Reality over rhetoric is a winning message.

Posted by on September 19, 2014
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John Hart of OpportunityLives.com has an excellent commentary out this week about why Republicans should be talking about solutions. When I first read it I felt like I had heard a faint echo in the wilderness. I’ve been talking and writing about the need for this type of politics for a long time. Unfortunately, while there has been some agreement, there has been no real action by our political leaders.

Our dialogue here in Mississippi, as in much of the country, continues to be more about rhetoric than reality. I have suggested that a change in the dialogue would do more to solidify a place for the thousands of newly engaged Conservatives than anything else we can do. That led to me being personally attacked online by an anonymous assailant who, obviously, is against changing the dialogue.

I suppose if you’ve got nothing else . . .

We obviously have a long way to go. But just like the song goes, we also have a short time to get there (for those under the age of 40 that’s a Smokey and the Bandit reference. Look it up and enjoy). Demographic data clearly points to the fact that the audience is changing, and the first rule of any good communication is to know your audience.

Hart offers 5 reasons in explaining why Republicans should run on solutions and a positive agenda. It is also applicable to Conservatives, whether my detractors like it or not.

1. Offering solutions is a better political strategy.

Hart writes that the deadly rationalization in todays politics is that in order to “do good things” one first has to win. He writes that this leads candidates to refuse to put forward “bold and risky solutions that can be attacked” during a campaign.

This is very well illustrated by the slow unraveling of the connection between social and fiscal conservatism by the consulting class that have controlled the Republican Party for the past nearly twenty years. Rather than grasp the message and educate the public of how social conservatism is necessary in a free society, GOP leaders chose to downplay social conservatism completely. We see the results of that reflected in our culture today.

When the voices of those Republicans who believed in the importance of character, integrity, family and Faith were quashed, there was no longer a platform to spark discussion.

Fast forward to today and the nation has more people on some form of government welfare than people who are working. We spend more on poverty programs than ever, yet the poverty rate is unchanged. We have a larger number of young people putting off marriage and starting a family. We have a growing chasm between the political class and the working class that is not only economic but also cultural. The economic problems we face today are a direct result of moving away from talking about social conservatism and traditional values that drive work ethic and character.

The perfect political moment never arrives to “do good things”. There is always another election to be worried about. So refusing to discuss solutions for fear of losing only means we never get to the solutions, just the next election.

The restaurant analogy is spot on. Normal people don’t go to a restaurant to read a menu. They go for a meal. Political movements are the same. Voters don’t want opinions; they want answers and specifics.

It’s about choices, so we need to be about creating them.

2. You’ll be defined on your terms rather than someone else’s.

As Hart puts it in his article:

“If you are not defining what you are for, the other side will do that for you. Leaving a blank slate is dangerous. Write your own narrative in the language of specifics.”

This may be the most important for us right now in Mississippi. Back in 2012 I began putting together plans for a group called Generation Mississippi. The idea is simple. We have to start presenting solutions to the audience that will be the next generation of voters. It has garnered a little more interest of late for obvious reasons.

In both Mississippi and the nation the conservative message is not connecting with minorities or young voters. In most cases this is not because of a lack of agreement, but rather a lack of communication. Conservative ideas need not change. The way we communicate and engage about those ideas does. We tend to dismiss those who disagree rather than engaging in the discussion. In order to see a move towards a Constitutionally sound conservatism this lack of engagement must end.

Assuming population growth remains the same in our state, in less than 10 years the non-white to white population will be 50-50. That’s only 2 or 3 election cycles aways. I’m no mathematician, but that sounds like we ought to be getting to work.

With all the gnashing of teeth over the race-baiting ads used in the U.S. Senate race, I’ve yet to hear too many people look past their anger to ask a simple question: “Why do you suppose that worked so well?”

My answer: It’s because Conservatives gave up on communicating solutions with minority groups. We did them a disservice by not offering them solid solutions, they did us one back by being easily manipulated to think conservatism is about hurting minorities and minority communities.

Conservative policies will work for minorities. They work for those who want a good education and a good job. They work for those who want to see their communities prosper. They work for those who recognize there are moral issues society should address. All of these opportunities to communicate exist in minority communities in Mississippi, and beyond, and we should be discussing them in a positive way. We should be defining conservatism as a solution so the shysters don’t get to come in, as they did here in Mississippi, and define it for us.

3. You’ll have a mandate.

Politicians and candidates that talk about generic ideas and refuse to discuss solid solutions inspire a generic following and and audience that is easily distracted by slick advertising and branding. Governance is about solutions. It’s about a system that allows people to work for their dreams and to produce something of value to the community. If people can’t make the connection between a candidate’s message and how that would solve problems and allow opportunity then support is at best blind allegiance, an army without a cause. Don’t tell me what you’re against. Tell me what you are for.

Any politician who wants to be a leader has to lead. That means providing the army of followers with a mission, and it means if one finds themselves elected to office they will have, as Hart puts it, “an army at their back.” This means getting things done. Isn’t that the point?

Messaging today is not linear. It spreads like a fire, capturing the tender around it that is ready to burn and occasionally throwing off a spark that starts a whole new blaze. A solid message built on solutions and substance is the match that ignites the flame.

4. It’s your job.

Most of us who are politically active weren’t drawn into it for the pay and benefits. I understand that some lobbyists campaign for clients and get paid big bucks because of the legislation they get pushed through. But for the most part these are the guys that are just throwing money at candidates. Those of us grunts who work on campaigns will be the first to tell you we aren’t getting rich. We do this because we believe in what we do and why we do it.

Thanks to social media, K-Street has taken a big hit. People and conversations are much more important now than back room deals. The ability of people to pull together an army of outrage over an issue can happen in hours.

But, with that comes some responsibility. Conservatives need to be careful to educate themselves and not to jump on just any bandwagon. We must demand a candidate explain what he or she will do specifically.

The way to remind those who want to run for public office that this is more than a beauty contest is to already be talking about the issues, the problems, the solutions and the specifics. The message should be clear: “We don’t need a savior, we need a representative. This is what we believe. If you believe this too we may consider voting for you. But, get over the self-importance right now and realize, if you win, we expect you to do your job.”

In other words, don’t just say you work for us. Do it.

5. The country needs solutions.

For some, it is apparent that politics is a game, campaigns are something we put into a win/loss column. But for people now struggling with putting food on the table for their kids this is more than a sporting event, its about survival.

Drive through a small town in the Mississippi Delta and tell me the people there care one whit about who won the last election. Join me for coffee at my local diner one morning and see how the working class men who start their day there talk about politicians and government. There is a reason the approval rating of elected officials remains consistently in the cellar and why so few people even bother to vote anymore.

Give me liberty? You bet. But give me a reason to want it and believe in it, and you have a winning message.

 

 

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Keith Plunkett

Keith Plunkett

Keith Plunkett is a journalist and policy writer for ANM News. He is sought after in his home state of Mississippi as a political consultant for his skills as a communications strategist. He has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits for nearly 15 years. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations.

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