Campaigning on Principle (Finally!)

Shortly after Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan A friend sent me an email that opened with “You wanted an in-your-face guy, here he is.  You wanted an in-your-face debate, here it is.”  

The following started out to be a private note back to him.  But I got carried away and turned it into a Liberty Works post on the political earthquake that is the Ryan nomination.

Most politicians try to win not by persuading voters with ideas but by sensing how voters already feel before any ideas are presented and then trying to align their positions with those feelings.  This cynical strategy is obvious near the beginning of Barack Obama’s stock campaign pitch:

We believe in that fundamental American idea that no matter who you are, you can make it if you try.  All we ask for is that our hard work pays off, that our responsibility is rewarded, that if we’re willing to put in the effort we can have a job that supports a family.  And be able to have a home of our own, to take a little vacation once in a while, send our kids to college and retire with dignity and respect.

What he calls “a fundamental American idea” isn’t really an idea at all.  There is no governing principle here.   Obama’ hazy language simply describes – in strictly emotional terms – an outcome most people would find soothing and comforting, especially after four years of grinding unemployment and economic anxiety.  He makes no effort to propose genuine ideas or connect the dots between his ideas and the outcome.  In fact, his policies have made the outcome he describes harder to achieve.

Ronald Reagan was not like most politicians.  He made compelling arguments, starting with the First Principles of liberty and free enterprise and persuaded voters to see things his way.  After he was elected he applied those First Principles to his policy decisions and his negotiations with a Democratic Congress and America prospered.  The voters rewarded him with reelection by the largest Electoral College landslide in history. 

It’s hard to believe in today’s evenly divided nation where each side is hoping to prevail by focusing it’s entire campaign on only eight competitive states, but Ronald Reagan won 49 states!

For Paul Ryan the Reagan model comes naturally.  Mitt Romney certainly can be more like Reagan and it appears that he is about to try.

After Obama’s manifest failures our side, the side of liberty and free enterprise should be able to say “I told you so.”  We should be able to remind voters of our First Principles and our arguments from the last campaign to show how America would have been better off today if we had won. 

But we can’t say “I told you so” because for two decades our side was incompetently represented by President Bush 41, then Bob Dole, then President Bush 43 and finally John McCain’s inept, muddled campaign of 2008.  These leaders’ commitment to the first principles of liberty and free enterprise was inconsistent and often abandoned. 

Not since 1984 has a Presidential candidate spoken in terms of First Principles.  Thus a whole generation of voters has been indoctrinated in the jaundiced, leftist pseudo-principle that elections are about who will be favored by the next round of government handouts, subsidies and credits, and who will get stuck with the tab.

Mitt Romney’s initial campaign assumption, that he could more or less stand aside and let a tsunami of negative votes surge over President Obama has failed.  He and Paul Ryan now have no other option but to start at square one, with a campaign of education in First Principles.   Ryan gave us lesson one at their event on Saturday by citing a First Principle famously articulated the Declaration of Independence:

Our rights come from God and nature, not from the government.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who was covering the the Romney-Ryan event was predictably out of touch.  She confirmed her inability to comprehend Ryan’s reference to a First Principle when she reacted by telling her audience that he was “not a pick for women.”

This campaign will be a titanic struggle.  The President and his supporters in the progressive movement are desperate.  They are prepared to run a no-limits, scorched earth campaign of personal attacks, portraying the Romney/Ryan ticket as morally repugnant.  Let us hope Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are up to the challenge.

1 Comment so far

  1. Drew on August 20th, 2012

    And don’t even believe Ryan hasn’t been a game changer, he has.