By now many commentators have suggested this was a major reason Mitt Romney lost the election. He could not believe that the country would vote for a man who was both dishonest and a terrible steward of the economy. Why, after all, would anyone want a nation that was both poor and weak?
But people did vote for Obama — because they did not perceive that they were given a dynamic alternative. Mitt was a technocrat. He was an honest man with demonstrable economic skills. I still believe this is exactly what we needed; nevertheless it was not what the voters thought.
As commentators such as the economist Thomas Sowell and the newly seated Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have counseled, now is not the time to go “moderate.” The electoral problem was not that Republicans failed to resemble Democrats; it was that they were ashamed of being full-blooded Republicans.
Conservatives believe in freedom. Conservatives support a free marketplace. They also favor a smaller government. To these ends, they have rightly defended the Constitution and sought to lower the deficit. These are noble objectives, but they are not inspirational.
Remember how Ronald Reagan called us to greatness? Remember how during his second presidential campaign he told us that it was “morning in America”? These are not conservative themes. They did not look backward, but forward. They offered visions of a better world, not a return to an old one.
Freedom isn’t an outmoded concept. Nor is a market-based economy. These are the keys to unleashing the energies and genius of ordinary people. This, therefore, is what erstwhile “conservatives” need to stress; it is what will give the young and moderate a reason to vote Republican.
What I am about to say will offend many people, but I must say it anyway because I believe it is the truth. During this last election cycle Republicans put too many eggs into the evangelical basket. They expected religious conservatives to come out in huge numbers, but they did not.
This false assumption prompted the party to select candidates, who sounded as if they favored rape, to shape its image. As a result, social issues, rather than the economy or our future, came to the fore and persuaded moderates that Republicans had nothing new to offer.
This must change. Cruz suggests that conservatives pivot and champion an “opportunity” society. Over a decade ago Newt Gingrich came to a similar conclusion. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton, who evidently believed the same, quickly preempted that strategy.
So opportunity is a good starting point. It speaks to the aspirations of constituencies who have been drifting Democratic, such as the Hispanics and young women, and promises them a better future. Moreover, it tells them this future is in their own hands.
But we need more. We need a renewed call to greatness. Obama has been playing “small ball” and this should be used against him. He keeps on picking at small-scale grievances so as to gather a coalition of those who feel as if they are on the outside looking in.
Republicans consequently have an opening to appeal to Americans as Americans. How can ordinary people take pride in a country that is limping a long, barely keeping its head above water? How can they feel good about having an ambassador shot or about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons?
Reagan drew on the best in the American people. He told them they would succeed if they helped themselves. More than this, he assured them that they had the stuff to do so. Have we somehow grown feebler since then?
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D., is professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.