Thursday, November 04, 2004

A challenge to conservatives

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:06 AM |  

There has been and will continue to be much post-election analysis calling attention to the Bush campaign’s highly effective strategy of mobilizing religious conservatives -- those who are “normally more conscientious about going to church than about voting.” Most of those doing the analyzing will focus on the GOP mobilization strategy and its execution and lose sight of the fact that religious conservatives actually exist. Karl Rove did not create them.

That might seem like a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but the potential effectiveness of mobilizing a group that exists versus creating new voters was lost on the Democrats. The MTV Rock the Vote campaign ostensibly went after the “youth” vote, but in retrospect what it really did was try to create a monolithic youth vote that doesn’t exist. The reason -- Democrats are hung up on cosmetic considerations and are basically ignorant of unifying principles.

Religious conservatives are a voting bloc because they hold a common set of values that crosses age barriers, economic barriers and even the taboo of racial barriers. Many black church goers find more identification with conservative religious values than with traditional political promises.

On the other hand, the concept of a “youth” vote is purely cosmetic. It’s based on a demographic, not a principle. Without principle, one’s appeal is reduced to pandering, which is exactly what the Democrat youth effort was. They trotted out the celebrities, downplayed the “nuance,” and tried to sell Kerry/Edwards like beer -- less filling tastes great.

Before a political party can “get out the vote,” there has to be a vote to get out. What this election proved, in addition to the fact that Republicans were good at getting out the vote, is that principled conservatism is real. It wasn’t proved, but it gives one pause for thought, whether or not a principled liberal base really exists.

That being the case, what does that mean when the call goes out that President Bush must “reach out” across the aisle to unite the nation? That the nation is divided is a fact. That the president, if for no other reason than political expediency, must address that divide is fact. But is the best way to do that to reach across the political aisle in the comfy confines of the halls of Congress and seek compromise with people who represent mythical cosmetic constituencies?

The GOP has put together a fantastic political machine that can pinpoint support at the precinct level. Why can’t the same machine be retooled to pinpoint support for conservative programs and values within those cosmetic constituencies that the liberals strive to protect? Support which we know, however modestly, exists.

In Bush’s second term, we don’t need “compassionate conservatism” that is but a weak-sister liberal pandering to cosmetic demographics. We need principled conservatism that demonstrates the real value of programs like social security choice, school choice and health savings accounts to the liberal “cosmetic constituency.”

And this won’t happen by reaching out and extending the olive branch of more spending to congressional liberals representing mythological constituencies. It won't happen by debates in Congress. It will happen only if the message is taken directly to people who aren't predisposed to believe it.

It’s time for conservatives to get their hands a little dirty. Tweak the political machine that mobilized voters so that it addresses the self-interest of those who live and work in America side-by-side with the conservative base -- not hand-feed whining politicians just waiting for the next election to rip conservatives’ throats out.

Admittedly, that’s a risk. It’s a lot more disconcerting to sell conservatism in the urban core than in congressional committee rooms (or on a blog). It’s a lot tougher to sell conservatism to a person whose immediate self-interest is in feeding a family than to a politician whose self-interest is the next election or a limosine liberal whose self-interest is theoretical personal redemption for the sins of America. But if conservatives really believe that their policies are best for the country as a whole and not just a means to power -- in other words, if they really believe they are different and morally superior to liberals -- then they really have no other choice but bypass the political peace-making and press the flesh with the real people.

Elections are about mobilizing the base -- governing is about converting the opposition’s base. At no time in recent memory have conservatives had a better chance to do so.