Where We Go From Here: Reflections on 2012 Election Results

So with the 2012 election over, where do we go from here?

America has a lot of problems facing it today.

The latest D.C. sex scandal began with our generation’s greatest military leader and has the potential to spread even further.  This is just another sign of humanity’s frailty, and underlies the continued collapse of the American family, as we live in a time of record divorce rates, births out of wedlock, and other signs of family decline.  The sensationalist coverage shows the Kardashianization of our media, with the sex scandal getting more coverage than the distantly related Benghazi terrorist attacks and the more pressing fiscal cliff.

We live in a time in which millions of innocent, unborn lives are ended, for reasons as sad as being diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

We live in a time in which we must fight our enemies in the shadows.  We no longer fight countries or nation-states; our enemies dress like civilians, use civilians as shields, and have a goal of killing innocent civilians in freedom-loving countries around the world.  Look no further for evidence of this than the recent breakout of violent conflict between Israel and Hamas.

We live in a time in which we have the most resources – militarily and economically – to do something about crises such as starvation, life-ending epidemics, and brutal dictators around the world.

We live in a time in which our government is spending trillions of dollars more than it has, on programs that often only provide a Band-Aid to long-term societal and cultural problems. Wages are stagnant. More children and families find themselves below the poverty line each day.

We live in a time where an Iran with nuclear capabilities seems more and more like a reality.

We live in a time where our nation’s education system and immigration system are tragically broken.

In this time of so much crisis, President Obama was re-elected. That means, for a little less than half the country, the candidate, party, and/or principles we felt best suited to tackle these problems was defeated.

In this environment, it would be easy for conservatives and Republicans to hang our heads in defeat.  There are absurd petitions for secession floating around.  Some fringe groups proclaim it is yet another sign that the end of the world is here. Some conservatives claim that it’s time to realize that conservatism has been rejected and it’s time to become more moderate/liberal/insert-term-that-means-sell-out-here.

America has problems that need to be solved.  This post is for all Americans that want to have a part in solving them.  I’ll most often talk to groups of which I consider myself a member (conservative, Christian, Republican), but let there be no doubt.  These problems belong to all of us, and all of our children.  So it’s time we start working together.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the following exchange between Frodo and Gandalf…

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 

Yes, we all wish America didn’t have so many problems. And yes, those of us who are conservatives or Republicans wish President Obama had not been reelected last Tuesday. But the election and these problems, both domestic and international, are further proof of Tolkien’s wisdom.

Things happen every moment of every day that we wish had happened differently.  All too often, we’re humbled by reminders that we don’t have anywhere near as much control as we wish we had and often deceive ourselves into thinking we have.  But we are also given opportunities each moment of every day.  What we do with those opportunities, with the time that is given us, is what we must focus on.  And, for the conservative movement and the Republican Party, it is time to get to work.

So where do we go from here? Well, in the time it took me to process the election results, read all the commentary, and listen to the first week of GOP soul-searching (as it has been termed), it seems the GOP has already begun to move in the right direction.  Many of the GOP’s deep bench of young conservatives have begun efforts to make the party and its principles their own.

There has been a lot of discussion among conservatives and liberals alike about what needs to change in the GOP to make it successful in the future. Many (especially liberals) have said that the GOP must simply get more liberal on certain issues in order to get young people, single women, and minority votes.  This is as sad and cynical as Romney’s “gift” comments in terms of how to view the electorate and politics.  Playing the “identity politics” game isn’t how to make America better.

I’ve talked to younger and older conservative Republicans who care deeply about this country and its people.  They care deeply about our neighbors caught in cycles of poverty who know the difficulty of seizing equality of opportunity.  They care deeply about the millions who are oppressed, sick, and starving around the world.  They care deeply about the more than $16 trillion of national debt, which equates to more than $50,000 per American citizen.  They care deeply about true freedom of religion, speech, and expression.  They care deeply about the strength of the American family, and the need for leaders who walk the walk and don’t just talk the talk.  They care deeply about true shared sacrifice that will help get our fiscal situation in order, economy growing, and make our safety net sustainable.

