What’s Not Working and How to Fix It

Jedediah Bila, Red Eye, 11-21-12

By Jedediah Bila

A few nights ago, I had dinner with four family friends. They are somewhat political, but aren’t Democrats or Republicans. If I had to define them, I’d say they leaned conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues. They all voted for Ronald Reagan. They also all voted for Barack Obama. Twice.

Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama–an interesting voting pattern, no? I couldn’t help but try to make sense of it. Here’s what they had to say:

“Reagan made me feel like he understood what I was going through and wanted to fix it.”

“With Reagan, you really understood what he was about, what he stood for, and what he wanted to do.”

“I always felt that with Reagan, it wasn’t about what the other guy was doing wrong; it was about how he was going to make it right.”

“I’m not a conservative, but I understood Reagan’s conservatism. He made the case for it, and it made sense. It wasn’t angry or inflammatory. It was funny, honest, and kind of welcoming.”

I think these comments are worth paying attention to. Sure, these are only four people speaking their minds, but I have heard similar sentiments echoed by hundreds of people over the course of the last few years. And I happen to agree with many of them.

My advice?

Empathy matters. It’s important that people believe that politicians care about them. If they don’t think you care, they probably aren’t going to vote for you.

Pointing out what the other guy is doing wrong won’t get you elected. People have to believe in your ideas, your policies, and your vision. If more time is spent criticizing your opponent than making a case for what you stand for, you lose.

People who don’t align themselves with a political party or don’t feel comfortable defining themselves as “liberal” or “conservative” often can’t stomach preach-to-the-choir perpetual outrage. They crave solutions, and they’ll vote for the person–regardless of his or her political party–who they think is putting forth the clearest agenda.

For months during the 2012 presidential election season, I was concerned that Mitt Romney couldn’t win. I argued with colleagues that I thought he might be in trouble. I, who agreed with him on policy most of the time, couldn’t see his empathy, his outreach, or a clear articulation of his vision. And if I couldn’t see it, I wasn’t convinced that the rest of America could.

With about two weeks to go in that election, I went against my instinct, something I’ve never done in my life. I listened to the emails and phone calls I was getting. I decided that lots of big shots knew better than me.

As it turns out, they didn’t.

I wasn’t wrong for months about Romney, and I won’t be wrong when I tell you that if conservatism doesn’t do a better job of presenting itself to people, the movement will be in serious trouble. If outreach remains unimportant (outreach, not pandering), if some don’t break free from preach-to-the-choir delivery styles and traffic-hungry, knee-jerk outrage, if things like empathy and charisma aren’t recognized as important in our messengers, if politicians don’t prioritize articulating their visions rather than complaining about the other guy’s…then conservatives lose. Again and again and again.

Barack Obama set out to win and he did. Yes, he spewed class warfare. But he also sold class warfare. He made it popular because of how he presented it. He didn’t win by running against McCain’s policies or Romney’s; he won by promoting his own in a way that won public opinion on key issues. I don’t agree with most of Obama’s policies, but his campaign team did a fantastic job. And that shouldn’t be ignored; it should be learned from.

So I won’t be going against my instinct again, that’s for sure.

I also won’t be sugarcoating what I feel are weaknesses in strategy on the right.

And I certainly won’t be ignoring the voices of those who once adored Reagan and now aren’t drawn to conservatism. Because growing a movement begins with listening to what they have to say.

Follow Jedediah on Twitter @JedediahBila


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Jacquie Doty
9 years ago

Strangely, we now live in a society where evil wins most of the time. Very different from Ronald Reagan’s era.
I am one of those people who sees Barack Obama and his ilk as evil in the extreme, not unlike Mao, Lenin and Stalin. I feel this country is destined to pay for the evil it has spawned, and all of us, both good and evil, will pay dearly for our lack of vigilance in preventing this happenstance.

9 years ago

Empathy may be a requirement for a conservative to get elected, but not a liberal. Obama dragged Romney through the sewer and it did not seem to hurt his re-election. We do have a double standard, and will as long as the media is tilted strongly to the left. What’s the answer? I’m not sure there is one. Maybe things have to get so bad for those on the dole that they stop voting for the sugar daddies that let them down. By the way, Reagan would not stand a chance today, in my opinion. As much as I would love to see him back in the oval office…

9 years ago

Part of the Republican problem (and why Romney received the candidacy) is that many of the early primaries (the caucuses to be exact) permit not just Republicans but anyone to votein their primaries.

Maryland Repblicans opened their primary one year to independents and the Democratic party had people switching parties and voting against the conservative.

