I work in a distribution center — a warehouse. On February 10, the talk of the morning was President Obama’s news conference the night before. Most discussed the president’s tone and delivery, then the details of the stimulus package, leaving as mere filler some cursory remarks as to what ‘The Republicans’ might do.
The Republicans. A headless body lost in the aura of a superstar president. This is not meant to be the ten-thousandth newsflash that the Republican Party is void of leadership. Well, maybe it is, but only in part. In any event, liberals get this recession, conservatives don’t.
After the morning chitchat, I lost two fellow employees, both dear friends, to downsizing. For those of us left, we are being bought by another company, the sale almost complete, leaving our futures uncertain.
Whether or not the Democrats are right is beside the point. Perception is reality. It’s not about policy, it’s about whose side you appear to be on. Since the kickoff of the 2008 campaign, Democrats have successfully — and relentlessly — tied not only the Bush Administration but Republicans in general to the economic downturn. They have spoken directly to and about unemployed Americans. The president on February 9, still in campaign mode, deftly blamed the recession on the policies of the last eight years, in defiance of conventional wisdom that says voters are tired of blame and partisanship. They’re not. As long as they think your’re fighting for them, it actually fires them up.
In North Carolina, Democratic challenger Kay Hagan focused on the ‘unbeatable’ Elizabeth Dole’s so-called lackluster performance in fighting for the state’s working class, including, but not limited to, a survey that ranked Dole near the bottom on a list of effectiveness. Dole retorted that her opponent was a big spender and a tax raiser.
Kay Hagan is now North Carolina’s junior senator. Merely charging that your opponent will raise taxes does not connect with the average voter. Most think of taxes as a burden for the wealthy, which, through write-offs and shelters, they are able to avoid. As for government spending, conservatives have yet to put a human face on its downside and how Americans pay for it financially and through greater dependence and less freedom.
Predictably, conservative response to this recession has been detached and dispassionate, just sketchy talking points from a free-market economics treatise. Only occasionally in the campaign, such as Joe the Plumber, was the American right able to humanize its economic belief system.
Conservatives counter the notion of universal health care by noting that the US has the world’s best health care system and that emergency rooms can turn away no one, not even the uninsured. True on both counts, but I wish no one the indignity of visiting the ER for routine medical care. Conservatives should be leading the charge for market-based reform to make health care affordable for everyone.
Even right-wing talk radio, which is loved by millions of working people, sometimes fails to inspire anyone outside of its loyal base of listeners. Some of us don’t care that this is not the worst slowdown since the Great Depression. Certain hosts have told us (I know I’ve heard it from some 45 times), that they, too, have been fired, unemployed and underpaid. I can reel off a list of Sean Hannity’s odd jobs pre-Fox News. I, too, think everyone should heed Rush Limbaugh’s advice on the Recession, which is to not participate. Great words. Nonetheless, one could retort that ‘I didn’t choose the recession, it chose me.’ I understand their underlying message of self reliance and optimism, but sometimes voters don’t want a lecture from their father, they want a hug from their mother — enter the Democrats. That is how they have dominated political discourse — it is not Big Brother that most of us fear, it is the Nanny-state we look to in troubled times.
The conservative working class hungers for a champion in the political sphere. Although we live by the belief that government will not solve life’s crises, we crave a national figure who will voice our most fundamental ideals and calm, if not cure, our deepest concerns. Liberals, of course, have President Obama, because he, like Ronald Reagan, nearly three decades ago, staked out his turf on the side of the working people. To conservatives it literally goes without saying that ordinary Americans, working hard in a free economy not just to survive but to thrive are what make this country great. Most Americans know it, but they don’t know they know it. What if our would-be leaders acted as if they had just learned this for the first time and wanted to share it with the world? Free-market economics are about passion, compassion and idealism, and a conservative renewal could rival modern liberalism’s hold on daily discourse. We must begin to relate our message subjectively as well as objectively and toss away the notion that ‘feeling’ is a dirty word in our political lexicon.