I certainly do not pretend to be an expert in the field but I am somewhat of an amateur political spectator. Observing the elections the past couple of weeks and especially the aftermath the last few days I am somewhat startled by the confusion and despair caused by the last Presidential election.
Let me begin by saying that I strive to avoid news media (both television and Internet) that are blatantly conservative or liberal. I do not watch Fox News, unless I am forced while waiting in the doctor’s office, nor do I spend any time with MSNBC (usually not playing in any waiting rooms I have visited). I am not a news junkie. I watch local evening news two or three times a week, peruse the local newspapers online most every day, and if I discover something happening in the world I will usually turn on CNN (although many would disagree, they do appear to be mostly centrist).
However, during the week and a half leading up to the recent election, I did find myself watching more television news, even turning in to the partisan networks several times. I was especially curious as to how they were describing the trends and expressing their expectations. On the night of the election I watched these networks a couple of times just to see how they were taking the news.
I had already come to the conclusion several weeks before the polls opened that it would not be an especially close Presidential race. It just seemed that everything was pointing toward keeping the incumbent. Unseating an incumbent President is not easy. Granted the economy was not great but I think most people felt like it was getting better. I remember when Carter was defeated for his second term; the economy and foreign policy were both in a real mess at the time. Also, the first Bush was defeated, but I think a lot of that can be credited to a huge promise he made and broke (“No new taxes!”). Also, I think he might have been elected originally because folks were not ready to say goodbye completely to the Reagan administration.
This year, the news stations kept claiming the polls were too close to call but I saw that as a means of keeping us watching. If we did not expect a close race we would not watch television news. Several times I saw special features on what would happen if the race ended in a tie as if that was even a real possibility. Such a scenario would be a multi-million dollar boon to television news.
Almost as interesting as the pre-election predictions has been the post-election analysis. People from both parties are quick to explain why the election went the way it did. What have been especially fascinating to me are the suggestions as to why the Republican Party failed. I have compiled a short list of the more common reasons for the failure. I have taken the liberty to reword them to express what it seems to mean based on the explanation they give.
Here is my list:
- Condescending to those who don’t agree with us
Less than a week after the election, I heard a U.S. Senator refer to the President as “stupid.” Now, you might not agree with him on any issue but it is hard to justify an accusation of stupidity. It is fair to say he is “mistaken” or “incorrect” or “wrong” or dozens of other descriptors but to call him “stupid” is very condescending. It is possible to make your point, even to make it with great force, without resorting to name calling.
There were frequent references during the campaign that identified the President with Hitler and the Anti-Christ. There is no justification for either of these designations. The only purpose they serve is to stir up those who are already on your side. There is nothing attractive about this kind of communication and it does nothing to appeal to potential voters. If you are standing over there ranting and raving about the ineptness of your opponent, I will do whatever I can to avoid your team.
Our political system works because each of us has the freedom to decide for ourselves. To choose one side over the other does not make you any smarter, more American, or more Christian. In order to get more people to agree with your position you must take a more positive approach than simply calling the opposition by hateful names and slurs.
- If the other side is not responding to our message, shout louder
I have heard several pundits make the claim that voters for the other side just did not understand our position so we must make it clearer. This usually means they can’t believe people would not agree with us so we must not be making our message clear. Their solution is to get louder.
Take the health care issue for instance. The Republicans have come out very clear against “Obama Care,” expressing the intent to repeal the provisions once they are in power. It is common to hear post-election commentators express the idea that folks just do not understand how bad this health care reform will be; therefore they need to say it louder and clearer.
They fail to accept the idea that the majority may be of the opinion that health care reform is needed. In fact, in my opinion, unless you have really good medical insurance and a pocket full of money, you would understand the need for reform.
The election results do not indicate folks did not clearly hear your message; they simply did not agree with your solutions. Shouting louder might make you feel like you are doing something but it will do little to attract new voters.
- View those who don’t agree with us as a problem
We frequently hear that Republicans have a “Latino problem.” This is the phrase used to explain how a greater number of voters every year are Latino and they do not typically vote Republican. However, if you continue to see this trend as a problem you will not find a good response. Rather than seeing it as a “Latino problem,” view it as a “Latino opportunity.” In other words, there are more and more voters every year who are waiting to hear a reason to choose your approach.
By the way, I often see this same attitude reflected in churches. When the demographic of a local neighborhood changes, often the church will see it as a problem and usually seek to run away from it. The reality is that it is really an opportunity. People who need to hear the gospel are moving into the neighborhood – how can that be a bad thing for a church?
- Tendency to only listen to those who agree with us rather than attempting to learn from others
The only possible reason I can come up with to explain the confidence Republicans had about winning the election is that they were not paying attention. The only ones who were predicting a GOP win were Republicans. It was kind of like a gambler wagering all his money on the Dallas Cowboys after listening to the team pre-game pep talk. It makes your team sound good but has little to do with reality.
When the only ones you listen to are constantly spouting the same opinion it is unlikely you will come up with a different conclusion. Republicans have their own television network, radio programs, Internet sites, newspapers, etc. (I know Democrats do as well but they did not lose the election so that is not the subject.)
If you want to understand how people think and what they want, you must listen to them. Don’t let your favorite radio personality tell you what they think, find out for yourself. However, it is usually easier to let others do the thinking for us so we tend to simply accept what they say without giving it any thought.
For example, I heard a small business owner say that the new Obama Care would put him out of business because he could not afford to provide coverage for his employers. He really believed this because he continually heard it from his sources of information. I decided to research the new provisions and see how it would impact his business. What I discovered is the new law will have no effect on him unless he wants it to and then it will actually be to his advantage. But since he did not take the time to learn this for himself, you can see why he would be surprised that not every businessman in the country voted Republican.
One final suggestion I might offer – build on your strengths. The Republican Party supports positions that are very attractive to most of us. For example, they speak a lot about family values but most of their rhetoric about family revolves around gay marriage. Frankly, that is not an issue that will affect most of us. I realize it is an issue for some, but I have been in the ministry for more than forty years and not once have I been confronted with this issue. Yet, numerous other aspects of family values, such as unfaithfulness, family violence, poverty, divorce, and others are much more common.
Another strong issue is their stance on the value of life. However, once again they have narrowed the debate to one lone issue – abortion. Certainly it is an important issue but there are other value of life concerns. Discussion about end of life decisions, capital punishment, caring for the sick, child rearing, adoption, world hunger, orphans, and numerous other ways in which we can demonstrate the value of life would be helpful. These are all issues Republicans could support that would be very attractive to a new generation and ethnicity of voters.
I guess what I am trying to say is there is no need to abandon the basic principles, but there is a great need to express them in better ways that are not offensive. You might find there is more agreement among those who have been alienated and demonized than you realize.