Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rhetoric and Reasoning: Why the Republican Party has accepted opposition vocabulary

This post was spurred by a discussion I had a short time ago with a professor about the different views of "compromise" in the U.S. two-party system. 

This picture says it all.

Whether you are a gun-toting, laissez faire conservative or a bleeding heart Liberal, it is safe to say that you can recognize this meme's representation of the two-party system. By that I mean people recognize that this is the picture painted of the GOP, whether or not it is true.

Why is this the case, though? What is it about the word "liberal" that evokes imagery of freedom, equality, and reason while "conservative" makes one feel stifled and suppressed?

I have written in the past about what I feel is the best tactic for the Republican party as we approach 2016. I have also written about my frustration with my own party in its inability to collate around the core planks of the platform. Today, I would like to discuss the political stigma of the GOP in contrast the the Democratic Party and from where such a rhetorical stain originates.

Before I begin, let me clarify one political and philosophical assumption that I hold. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a perfect society. The human race has long conceived of Utopia. If there is one thing that we have learned through the course of human history, though, it is the fundamental flaw with Utopian thought is that it fails to account for the terrible weakness of self-interest, greed, and discontentment inherent to humanity. This is why Utopian systems fail and representative systems thrive - in general. All of the succesful and enduring states recognized the need for a realistic form of government that accounted for human weakness. The job of government, then, is the find the best way to preserve and protect individual freedom and community welfare while avoiding unnecessary control of the economy and culture. In America, the system devised was a Constitutional Republic with a Federalist system of government. Whether you consider this good or bad really isn't my point - it's the system that we've inherited, and it has profoundly impacted the two-party political system we have today.

But I'm getting off track.
In our current system, the Republican Party is the conservative party for the country. The difficulty with this fact is that in many current political debates, the republican party has accepted itself as the "opposition party" - the party of "no." After all, the Republican Party (generally) objects to unrestricted abortion, deficit spending, extensive regulations, nationalized healthcare, comprehensive immigration reform, etc. The difficulty lies in the fact that such labels stand in sharp contradiction with the way many Republicans view their party and platform. A good conservative doesn't view themselves as the ones standing in the way of progress (as a good Democrat might)- they see themselves as the ones standing up for American values in a wave of progressive attack on traditional institutions and policies. As a professor at my school told me, when discussing this topic, "the burden of proof is on the democrats," at least for a conservative Republican. If a liberal policy is going to be accepted then, there must be conclusive evidence to support its adoption - and the benefits must radically outweigh the costs.

The complication then, is that the Democratic party does not look at politics this way - instead, Republicans must justify why their "fundamentalist" values should stand in the way of progress. This is why Republicans "oppose national healthcare" or "reject" immigration reform efforts and compromise. This is true. The nuance is in the reasoning. The rationale isn't one of "rejection" -- it is one that has weighed the benefits against the costs and found the costs to be too great to give up the status quo. For a consistent Conservative, avoiding pitfalls is more important that high-speed "progress."

The most astonishing thing to me in light of this realization, is that the GOP has accepted this "opposition" mentality. Rather than articulating our own rhetoric, we embrace the vernacular of the Left! As silly is it might sound - the tone in which a policy is portrayed can be the most important variable in a public debate of ideas. Even if all evidence (in theory) supports caution -- the progressive rhetoric may still prevail over traditional logic, because of its impact on the human psyche.

The single most important thing that the GOP could do to remain competitive in public debate is NOT to "stick to their guns" NOR "adapt to changing times" - these are important considerations, to be sure, in light of the 2016 Presidential race. The single most important factor, however, in my opinion -- is vocabulary. If we articulate our position properly, people will be more inclined to respect that position. Republicans shouldn't squabble over how we're going to take down ObamaCare or Comprehensive Immigration Reform - but should instead focus on articulating the Conservative reasoning of a careful cost/benefit analysis. ONce the public begins to recognize the rationality of the GOP, they will learn to respect it (though they may not agree). But if people can once again respect the mindset of a conservative -- particularly in our current fiscal climate -- there is a chance to get this country back on track.


  1. The questions that I would like to ask: will such a strategy work in a polarized sound-bite society, that is also hyper-sensualized? Even if the Republicans try to articulate their positions, where do you propose they do such a thing, through what venue: campaigns, TV ads, schools, town hall meetings?

    Assuming that the GOP begins articulating their ideas, will the people by responsive and open to such a proposal? Due to the polarization of society, the conservatives tend to be very defensive (due to them losing the cultural war) which tends to be construed as being "opposed to progress". While the "liberals" on the other hand have the mentality of "since we are in power, we must be right". This is especially evident in California, where the "old-style" liberals like Jerry Brown, is open to compromise and was able to balance the budget. While the "new" liberals tend to be opposed to compromise and force their agenda onto society, just because they have the power.

    I agree that being more articulate in values is necessary, for both parties, but it seems like it will be hard to accomplish in our current society. The venue through which this will take place also needs some consideration, as most if not all the current venues used by the parties are not conducive to an "educational campaign" like you seem to be proposing.

  2. Hard, granted. I never meant to imply that it wasn't a difficult task. In fact, it just might prove to be impossible - but every great change in politics, faith, and social values has come when it seemed impossible. I totally agree that the current media culture is centered on soundbites and stereotypes - which could be the subject of a completely new post.

    What I would say is that change within the party cannot come from the top down - the establishment of the party will never accept new rhetoric - they know how to "oppose" and they will never change. However, through grassroots efforts, there may be a chance to shift public thinking and help people to see the flaws of such soundbites and misrepresentations. Take the pro-life movement for example - it has taken a long time, but there is finally starting to be a strong base of support for pro-life legislation in the United States - and even in California. A lot of that is due to careful and consistent grassroots efforts by the rank and file in the Republican Party. Quick and Easy? Never! Our last chance? Quite possibly.