Saturday, March 05, 2005

If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat

One of my discoveries of 2004 was Hugh Hewitt.

I stumbled across a column of his at The Weekly Standard, clicked over to his website, and well...several months later, I've got a blog.

I liked him for a number of reasons. He was smart, he understood how the game of politics is played, and he cared about many of the values I cared about. Our personal histories went in opposite directions: he started Catholic, and became an evangelical; I started evangelical and became a Catholic. And it didn't hurt that both of us are from Ohio and support the Cleveland Browns...

I picked up If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat after the shooting stopped, after W was safely in as our new president. I read it as someone who grew up in a family where liberal Democratic politics was our real religion. Catholic families get the catechism over the dinner table; we got the New York Times and liberal politics. When we grew up, we knew that all Republicans were going to hell (if there was a hell), and that Richard Nixon was the anti-Christ (or the closest thing to it). So picking up HH's book was designed as political solace after a trip home--blood is thicker than gravy, as Maureen Dowd says: my brother had been a campaign director for Kerry in Cleveland; both parents took off election day to campaign for Kerry.

Ad maioram dei gloriam--W won, and HH's book gives sage advice as to how to keep Democrats on the losing track.

The book runs 220 pages, not counting appendices. Despite the fact that HH is a lawyer, the language is clear and intelligent--one of the best parts of the book is a chapter about keeping the message simple..."Close elections inevitably turn on the votes of illiterate people." (p.85). Reagan understood this. W understands this. Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and John Kerry don't. Reagan and W became president. Mondale, Dukakis and Kerry didn't. Who, really, was smarter?

The book is divided into six parts. Part I is The Stakes. The signature lines are taken from Churchill: Why, man, we are at war! and one of the Die Hard movies: I don't like you because you're going to get me killed! Exactly. HH offers a 50-page demolition as to why the Democratic party is totally patriotic and totally sincere--sincerely and patriotically incapable of understanding what must be done to defend the Republic.

Part II is A brief history of Democratic part cheating. A good 15 pages for voters too young to understand how many elections the Democratic machines have stolen in American history.

Part III is about Parties. This should be required reading for some social conservatives who think that issues can be separated from parties. Even if a pro-life Democrat became president, she would be forced to staff her administration with pro-abortion staffers--which would defeat the whole point. A pro-life Democratic senator will inevitably contribute to giving control of the Senate to a party that is fundamentally anti-life. HH is absolutely dead-on in these pages, and pro-life voters who think otherwise simply don't understand the real way in which democratic governments function. At this point in history, any vote for any Democrat to national office is a vote in favor of abortion, gay marriage, and everything else that social conservatives oppose.

Part IV is about Money. This is simple: give. A key part of any political movement is the willingness of supporters to give money. If you're not willing to give money to support your political values, don't be surprised when those who do give money have more influence in government than you do. The NRA may or may not speak for a majority of Americans, but it doesn't matter: its members give very heavily, and vastly outfund gun-control groups. So the NRA usually wins, and its critics usually lose.

Part V is about Message Delivery. There are a number of points here. Perhaps the most relevant is the blogosphere: for the last generation, the information flow to the American people has been controlled by political liberals in New York: ABC, CBS, NBC, the New York Times. The blogosphere offers the opportunity to pull the plug on the MSM. I think we have a long way to go on this point. Fox News controls only a small portion of the nightly news audience, vastly less than the MSM. But we have to start somewhere, and the Dan Rather scandal is proof of the power of webblogs to bring down even the most powerful of the mainstream press.

Part VI is about danger issues: issues that social conservatives care about, but may undermine the realignment that HH seeks. HH counsels caution in promoting these issues--even as his heart is on the conservative side of the spectrum.

Part VII is summary and conclusion. HH warns that failure to heed this message risks putting in power a political elite that can destroy the Republic as surely as French elites failed in 1789--and (more precisely) as the appeasement policies of 1930s Britain nearly led to the triumph of Hitler.


All in all, the book is well and wisely done. And there are numerous gems along the way. A few of my friends have forgotten President Reagan's 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. This is potentially disastrous when it comes to managing a coalition that prevailed in November 2004 by 51-48%. Highly recommended for them is Chapter 19: There Aren't Enough Targets That You Have To Shoot At Your Friends? Maintaining unity is essential for any successful coalition; there are better ways of making one's point than shooting at fellow Republicans. The circular firing squad is a Democratic invention that Republicans will do well to avoid.

A few key points...

1) HH would have done well to stress the extent to which race remains the pivotal issue in American politics. Chapter 2 is a helpful analysis of the three major wings of the GOP, and the three major wings of the Democratic party. But missing here is the reality of post-1968 national politics. As Kevin Phillips rightly pointed out in The Emerging American Majority, what broke up FDR's New Deal coalition was race: the belief among many whites that the Democratic party had gone beyond equal opportunity to providing special privileges for racial minorities. Since 1968, the GOP nationally gets about 60% of the white vote; Dems get about 90% of the black vote. It follows from this that permanent majority status for the GOP means maintaining white votes while reaching out to African Americans. The most probable issues that can help the GOP here are exactly the issues of social conservatives: African Americans are mostly socially conservative; their chief reluctance to vote GOP is the perception that Republicans are racist. The Ohio GOP has been very effective at countering this perception--with the result that the Democratic party has been virtually wiped out at the state level, and Ohio is on the verge of electing a black GOP governor.

2. The gay marriage issue is a political winner. The current GOP leadership is highly educated--and shares much of the libertarian social values of the post-grad school Democratic left. Many GOP leaders fear being labelled "intolerant". Done wrongly, there is that risk; but for Democrats gay marriage is a loser, even in hard-left Massachussetts. Carefully handled, this is one of the most powerful issues in the GOP arsenal--and it can play a key role in breaking up the Democratic lock on the African American vote. The numerous African American pastors that have been mobilizing against gay marriage need to be brought into the GOP fold.

3. Since the election, HH has been very brave about what is needed to keep W's coalition together. He argued very strongly for not undercutting Arlen Specter in the US Senate--and I believe he was right on this. He is now arguing for more pressure on the US Senate to shut down filibusters and to approve W's judges. Here again, there is every reason to believe that HH is right.

Finally: political realignments are cyclical. They come almost like clock-work at 36 year intervals: 1788/Washington, 1824-28/Jackson, 1860/Lincoln, 1896/McKinley, 1932/FDR, 1968/Nixon and the Sunbelt coalition. Almost certainly 2004 and W's September 11th coalition will be remembered as one of the great realignments of American political history. Karl Rove has been talking for some time about the similarities between our era and that of McKinley, and there is excellent reason to think that these comparisons hold. The challenge for those of us on the GOP side will be keeping this coalition together, and turning the coalition into effective government. For right now, the best guide for grass-roots citizens on how to do this is Hugh Hewitt's If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat.

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