Streetcar Line

Flurries of Worries

Midsummer blues amid so many feckless Republicans.

By 7.24.08

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The world is too much with us, late and soon. Or something like that. There are weeks when too many thoughts crowd into one's head, and it's just impossible to pick one topic and organize it. The only solution is to throw the thoughts onto cyber-paper, one by one, and forget about organization, much less eloquence. To wit:

Worries about the McCain campaign are becoming more prevalent. There just seems no overarching strategy, no rhyme or reason, but merely tactical maneuvers. To its credit, the campaign seems pretty good at tactics -- better, indeed, than the Bush campaigns of 2000 and 2004. But the Bush campaigns excelled at some of the long-term planning and narrative-setting skills that the McCainiacs seem rather deficient in. Particularly worrisome is that the McCainiacs seem not to appreciate, or show any desire to make use of or replicate, the incredibly effective organizational structure that Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, and Ken Mehlman built to turn out the vote so successfully in 2004.

Meanwhile, I keep hearing from people who want to help, people with tremendous political credentials who now have moved into business realms or other endeavors, who feel they are getting the cold shoulder from the campaign when they ought to be being asked for assistance and made to feel a certain "ownership" of the shared endeavor of electing John McCain to the White House. This is not a campaign that networks well. Instead, it seems like the Bush White House circa 2004 and 2005, too insular and arrogant for its own good.

Worries about the vice presidential choice. The rumor mill indicates a focus by McCain on "do no harm" types of Veep choices rather than on choices who will increase enthusiasm (particularly conservative enthusiasm for the ticket, which is seriously lacking, according to the brilliant Ron Faucheux's Clarus Research Group and others). Tim Pawlenty is a total yawner who exacerbates McCain's problems among economic conservatives. Rob Portman, solid as he is, excites nobody. Mitt Romney has many dedicated opponents on the right. And so on.

Worries about Barack Obama's organizational enthusiasm. Campaigns are won with workers. Obama has them in overflowing numbers. Bright young volunteers for Obama are everywhere. Their enthusiasm is infectious. So much so that they may well, in terms of political effectiveness, make up for Obama's extreme lack of qualifications or actual accomplishments, for his messianic arrogance, for his ignorance about world affairs, and for his breathtakingly liberal voting record and outlook.

Worries about the inability of the right to frame its issues. Part of the problem is that the congressional GOP (which isn't necessarily conservative but which conservatives must rely on to represent us) just doesn't seem to know how to communicate anymore as a body. Case in point: If Congress has an astonishingly low 9 percent approval rating, how difficult can it be to teach every member and staffer of the GOP to never refer to the national legislature without calling it "The Democratic Congress"? It is not "Washington." It is not "Congress." It is "the Democratic Congress." That's the only way to make the public understand who is in charge and who is therefore to blame. There seems to be pathetically little effort to sing off the same song sheet, or to use effective language to frame the debate. And why isn't anybody noting that the economy didn't start stumbling until the Democrats took control of Congress?

Meanwhile, the same old, stupid, ineffective directive reportedly has gone out to GOP congressmen to try to localize their races as much as possible. That approach failed in 2006, and it will fail every time. As Ronald Reagan showed in 1980 and 1984 and as Newt Gingrich showed in 1994, conservatives win when they nationalize races, because to nationalize races is to make the campaigns battles over big ideals on which the American public leans right. To localize races is to play a game of who can deliver the most goodies, and liberals will win that game every time.

Worries about the culture. If something as vapid as "change we can believe in" is all that is necessary to make twenty-somethings swoon and Chris Matthews feel warmth up his leg, then we're in trouble. If people's attention spans are no greater than the ability to send or read a text message, then we're in trouble. If people think we're in horrible economic times when by historical standards we are in a tiny rough patch amidst the lap of luxury, then we're in trouble. And that's not even mentioning the generalized trashiness that now more than ever is passing for a common culture....

Worries about our toughness. Could the generations under age 50 ever manage to deal with a war as all-encompassing as World War II, or with a Great Depression? For that matter, could those under 50 even deal with an economy as horrendous as Jimmy Carter's 1979-1980 disaster? Do we even really understand what hardship is? There is good reason to doubt.

Solution: We need a leader who isn't afraid to challenge us to blood, toil, tears and sweat, with the charisma to make us buy into it. We need somebody who won't promise to give us change we can believe in, but who will make us believe that we need to change -- and to do the hard, hard, hard work of discerning what is worth saving versus what is worth changing, and then to put our shoulders to the wheel (cliche alert!) to make it happen rather than relying on an Obamassiah with vacuous and vapid teleprompter-aided rhetoric to lull us into a thinking that change will be handed down to us from Olympus. It might be well worth remembering that the gods of Mount Olympus were vain and untrustworthy, and that they played with the lives of ordinary mortals for the gods' own amusement.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.