Ideas Win Elections

Thursday, 01 Nov 2012 09:19 AM

By Armstrong Williams

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Many in the conservative movement are frustrated that, despite the president’s liberalism, and despite the failure of his policies, he remains a very likeable personality, and enjoys high favorability ratings.

Most people with his record would be run out of town, tarred, and feathered. But he is capable of a magnetic charisma, and it is keeping him in this race.

obama-oct--31.jpg
It's the president's charisma rather than his ideas that keeps him in the race.
(Getty Images)
Some try to attack this strength of his. Sometimes it is a good strategy to attack your opponent’s strength, but not in this case. Ad hominem attacks on the president are as fruitless as they are unnecessary: his record is bad enough; we shouldn’t need to change the subject from that. And besides, attacking someone personally looks a lot like admitting defeat.

I know that Election Day is almost here. But that’s precisely why I say this: we need to stay focused on ideas, not on people. This is the most critical messaging time of all. And, like I’ve said in the past, when we talk about ideas, we conservatives win.

What was 2010 about? Were people fired up because Obama was doing commercials for George Lopez? No. As unpresidential as that was, people were excited about ideas. The election was essentially about Obamacare, jobs, and government spending, not Barack Obama, not even any of the 60 Democrats who went down in flames.

When I travel to blue states, I am struck by how few people really will stand up for liberalism in practice. They might stand up for vague principles apart from any facts on the ground (hence why people like the president and Elizabeth Warren talk about roads and bridges while we have a trillion dollar deficit). When you talk to people about ideas — not about people, not about what who said to whom, or about whom, you find that they are more conservative than they let on.

We won in 1994 because of Bill Clinton’s initial left-wing overreach.

Clinton had won election only because of Ross Perot, and mistook his luck for a mandate from the people, and tried to force an employer mandate on the people. Bill Clinton remained likeable — as he does to this day — but he lost badly.

Democrats win primarily by carving up the American people into interest groups. Republicans usually fall for this trick, and play by Democrat rules. They have never won this way, and have only hurt their own credibility by doing so, giving Democrats ammunition for the next election.

Democrats also win based on personal appeal. They can sell bad ideas with the right Hollywood celebrities, the right late-night comedians, and a smiling face. And no politician is more of a celebrity, more of a media figure than Barack Obama: you cannot beat him at his own game.

For example, Obamacare has never had the support of a majority of the country. Since Chief Justice Roberts upheld the law, people have begun to see it as inevitable, and a legitimate function of government. But even its supporters admit to some of its salient flaws.

Raising taxes is similarly unpopular. George H.W. Bush ran for president pledging to never raise taxes: he won. He ran again, having raised taxes, and lost. Since one of the only changes to the status quo that the president is proposing is to raise the marginal tax rate on the wealthy, this idea should be exploited.

Simply ask, what would people do with their money if you weren’t taxing it? Even the most resentful leftist must admit that money is always better spent in the private sector.

Rather than suggesting that Democrats have bad intentions, simply ask how their plan works, and it is already refuted.

It is, after all, a logical fallacy, to simply attack someone’s motives. It is perfectly easy to do a good thing for the wrong reasons. It is just as easy to do a smart thing for stupid reasons. Therefore, to simply say that the president or any other Democrat has bad motivations is no refutation. You must show that the idea is wrong.

Conservatives have an advantage in that our ideas have been tried, and have succeeded. Our ideas — respect for the Constitution and the rule of law, economic freedom, respect for traditional moral principles — are our country’s default positions.

The progressives are the innovators: the burden of proof is on them. They must tell us why our tried-and-true ideas must be changed.

And so it is not only a more pious strategy, but a more effective one, to respect your opponents. In these critical last days before a potential historic victory, let’s stay focused.

Armstrong Williams is an African-American political commentator who writes a conservative newspaper column, hosts a nationally syndicated TV program called “The Right Side,” and hosts a daily radio show. on Sirius/XM Power 128 (7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m.) Monday through Friday.

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