The Politics of Optimism

by Sal on February 23, 2009

in Politics

Rick Moran at Right Wing Nut House takes issue with the current attempt by the GOP to harness the populist anger over the stimulus bill and the prospect of higher taxes that began with the protests in Seattle and Denver last week, and continued with Rick Santelli’s mention of a Chicago Tea Party.  Moran argues that populist movements are destined to have unintended consequences and collapse under their own weight, and instead proposes that the GOP adapt a politics of optimism.  This politics of optimism would argue that better days are ahead, that American exceptionalism is what made this country great and will continue to make this country great, while offering practical policies based in Conservatism to solve the GOP’s problem.

Moran does have a point, but he is also missing the value of harnessing populist sentiment.  Obama, who Moran looks to as a model, spent much of his campaign attacking the policies of Bush and harnessing the talking points of those with Bush Derangement Syndrome.  The GOP, as usual, should look to Reagan as a model.  Reagan was the eternal Optimist, who restored the sense of American Exceptionalism in the wake of the Jimmy Carter era.  Reagan did harness the Carter malaise and coupled it with the well-known Reagan optimism for our future and turned it into an electoral landslide.  There is room for both strategies, and indeed both strategies are necessary.

I do take issue with Moran’s assertion that the GOP must reject the “Rovian Strategy of using wedge issues to cleave the electorate over gay marriage, abortion, and other social issues” which, according to Moran, got us elected but led to our defeat.  Yet there is no evidence anywhere that these issues eventually led to our defeat.  The nation is essentially 50/50 on abortion, and anti-Gay Marriage amendments passed in such a liberal stronghold as California.  The GOP rejecting the social wing of the party does so at its own peril.  It plays an important part in defining the GOP’s identity, and makes up a significant portion of its electorate.

The politics of Optimism will play an important role in creating a new governing coalition.  What Moran misses, however, is that poticial movements happen in stages.  Before we present our optimistic view of the future, we must point out what is wrong and tap into that populist sentiment he derrieds.  Then, our optimsim will contrast starkly against the current administration and its policies and demeanor, and provide us a platform for winning back the hearts and minds of the American people.

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