Last week I was reminded as to why some political ideologies gather more traction than others, when they seemingly have less support amongst the population. This has puzzled me for many years.
Allow me to admit that I am a fiscal conservative, more liberal when it comes to providing a safety net for the disadvantaged, an advocate for small but effective government, pro-government regulation on matters where the public well-being is at stake (such as the FAA, infrastructure and parks) and pro-entrepreneur having been one since I was 18. I have voted for numerous Republicans but probably more Democrats in my lifetime and backed Ross Perot out of frustration back in 1992.
At present, I don’t feel much loyalty to either of the two main political parties here in the U.S. I was excited when Obama replaced Bush in 2008 but have since witnessed the greatest dysfunction in both parties, to the point of feeling significant embarrassment for my government.
This leaves me as somewhat of an objective observer of Washington without any strong loyalty. In this context I offer the following opinion.
It is safe to say that I have more Liberal friends than Conservative, quite largely due to living in San Francisco, which like many coastal cities is a largely-Liberal community.
One of the frustrations I hear from my Liberal friends is their inability to strategize and implement changes like Conservatives do. It appears that a few Conservatives can focus on issues they feel strongly about and make lots of progress politically in a short time, as has the recent Tea Party movement in the U.S. which was unheard of a couple of years ago.
My Liberal friends care passionately about a whole range of social ills and they want to see them all fixed. They are puzzled by their Democratic leaders’ inability to compete with Republicans who, in their opinion, have less to do with social good and more to do with ideology.
The Right seems to be able to rally massive support for a few issues and maintain consistent talking points amongst its spokespersons, even to the point of exposing themselves to ridicule by the satirists who compare them to robots or playback machines. They pick their issues, gather support for those issues amongst their leadership and orchestrate consistent narratives around those issues. They are laser focused on what they have chosen as their primary issues.
The Left, by contrast, seems to have no end of issues they care about. This leaves them with many leaders of various causes attempting to rally support for a wide-ranging myriad of issues – from climate change to rainforest protection, from human rights to poverty prevention, from campaign reform to closing tax loopholes. As a result, the Left’s agenda is scattered and diffused, sometimes confusing to those who observe the clear focus of the Right.
Is this a matter of strategy then? Or is it culture? Perhaps it is both.
From a strategy perspective, the Left and Right certainly employ very different means to bring about the change they are seeking. From an effectiveness point-of-view, the Right seems better at getting their issues on the table, presenting a more united front and bringing them to the fore of the public narrative. There is significantly more alignment amongst their politicians on these issues, as if there’s been “a meeting of the minds” about each issue. Even the same catch phrases are used by their advocates.
How long has this distinction been obvious? My earliest memory of U.S. politics was watching the Republican Convention in 1952 when Eisenhower was nominated. Reagan was the first President in my memory to focus on just a few major issues and champion them consistently, rallying his constituency around those same views and issues. “Reaganomics” still lives loudly despite the thirty years that have passed since he took office. Some might say it live louder now than it did in the 1980s when he introduced Art Laffer’s version of supply-side economics.
Not only was Reagan successful in implanting this economic philosophy into Americana, it has become embedded in the Right’s many arguments for lower taxes, smaller government and less regulation. This ideology manages to remain strong and compelling for many despite glaring evidence that tax cuts do not necessarily create jobs nor are they good for the economy at large. The Bush tax cuts, extended by the Obama Administration, and the present state of employment and the economy should be ample evidence that this cause–effect relationship is mythical. Nonetheless, the idea retains a fervent championing by the Right who have been successful in taking any increase in revenue or taxes off the table even in these times of historic budget crises.
So what does all this mean? For me, the lesson is that focus and unification on a few key issues gains public support more effectively than trying to promote many issues no matter how compelling they may be. The latter engenders “cause fatigue” where people feel somewhat overwhelmed by so many issues they should care about.
What does all this mean to you? Let me hear from any of you with thoughts to share, comments to make. Whether Liberal or Conservative, I welcome your responses. Even you cynics who may feel like reengaging, your comments are most welcome.