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The Conservative Soul

Posted by: John Schroeder at 04:00 am, November 23rd 2012     —    3 Comments »

Thanks to Rick Moran at American Thinker for linking to this piece from New York Magazine:

Obama Slipped a Nate Silver Joke and a Romney Jab into His Turkey Pardon

Obama also made a possible reference to Mitt Romney’s “gifts” comment, saying “in the spirit of the season I have one more gift to give,” and ignored a reporter’s shouted question about Gaza.

As Moran said, “You stay classy, Mr. President.”  The list of stuff like this from the president’s mouth is getting pretty long.  You know, the kind of stuff that just strikes you as classless and demeaning of the office.  Of course, we can all hear the cries of “Romney started it, what with the 47% crack and the gifts comment.”  Yet such protests completely ignore the fact that for both of those comments Romney had every right to presume privacy – that the comments were in fact obtained either by subversive means (the clandestine taping of the 47% comment) or by someone betraying a confidence (someone on the conference call leaked the contents.)  Do we really want to get into “Who was a jerk first?”

When you put together the illicit means by which these two hammers to Romney were obtained and the classless comments by his tiny little majesty Obama it is really not a pretty picture – and yet, electorally speaking, it is a winning picture.  It is very tempting for conservatives to want to not merely respond in kind, but to change entire electoral strategies to go and do likewise.  The temptation is to be petty and personal and small.  That seems to be where the minds of Americans are right now or else Obama would not have won.  It is the only thing that makes sense, right?

And yet, while my reason tells me that is the way to go, there is something deep inside that demands restraint – something that says how you win matters as much as simply winning.  Indeed, following Obama’s political lead could very well lead to short term political gain.  But it does strike me that it would be at the long term cost of the nation.

More, or at least deeper, than just issues if you asked me what the difference is between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals,   it would be that Republican/conservatives want people to better themselves and Democrat/liberals want to cater to people in their misfortune.   To play “obamaball,” would be to give up on that bottom line identity.  Whether it is the big money giveaways of the stimulus package or Obamacare, or petty concessions to our lesser nature in the classlessness that has come to mark this administration, were we to start playing the game by this set of rules, we might win the game, but we would have done so by becoming them.

We find ourselves at what seems like a tipping point.  To restore the nation to our kind of ball seems a long term game.  It means not just attracting votes but shifting the values of the nation so that we are attractive to them without changing who we are – that just does not happen in four years.  Until you analyze the situation more carefully.  It is only less than half a million votes in four states that we needed to win this election.  That many kids will come of voting age in the next four years and high school is the perfect time to affect these values.  The task is not as daunting as it may seem.

If you have kids – take good care of them.  If you do not, consider taking one under your wing.

But before you do that, check your soul and make sure you are not tempted to “go and do likewise.”  Yes, we have to learn how to talk to “kids these days,” and yes we have to learn more about this new media thing than we thought we did.  And to some extent the medium affects the message.  But in all of this we have to figure how to retain our souls.  We have to figure out how to make Americans better so America will be better.

UPDATE, 6:50AM the same day: RCP carries and article by Heather Higgins and Alex Cortes:

The response options were “Strong Leader,” “Shares Your Values,” “Has a Vision for the Future,” and “Cares about People.” Among folks that chose one of the first three responses, Mitt Romney won between 54-61% of their vote. But, among folks who chose “Cares About People,” Romney lost dramatically – 81-18%.

“Cares about you” is the single phrase that lost Romney the election. Those for whom empathy was the most important candidate quality clearly did not get a sense that he cared about people and worse, many even thought he was antagonistic towards many Americans.


You might ask, could not a rational voter get beyond whether they felt a candidate cared for them, and ask which candidate’s policies would best care for them and future generations? Such a purely rational decision-maker, often referred to as homo economicus, is rare among human beings that are first driven by their moral intuitions, like compassion, before their strategic reasoning.

In The Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt presents volumes of research demonstrating the primacy of moral intuitions which “reason” is then used to buttress. It includes his in-person interviews where, of the 1,620 times that the interviewees were told of a repulsive story that explicitly stated no one was harmed, 38%, to justify their revulsion at the outcome, nonetheless said that someone was harmed. The interviewees’ moral intuitions immediately led them to condemn the repulsive story, claim there was a victim, and then use their strategic reasoning to support their position rather than truly consider whether there was a victim.

If you do not meet people’s moral needs, their strategic reasoning will not be unlocked to consider your arguments, but instead used to search for reasons to reject your arguments. This reality led Jack Kemp to say “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Mitt Romney may have had the better plans for America, but before voters were willing to consider them, they first had to think that he cared about them, which too many did not.

That stings – a lot.  Romney not caring is about as big a lie as I have ever heard in politics.  I know Romney and I know the people around him – he cares deeply.  Some of this is messaging, but I think there is something deeper too.  We have  come, as a nation, to think of “caring” as “give me stuff when I need it.”  One of the reasons Obama was able to out-message us on this was because we made the mistake of believing that people knew the difference between genuine caring and bad, divorced dad caring.

This is one of those check your soul moments.  If we begin to warp our understanding of caring to this clearly prevalent understanding, we lose and we stop being true to ourselves and our principles.


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