Luckily for us, there are pundits out there and politicians out there who are ready to make our party better.  And these leaders realize that the best way to make the GOP stronger is to make America stronger.  If the GOP starts to discuss and put forth pragmatic policy solutions  grounded in conservative principles to help solve our country’s problems, then America will be better.  If the statesmen in our party take the reins of leadership and work towards compromise to stop punting our problems to the next generation, then America will be better.  And then, more Americans will realize that conservatives and Republicans have the best ideas of how to make America better off tomorrow than it is today.

One of the most shocking things I read after the election was Peggy Noonan’s article about where the GOP should go from here.  She relayed a story about the Romney-Ryan campaign from a Washington Post piece that said, “As part of his role, [Paul] Ryan had wanted to talk about poverty, traveling to inner cities and giving speeches that laid out the Republican vision for individual empowerment. But Romney advisers refused his request to do so, until mid-October, when he gave a speech on civil society in Cleveland. As one adviser put it, ‘The issues that we really test well on and win on are not the war on poverty.'”  Noonan concluded, “That is the authentic sound of the Republican political operative class at work: in charge, supremely confident, essentially clueless. It matters when you show people you care. It matters when you’re there. It matters when you ask.”  Yes, we can talk all day about if the Republicans had moved to the middle on immigration or any other number of issues to weaken Obama’s hold on certain voting blocs.  But we lost this election because those who want to have leaders who speaks compassionately, knowingly, and intelligently about the problems facing our most economically strained citizens just did not hear enough about how conservative principles and policies solve those problems.  That is our fault.  I’ve been wanting the GOP and conservatives to do a better job at this for a long time.  It does my heart good to know that Paul Ryan wanted to do that.  He eventually did in an excellent speech at Cleveland State.  But it was too little, too late in the campaign.  I’m hoping this speech will become a foundation for our party moving forward.

In addition to what Paul Ryan discusses in this speech (transcript can be found here), we need to also start thinking seriously across party aisles and in local communities about what is most likely to help those in need.  As Congressman Ryan says, that will mean there is a proper role for all levels of government and a proper role for faith-based organizations, non-profits, and neighborhoods.  As I’ve said in previous posts though, the discussion needs to be about what will actually break the cycles of poverty and not simply what will make us feel best about ourselves while still living with very little personal sacrifice of ourselves and comfort. Conservatives are best positioned to start this discussion the country needs very badly.  It will help solve some of our biggest problems.  It speaks to the fundamental, principled disagreements between philosophies and parties. Most importantly, it will help make America better.

Charles Krauthammer, in his post-election column, further laid out some wisdom for the party going forward:  “The country doesn’t need two liberal parties. Yes, Republicans need to weed out candidates who talk like morons about rape. But this doesn’t mean the country needs two pro-choice parties either. In fact, more women are pro-life than are pro-choice. The problem here for Republicans is not policy but delicacy — speaking about culturally sensitive and philosophically complex issues with reflection and prudence. […]  Republicans: No whimpering. No whining. No reinvention when none is needed. Do conservatism but do it better. There’s a whole generation of leaders ready to do just that.”  And, this week, that whole generation of leaders has begun to step up.

Echoing Krauthammer, Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (health care expert, bipartisan education reform advocate, and Rhodes Scholar) has spoken out against the things that have weakened the Republican brand and conservative ideology over the past several years. “That has got to be one of the most fundamental takeaways from this election: If we’re going to continue to be a competitive party and win elections on the national stage and continue to fight for our conservative principles, we need two messages to get out loudly and clearly: One, we are fighting for 100 percent of the votes, and secondly, our policies benefit every American who wants to pursue the American dream. Period. No exceptions.”

Jindal joins Condoleezza Rice’s thoughts for the GOP as it picks itself up off the canvass and moves forward.  In her post-election interview with CBS, Secretary Rice wisely pointed out that the GOP should not play identity politics, but instead make the tent bigger for the Republican Party by sending less mixed messages and better articulating how the party stands for a lot of things broadly popular with the American people, from fiscal responsibility to a strong national defense.  Jindal similarly rejected identity politics, saying that the GOP must reject identity politics and pandering to get votes, and instead  “treat folks as individuals, as Americans, not as members of special interest groups.”  Jindal has also repeatedly called for the GOP to stop looking backwards having the good ol’ days mentality, and instead be forward looking and optimistic at how conservative principles can make America stronger.  Additional lessons he thinks the GOP needs to learn are to go after every vote to try to unify Americans; to be the party of ideas, details, and intelligent solutions instead of reducing everything to 30 seconds ads, mindless slogans, and taglines that all start to sound the same; embrace populist themes to show all Americans how to thrive, help the middle class, and help more people join the middle class; and create an equal-opportunity society where government doesn’t choose the winners and losers.

