Foresight Is Cheap...
By William Westmiller
Wisdom is knowing what it is that you can't know. Everyone with a political crystal ball knows exactly what yesterday's polls predicted, within 5 or 10 percentage points. Some people bank their careers on forecasting the future. They usually have 900 numbers for their very good friends. But foresight is more profiteering than propheteering, just as often worthless as priceless. The big price is paid with the cost of learning from past mistakes. Republicans will be spending a lot of psychic energy over the next few months trying to fathom the reasons why it all went wrong, if the crystal balls are to be believed.
In an off-year election, the political party occupying the White House should lose an average of 32 seats in Congress. Repeating all the usually hedges, my crystal ball says Republicans will win less than half of that historic average in this last national election of the nineteen hundreds. While trying to avoid personal recriminations, here's my small deposit on the price of hindsight.
Democrats had a monopoly on verbs. The action words of political rhetoric have a big impact on the emotional disposition of voters. If one party is about "preserving, improving, increasing and raising" and the other is about "killing, cutting, reducing and banning", the psychic consequences should be clear. People would rather be optimistic about the future than to wallow in pessimism over their miserable plight. Republicans need to re-cast their view of the future, and their positions on the issues, into positive and optimistic verbs. Reagan succeeded with his "Dawn in America" theme and the 1994 election cast an optimistic light on what could be done in the "Contract With America". This year, Republicans projected only distress, resignation, and indignation. They lost the verb contest.
Republicans were drunk on mother's milk. Elections are not "all about money" and they'renot "all about passion". Politician discourse is still an art that requires both resources and content. Elections can be bought, but only if both sides agree to abandon all the issues. This year, there seemed to be only one Republican issue, which clearly motivated financial contributors. But every other issue was compromised and sacrificed in stark terror over the prospect that a government shutdown would be blamed on Republicans. The national campaign committees seemed oblivious to the problem, rejoicing at the bountiful resources that would spread indignation across the land. Given enough money, voters could be persuaded that Bill Clinton really was on the ballot. National strategists were drunk on the mother's milk of politics. And, they were driving.
Credit will get you debt and blame will get you pain. It's long past time to abandon the silly proposition that blame and credit go hand-in-hand, when neither one is due. If the economy had been bad, the Democrats and their President would have been blamed for the failure. Since it's good, they can take all the credit. If America were a totalitarian regime, this might be have some merit. In the meantime, the minor machinations of government merely distort small parts of the economy. To the people being crumpled or shredded, it's important. But the macro-economics of a nation are determined by the individual merits of a million producers and consumers who make godzillions of right and wrong decisions every day of the week. At best, government can ensure just deserts for those who make those difficult decisions. At worst, it can reward failure and punish success. Most often, it does a little of both. Sorting out the good and bad is difficult. Casting politicians as demons or angels based on circumstances far beyond their control is easy and wrong. This year, Republicans couldn't play the blame game. They forfeited the contest on important issues by pretending that Monica Lewinski was all that mattered.
Leadership is about inspiration, not apologies. Democrats spent one percent of their time apologizing for a crass transgression and ninety-nine percent of their time propounding their hopes for America. Republicans seemed to be doing the exact reverse, spending one percent of their time talking on vision and ninety-nine percent apologizing for their myriad concessions on the budget and other critical legislation. Republicans seemed to be entranced by the media frenzy over lies, sex, and videotape, as though they were being handed the election on a platter heaped with moral indignation. They portrayed themselves as neither leaders nor followers, but as victims of a mechanical impeachment process and executive intransigence. Compromise and concession may be the necessary evils of legislative action, but they're no substitute for a firm hand,aggressive combat, and strong leadership on fundamental principles.
Like those millions of producers and consumers, even politicians must learn from past mistakes. Hindsight is a painful burden that must be paid for in advance. Foresight is just the benefit we reap from good hindsight. Perhaps my rearview vision is distorted and future history will turn another way. Over the next two years, we'll all be on the lookout for "that vision thing" that seemed to elude Republicans this election cycle.
©1998, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24CD) Congress
Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party
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