Lessons to Learn

I write this in the spirit of Neil’s excellent diary here, This is not a time to throw out any section of the party, including moderates. It’s a time to consider why a conservative-leaning country decided to oust conservatives, and how we can change that in 2010.

Blaming the economy, Bush, and/or McCain are easy answers. There’s nothing we can do about them now, so they require no effort on our part. No effort is not how we’re going to win in 2010. Let’s try to look deeper…I suggest the following as lessons to be learned. Add your own.

  1. Government-by-crisis is not acceptable.

It’s an old proverb that the master’s steps make the field fruitful. If the owner isn’t monitoring the situation, it shouldn’t be surprising that things don’t go as well as he might hope. While we did well responding to some crises, like 9-11, others went poorly. And some, like the housing bubble, could have been dealt with earlier when the problem was less severe.

We want small government, true. Now’s not the time for denying our fundamental principles. But small government doesn’t necessarily mean reactive government. Where government can act early, it can often do so with less total impact. Long ago, companies learned the merit of proactive risk management on big projects. What can be fixed for $10K now can cost $10M later. Time to bring more of that system engineering approach to our method of government.

  1. People want to follow a leader of a cause.

We’ve rightfully mocked ChangeHopeChange, but it managed to elect arguably the least qualified President-elect ever. That’s not the effect of good charisma, far less sterling character. That’s because a cause was presented, no matter how feeble. People want to be a part of that.

We’re not good in packaging our issues in that form. Senator No is a great Senator and Republican, but “No” isn’t the leadership people seek. We need to express our philosophy as a higher cause. And that shouldn’t be hard, considering we conservatives are the ones using centuries-old values.

I suggest we wrap ourselves in the mantle of justice. Leave it to Democrats to give benefits on the basis of breathing, and brickbats on the basis of success. We should be looking to reward good behavior, and punish the bad. Consider how that would revolutionize education alone. Yet it’s applicable to fiscal, social, and defense issues – the whole spectrum.

It’s also a popular principle. The call for justice is what truly fueled welfare reform in the Clinton era. So greatly cutting a program that’s existed for decades is no small matter. We could do with more such success.

  1. States are different; don’t treat them all the same.

One of the RNC’s biggest blunders was sending the same message everwhere. I really cringed at ads in Indiana attacking Obama’s wealth redistribution plans. I’m sure they played well in New Hampshire, but Indiana is not a fiscally conservative state. Obama’s infanticide vote would have made a much better ad. Same in Pennsylvania, where even the Democratic senator had to pretend being pro-life.

What’s going to get a Republican elected in the upper Midwest is going to be different from New England, which is different again from the South or West. You can’t have inconsistent messages, given the Internet and a hostile press. But you darn better be tailoring those messages when you’ve limited money to spend. A little more on-the-ground decision making would serve Republican campaigns well.