I remember as a 22 year old, working full time and going to college full time, newly married with a baby on the way; the election contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. I had not been politically astute up until this time in my life. Then I heard Ronald Reagan give a speech on television and things changed for me. I don’t remember what the speech was about, but I do remember my reaction to what he was saying. In contrast to the “turn your thermostats down” current president, Mr. Reagan was optimistic, uplifting and inspiring. I felt good about my country and positive in my outlook, even though the country was in a mess.
When I watched Reagan on television, I realized he was talking to the camera and to the audience, but I felt like he was speaking directly to me. He related to me in a way that made me comfortable and confident; I trusted him. Even though he was attacked mercilessly by the media during his presidency, he always handled them in a gregarious fashion, putting them in their place in a humorous way, sometimes the zingers going right over their heads. When Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley in March of 1981, it was hard for me to watch the endless footage on television; I reacted like a family member or good friend had been shot. Ronald Reagan certainly believed in and espoused conservative ideas, but it was more than that. I felt like he was on my side, that his concerns were my concerns. I sensed that he was more concerned for the country’s future than for his own. Ronald Reagan trounced a sitting president in a landslide.
The Republican party of today is doing a lot of introspection and self examination as to why they were defeated in the last two presidential elections against a novice in experience and achievement. The elections shouldn’t have been close. What is it about the last two Republican candidates that they didn’t connect with conservative voters? The fact that neither of them was conservative in belief or in practice isn’t really up for debate. They both had voting records that clearly showed their middle of the road leanings. One was proud of the fact that he regularly “reached across the aisle” and worked with the opposition. The other was the governor of one of the most liberal states in the union, and had to be moderate in his views in order to be elected (whether or not he was just playing to the crowd or truly believed in the moderate position is arguable). In addition to being in the squishy middle, both candidates were lackluster, indifferent, and milquetoast as well. Listening to either McCain or Romney make a speech was like listening to a featured speaker at an insurance convention. I didn’t hear compassion or conviction from either of them.
The criticism of the current Republican Party is that it is a party of old, rich, white men. The truth is that most politicians are rich and all have the job of selling themselves to the public as someone who not only cares about, but can relate to them. Too often what you get is condescension and pandering as evidenced by John Kerry, “I’m here to get me a huntin’ license” and Hillary Clinton, “I’m in no ways tahrd”. You can say what you want about Barack Obama, but he has the shtick down pat. Appearing on late night television, he made himself appear cool, with it, just a regular guy. Bill Clinton was a master at it. They both convinced the majority of Americans that they not only cared for them, but that they only existed to fight the Washington insiders on their behalf. We all knew that they both were mostly full of baloney and didn’t care a whit about or could relate in any way to the average Americans life.
Mitt Romney is a fine man; extremely charitable, a great family man, an accomplished and successful businessman, and competent to boot. One problem; he couldn’t relate to the majority of Americans, or at least convince us that he could. Say what you will about Sarah Palin, she has that ability to connect with people and the passion to go along with it. The Republicans, if they want to win national elections in the future, need to nominate a strong conservative that not only believes in and practices conservatism, but one that can stare into the camera and with passion and empathy convince the American people that he or she has their best interests and the country’s interests at heart. If they do, then it won’t matter the ethnic group or social group or economic group or gender. Americans will respond to this type of man or woman. The next line in the song; “I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free,” is one that we all can relate to.