the whitestick papers

looking at politics from a different perspective

Of lemonade stands and election 2012

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Even if you haven’t had the experience yourself, you’re aware of it by observation.  On a hot summer day, kids get the great idea to set up a table outside the house and sell lemonade.  Cooperative parents help with making the drink and providing the cups, and the child sits outside, dreaming of the cash they’ll soon have to buy, well, whatever they want.

Except it doesn’t quite work out that way, does it?

Sure, Mom buys a glass, and so does Dad.  Maybe a neighbor or two will help empty the first pitcher, but it doesn’t take very long before it’s obvious all those cars going by aren’t going to stop.  You have a great product (after all, it was made by Mom), an excellent location (see all those cars????) and yet no one’s buying what you’re selling.

The experience, of course, isn’t limited to the elementary school set.  A lot of adults have had great ideas for a wonderful new product or service, or maybe even a new twist on an old idea, only to see the crowds beat a path away from their door.  In many cases, the product is a good one, and the location even excellent; people just aren’t buying what you’re selling.

So, what does this have to do with the 2012 election?  Well, in the two months or so since November, we’ve all seen the political “experts” ruminate on what went wrong.  “The GOP didn’t do a good enough job at _______ (pick your favorite shortcoming)”, or “Mitt wasn’t in it to win it”, or any of a number of blame-pinning faults and failings.  But, stepping back from the finger-pointing and comparing this cycle to the exceptionally successful tidal wave of 2010, it becomes clear there wasn’t a great deal of difference between what the Republican Party and GOP candidates did then and what they did last year.  In fact, in many ways we did better and yet we got taken to the woodshed at nearly every level and in nearly every state.

So, if we can’t really blame our team, who can we blame?

For a clue, check out what US voters are saying since the election was held.  President Obama consistently comes in with an approval rating above 50% – a rate he’s had since about a month before the election and has held on to since.  Most Americans believe the “fiscal cliff” tax hike isn’t enough and the “rich” should pay more and lose deductions.  Most believe that the US economy is unfair to the middle class and – here’s the kicker – see those fighting to keep their taxes from going up as the bad guys in the fiscal debate.

In other words, they’re not buying what we’re selling.

Oh, sure, we could have done a better job doing the basic work of campaigning, and maybe Mitt could have done a better job running.  As a practical matter, it’s always possible and desirable to do more.  Truth be told, however, it’s hard to see how it could have been planned or executed better.  Mitt knocked that first debate out of the park and was spot on in his message.  Okay, so Oregon wasn’t a battleground state and received short shrift from national money and media, but what we did we did as well as we could, and reports from the battleground states indicate they were superlative efforts.

The reality is the voters determine what they want and, by extension, who they think will give it to them.  Oh, sure; there are those who see a conspiracy behind the election process; they can be lumped in with the “truthers” and tin-hat ET sort; evidence against their beliefs are ignored while the slimmest speculation in support is taken as gospel.  The reality is voters pick the nominees and the final victor; it’s as true in US politics as it is in American Idol and, despite clear evidence of election fraud, the end result is based on what the people want.

So why did the majority of voters support those whose policies will bankrupt the city, state and nation, particularly since just two years earlier – and even as late as six months earlier – the wind was in our direction?  First off, voters are incredibly fickle – just ask George HW Bush, who had a 70%+ approval rating a year before he lost handily to an “ah, shucks” country bumpkin.   As a group, they tend to respond emotionally rather than logically, voting for someone because he played saxophone on late-night TV or had an African father.  Appeals to rational arguments, even things as close as family income and buying power, doesn’t result in voter support near as much as a vague feeling that the candidate “gets me” or, better yet, “is like me.”  Try as we might, Republicans can’t seem to create that charisma.

There’s an element of this that also explains why Republicans and conservative ideas did better in 2010 than they did in 2012; the TEA Party put a human face on those ideals and, in a manner unseen since the American Revolution, made liberty popular and populist.  Expressing real emotions (rather than cynically manipulating them, as the left tends to do), they touched the hearts of voters and the latter responded.  Since then, however, the TEA Party has largely disappeared from the national stage (except as cannon fodder for leftist candidates and media hacks) and, without the emotional support, the movement stalled.

This isn’t a call for the TEA Party to get back into the streets, although it would be nice to see them supplant the current crop of Occupiers who have moved the discussion the other direction.  Emotions like that can’t really be manufactured; if the movement is going to revive it will have to be done the same way it happened before; spontaneously.

And then, in 2014 and 2016 we may have a majority of those cars stop for a glass of lemonade.

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Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

2 January 2013 at 6:39 am

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