantage) asked 300 Republican and Republican-leaning independents what traits they looked for in an ideal candidate.  The first spot went to “Puts America First.”  Well…we ALL want that, right?  So any Republican can fit in that slot.  The second spot went to “Morally Impeachable.”  This seems easy enough to say, though it is vague in the extreme, and it has the connotation that only a True Conservative would pass the Puritan test, compared to those raunchy liberals who have sex in public and whose sisters want to marry each other.  This is the equivalent of that smug and arrogant phrase conservatives use to distinguish themselves:  “Values Voters” (as if only THEY have REAL values). 

  In fact, most of the top 10 character traits are coded for those who believe that “values” are what makes a candidate viable, because the Other Side obviously is value-less. The top eleven virtues of this composite candidate of 30 listed) include “Belief in Bedrock Family Values,” and “Able to Restore America to Greatness.”  Number 21 is “Able to Instill a Sense of National Purpose.”  Number Five is amusing:  “Able to Speak For All Americans,” which is also what Rupert Murdoch thinks HE’S doing. But the significant point is that the True Believers want their chosen paladin to be pure of intention and noble in pursuit of narrow goals—no matter the consequences.  They remind one of a person driving a fast car off a cliff, exclaiming on the way down to a fiery death, “But at least I maintained my speed!” 

  The quickly-advancing debt ceiling fight is a good preliminary look at the intransigence of one side, the hesitant, pseudo-macho response on the other side (encouraged by former President Clinton not to blink—though at this writing, it looks like Obama will, if not blink, flutter his eyelids a lot), and the voter reaction to it all.  I’m sure the Republican and Democratic establishments are watching this all carefully, trying to finesse the “right” response.  The public will try to guess which way various candidates are leaning by their public statements on Fox, on Twitter, on Facebook, or whatever blog is appropriate..  But it all seems very contrived when the Founders thought the final version of a policy was not how it would play in Philly or the western lands, but how, and whether, it would be good for the country.  Now THAT’S what “hearts and minds” is supposed to be about.


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