Caususes need to stop having these free for alls !
By time Maryland and other later primaries are held the northern Democrats and Independents have selected the republican candidate.

Wayne Bodiford
9 years ago

I agree that Romney was a bad candidate and ran a poor campaign but we will never win the presidency as long as voting minorities outnumber us and the dems keep giving them stuff,

9 years ago
Reply to  Wayne Bodiford

Many conservatives did not vote because they did not like the way he dirtied the other candidates on his quest for the White House.

Ed Straub
9 years ago

There is another way, it’s called the libertarian party. Check it out. They have the same values as I do. Small government, security of out nation, and support of the Constitution. Look at it, it’s where I put my vote.

9 years ago
Reply to  Ed Straub

You are correct….In Maryland the primary is so late now that the candidate is already selected before we go to the polls so I am seriously giving it some thought………….Or the “Constitution Party”

9 years ago

Great column. Jedediah. I would guess I’m about 40 years your senior, but your instincts and mine are exactly the same. Romney was not my choice for this latest nomination and my instincts told me that after he received the nomination he would run a lackluster campaign, which is exactly what he did. What boggles my mind is, why didn’t he attack BO with the same vigor he attacked fellow Republicans? I’m convinced he really didn’t want to win the election, but neither did he want a true conservative to win either. In the sport of boxing, one who throws a fight is subject to criminal prosecution. Romney, in my opinion, definately threw this fight.

The Republican Party has been taken over by the RINOs. If we conservatives ever expect to win another major election, we need to weed those RINOs out of the party. Then we need to get our act together and run elections on true conservative principles and not back down in the least. We need to formulate a positive message explaining exactly what conservatism is all about, and STICK TO IT in lockstep. .No more having Republicans disagreeing with other Repubicans on major issues like those two RINOS McCaine and Graham did to Rand Paul this past week.If we have a positive message, and stick to it, there will be no need to be on the defensive.

Pete Speer
9 years ago

BHO won for certain reasons.

1. The long ugly Republican primary wounded every candidate and and gave the Democrats bleeding holes in which to poke.

2. The Republicans refused to concentrate on economic and national security issues; the Tea Party contingent as well. The Democrats brought in (according to their words) 90 computer engineers who were able to determine the social issue position as expressed in the Social Blogs (Facebook and the like) of people who were conservatives on economics and national security. There attacks on Romney in the open and in social media was designed to wean social liberals from their economic conservatism and create the image of Romneyy as a threat to their dearest positions.

3. Romney took no leadership specific positions on economic issues which would have offset this division; Paul Ryan was unable to summon the credibility as he was attacked as well The issue was Control of Spending and the continuing deficits which was going to burden our younger voters and their children and grandchildren — they would be given huge liabilities to pay.

4. Social issues should have been a legitimate concern to be taken to the state and local governments to set community standards, which could meet the requirements of the citizens at that level. The federal government should not dictate one siode or another.

5. The Democrats were operating in the 21st Century; the Republicans were using bronze tools. For instance the national telephone calling program which was bought by the states could not provide data to Party organizations at the Township and Precinct level. Data which would have benefited Precinct walkers was not available. The calling programs were too general in any event.

6. The net result was that the impetus to voters going to the polls was not there for the Republicans, but for the fear-mongered Democrats and independents was present.

9 years ago
Reply to  Pete Speer

People loved Ron Paul but did his isolationist views did him in.
The world is a much smaller place and he refused to compromise and realize that there is a middle ground.
It does not have to be all or nothing!

9 years ago

Jedediah commented that her friends: they leaned conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues.

Well, that is a Libertarian! You should check out the party.
You may not agree with EVERYTHING Libertarian, but do you agree with everything of the other parties?


9 years ago

Obama won by lying about his Marxist agenda, by distorting the facts regarding the economy, and by promising governmental support for gay marriage, illegal aliens and abortion and, with the help of the media, consistently and relentlessly demonizing his opponents. The sad fact is that the broad acceptance of sin garners votes more than doing the right thing. That is the perverted culture in which we live. Obama, like the people who voted for him, are hostile to Judeo-Christian values, which gives them a sense of superiority to those of us who are “unevolved” and “clueless” when it comes to the way people prosper in our current environment. I’m not advocating that conservatives emulate that kind of depravity, but that is what conservatives, especially Tea Party conservatives, are up against. The nation, aside from deep contrition in prayer and constant, impassioned intercession, needs for God to raise up a dynamic leader, a real orator on the level of Martin Luther King, who can communicate the truth in such a powerful way that the wicked cower and head for the tall grass. Otherwise we are lost. Our only hope can be found in the One with whom this nation once formed a covenant, and one that I believe still stands as long as we will humble ourselves and pray, pray, pray, and if we embrace holy living and obedient service and devotionto the life of God.

