Well, the Republicans have become the party of prudence, whereas the Democrats have been the party of inspiration. While Republicans keep telling us that we are spending too much and will go broke if we do not mend our ways, Democrats promise to educate our children and create a pollution-free world.
As for me, I am all for prudence; yet look at the results of the last two presidential elections. It seems clear that young people, women and minorities opted for inspiration over prudence. They did not want to hear establishment types talking about preserving the constitution or paying down the national debt.
My conclusion is that if Republicans are to become electorally competitive, they too must be inspirational. But that does not mean they should try to out-promise Obama. No one can do that. Nor does it mean they should abandon the Constitution. Its stability is too important to our joint well being.
No, I am suggesting something different. It seems that important constituencies demand national leaders who are “idealistic.” So I say, conservatives should give it to them. A shell-shocked GOP has been casting around for a winning strategy and this may be it. Nevertheless, Republicans must be wary of a “romantic idealism.” If they, like the Democrats, make promises they cannot redeem, they will be found out. The young and naïve often live with their heads in the clouds, yet they too eventually turn against leaders who do not deliver.
In my book “The Limits of Idealism,” I argued that the young are idealistic because they are both moral and inexperienced. They fall for the simplified ideas of moral extremists because they have not yet learned the limitations of what is possible. They, for instance, believe it when told anyone can become president.
Sober heads that wish to sustain our nation must consequently avoid this trap. Nonetheless, they should not avoid moralism. The trick is to be morally stirring without being foolishly saccharin or demagogically misleading. Moral goals can be promoted in ways that actually work.
As I have previously written, I believe there are five moral objectives to which Americans of all stripes can subscribe. These are honesty, responsibility, fairness, family and liberty. If they are presented vigorously and realistically, they can serve as a corrective to the moral quagmire we have entered.
Consider the example of Jimmy Carter. Although he began his political career in obscurity, he captured the nation’s imagination by promising that he would never lie to the public. Many people had qualms about his religious fervor, but they were eager to move past the Watergate scandal.
I submit that many Americans will soon be ready to move past the Obama quagmire. Four years of economic stagnation were not enough to disabuse them of their hero’s virtues, but maybe eight will be. The same applies to ObamaCare. Maybe its implementation will convince them it was a mistake.
In the meantime, our president continues his cavalcade of distortion and deception. He tells us the world will end when sequestration kicks in, and then he acknowledges that perhaps it won’t. He asserts that these cuts were not his idea, but then this spokesman grudgingly admits that maybe they were. And so it goes.
It is this sort of flim-flammery Republicans must eschew. They must tell the American people over and over again that they stand for honesty; then they must be honest. They need to appeal to better instincts of the young and of women so that they too appreciate this objective.
People want a better world, but a better world can only be a more moral one. So let those who wish to be elected shout this from the rooftops!
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University and executive director of MoralityNow!