Senator Marco Rubio astutely said, “[O]ur mission should not be to deny government benefits to people who need them,” but the party should work to ensure “less people need government benefits.”

So what happens next? How do we start making America better today?

Those leaders not currently in office like Jeb Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and (soon-to-be) Mitch Daniels need to keep doing what they’re doing – working with government at all levels to help solve our country’s biggest problems.  The work that Jeb Bush has been doing towards finding common ground on education reform and immigration reform is something that should be embraced by the GOP and all Americans.  He’s speaking and working intelligently and pragmatically towards making America better. If one of them chooses to run for President, we’ll all be better off because of their experiences and leadership.

Those leaders currently holding office at state levels like Gov. Jindal, Gov. Christie, Gov. Martinez and others should continue to lead their states, what James Madison referred to as the laboratories of democracy.  By doing so, they can begin showing how conservatives are right in saying more local levels of government are best suited to meeting the needs of the people.  Also, they should continue to be a part of the national discourse, making our party better by proposing ideas and being a part of the debate to make America better.

As for those leaders in D.C. such as Speaker Boehner, Congressman Ryan, and Senators Rubio and Ted Cruz, Congressman Ryan said it best. “[D]ivided government didn’t work in the last two years. We’re going to have to find a way to make it work in the next two years, because these fiscal issues are getting worse, not better, because of time. I do want to be a part of the solution. [We] want to make sure that we fix this in a way that doesn’t hurt the economy. We’ve put out ideas. The House Republicans have put out specific solutions. The president and the Senate have yet to do that. In order to get things done, in order to reach common ground, both sides need to put out, not just rhetoric, but specific ideas on the table. Then you negotiate. We’re hopeful that the president will begin to show some leadership on this and some other issues so that we can begin to get common ground.” When asked about 2016, Ryan replied, “Oh, 2016, let’s not talk about that stuff. That’s four years away. I think we’re all tired of presidential politics at this time.”

It’s time for Republicans in Washington to work with the President to solve our country’s biggest problems.  By leading and working with a President who no longer has to run for re-election, hopefully we can avert the fiscal cliff and find long-term solutions to make our entitlement programs sustainable, getting our fiscal house in order and growing the economy by putting in place policies that encourage businesses to invest more and grow.

So what about us? What about those of us who care deeply about America’s problems and our neighbors in need? What about those of us who are bogged down by the busy-ness of life with work, family, church, and so much more? What can we do to help make America stronger and better position our ideas and values to impact our country and world?

We have to remember why we’re conservatives.  We have to remember that we are conservative because we believe the answer to society’s problems don’t lie in Washington, D.C..  While we’re called to pray for President Obama and our political leaders, we also must begin to do the hard work of transforming culture, loving well, and serving those around us each day.  We must take the lead on showing how the best ways to serve those in need do not come from government.  This work will be hard and it will require sacrifice. But it’s what we’re called to do.  It’s the basis of our conservative values.  As my boss David French wrote days after the election, “In essence, we must become a missionary force in our own culture.  We can’t outsource cultural transformation to even the most charismatic politician. Our liberal friends don’t read our websites, watch our television, or listen to our radio, but perhaps they’ll listen to the neighbor who brought them a hot meal when their mother was sick, or to the co-worker who stayed late to help them meet an urgent deadline.”

America has a lot of problems.  As does the world.  There are many problems to solve.  But to start, we must simply love and serve the people with those problems.  Yes, it will require sacrifice.  And yes, none of it is easy.  But if we’re truly concerned about the problems, it’s time. That’s where we have to go from here.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37


Posted on by Joseph Williams in Faith, Featured, Politics

Add a Comment