Joe C
9 years ago
Reply to  Otaycec

You are 100% correct and God has already raised him up—Ben Carson! Google him and read his book, America the Beautiful—I bet you’ll then agree with me 100% that he is our guy!

9 years ago

I agree with a couple of the other comments, any really informed voter, who voted for Reagan in the past, would not have voted for Obama. One did not have to do a lot of digging, to find that His rhetoric did not match his past history, and what little voting history, He did have. This Country, under the Left, is very much going the way of Communism, and they not only have a compliant MSM, they have a controlled MSM(maybe not direct control but ideological control, non the less), just like the old Soviet TASS News Agency.

The Country is on a dangerous path, where the Constitution, is no longer the law of the land, it is not even taught in most schools, and We have states passing laws in direct conflict with Federal laws, out right defiance. The young people vote, not out of knowledge, but out of indoctrination, and most of them cannot even give an intelligent reason for their votes. We have a Public School system graduating kids, who cannot read or do basic math. The Countries financial course is disastrous, with no real will to fix it. The country is rapidly approaching the point where there are more people in the wheel barrow, than there are to push it, and the Left wants more taxes. Total collapse may be the only thing that brings reality to the whole mess.

Joe P. Hutchinson
9 years ago

She [article writer] made some points of note. It’s hard to beat Reagan’s style, an acting career helped, [as well as community organizing and learning preaching style from Rev. Jeremiah Wright in BHO’s case] though I do believe Reagan was sincere and not acting. BHO to me was full of himself and BS! To believe that voters believed he ‘cared about them’ is beyond belief! But he did it and they fell for him TWICE though in much smaller popular votes the second time. Low information voters are much easier to sway. History has many accounts of people voting on emotion rather substance — Hitler; Castro and Hugo Chaves as examples. The following may have been true of Reagan but far from it from BHO:

It wasn’t angry or inflammatory.

This quote from the article is of note for the last weekend prior to election BHO shouted at every rally to “Vote for REVENGE!”

And this statement “Pointing out what the other guy is doing wrong won’t get you elected.” Ha it contradicts the truth — that’s all BHO and his campaign head Axlerod did was bash Romney even before he was chosen as GOP candidate!!!

Glenn Shannon
9 years ago

When you count Democratic votes they are hard to beat anymore. Count blacks, Hispanic, welfare group and if that isn’t enough voter fraud. Now how do you beat that combination? The country has been on a down hill slide since Regan and will continue to do so because there isn’t enough conservative voting people left to change this direction.

9 years ago

Obama won because of the Liberal Media, the Low Information Voter, and the Santa Clause image…. Period.
We’ve lost our country, the young are indoctrinated, college students are indoctrinated, and the public is indoctrinated through the liberal media. About 50% of Americans are on some sort of government assistance.

9 years ago

“. . . knew better than me.” Really?

9 years ago

Jedediah, you and your dining friends are all wrong. The U.S. Constitution and the government it created was not about making us feel good or that it was caring. Social justice is not one of the delegated and limited authority that the Founding Fathers agreed upon as a function of the federal government. The leaders, president, senators and representatives are not elected to make us feel good, but to regulate trade, build post offices and roads, defend our country from invaders, etc, etc, etc. NOT one word about “caring for the citizens of the states.”

9 years ago

Aren’t you saying that–to use a football analogy–winners are those who stay on offense; losers are those who stay on defense?

joseph kay
9 years ago

Thank you ! God Bless you & Family .

9 years ago

“He sold class warfare.” What a sad, profound statement. Just like Hitler, and Mao, and Chavez.

Duke of Earle
9 years ago

Sorry Jedediah, but I’ve become so cynical about politicians I have a VERY hard time believing that ANY of them “understand” me or “care about” the people any more. Almost every one of them postures and proclaims whatever philosophy they think will get them votes, get them reelected, or get them more political power (often translated into personal wealth). If they can successfully convince us voters that they empathize with us, we’ll tend to vote for them. I now look for more fake empathy!
Term limits — short and with no lasting benefits (pension, etc.) will force a change in the motivation to become elected. If done right. What are the odds?

Ed Scott
9 years ago

Funny jedediah did not list the reasons her 4 friends voted for obama. She almost sounds like a liberal trying to come out of the closet.

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