The Right Opinion

Starting All Over Again

By George Will · Nov. 11, 2012

Nothing's impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
Start all over again.

– From the 1936 movie “Swing Time”

WASHINGTON – Conservatives should jauntily sing as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did in a year in which the country's chin was on the ground. Conservatives are hardly starting from scratch in their continuing courtship of an electorate half of which embraced their message more warmly than it did this year's messenger.

The election's outcome was foreshadowed by Mitt Romney struggling as long as he did to surmount a notably weak field of Republican rivals. His salient deficiency was not of character but of chemistry, that indefinable something suggested by the term empathy. Many voters who thought he lacked this did not trust him to employ on their behalf what he does not lack, economic understanding.

On Feb. 11, 2011, the person who should have been the Republican nominee laconically warned conservatives about a prerequisite for persuading people to make painful adjustments to a rickety entitlement state. Said Indiana's Gov. Mitch Daniels: “A more affirmative, 'better angels' approach to voters is really less an aesthetic than a practical one. With apologies for the banality, I submit that, as we ask Americans to join us on such a boldly different course, it would help if they liked us, just a bit.” Romney was a diligent warrior. Next time, Republicans need a more likable one.

And one who tilts toward the libertarian side of the Republican Party's fusion of social and laissez-faire conservatism. Most voters already favor less punitive immigration policies than the ones angrily advocated by clenched-fist Republicans unwilling to acknowledge that immigrating – risking uncertainty for personal and family betterment – is an entrepreneurial act. The speed with which civil unions and same-sex marriage have become debatable topics and even mainstream policies is astonishing. As is conservatives' failure to recognize this: They need not endorse such policies but neither need they despise those, such as young people, who favor them. And it is strange for conservatives to turn a stony face toward any reconsideration of drug policies, particularly concerning marijuana, which confirm conservatism's warnings about government persistence in the teeth of evidence.

With much work – the most painful sort: thinking – to be done, conservatives should squander no energy on recriminations. Romney ran a gallant campaign. Imitation is the sincerest form of politics, and Republicans should emulate Democrats' tactics for locating and energizing their voters. Liberals have an inherent but not insuperable advantage: As enthusiasts of government, to which many of them are related as employees or clients, they are more motivated for political activity than are conservatives, who prefer private spaces. Never mind. Conservatives have a commensurate advantage: Americans still find congenial conservatism's vocabulary of skepticism about statism. And events – ongoing economic anemia; the regulatory state's metabolic urge to bully – will deepen this vocabulary's resonance.

It is frequently said and probably true that many people are more informed when picking a refrigerator than when picking a president. This may, however, be rational ignorance because the probability of any individual's vote mattering to an election's outcome is negligible compared to the effort required to acquire information and vote. (Elections are run by governments, so it is unwise to expect them to be run well, but really: Are hours-long waits at polling places inevitable?) Fortunately, the electoral vote system, by requiring 51 presidential elections, multiplies the chances of competitive contests and of votes with magnified importance.

As the stakes of politics increase with government's size, so does voter engagement. And 2012 redundantly proved what 2010 demonstrated. The 2010 elections, the first after the Supreme Court's excellent Citizens United decision liberalized the rules about funding political advocacy, were especially competitive. Social science confirms what common sense suggests: More spending on political advocacy means more voter information and interest. The approximately $2 billion spent in support of this year's presidential candidates – only about two-thirds as much as Procter & Gamble spent on U.S. advertising last year – surely contributed to the high turnout in targeted states.

Media and other “nonpartisan” – please, no chortling – dismay about “too much money in politics” waned as seven of the 10 highest-spending political entities supported Democrats and outspent the three supporting Republicans, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The advocacy infrastructure that is being developed by both sides in the post-Citizens United world will, over time, favor the most plausible side, which conservatives know is theirs.

© 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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10 Comments

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

The people have chosen their charleton/deceiver for many reasons. NOW patriots---LET THEM SEE WHAT HAPPENS when the LEFT governs US(A) out of existence, as a once GREAT NATION. Let us learn greek, so that we can console one another- throughout this ORDEAL- of NEO-MARX OPPRESSION, of free market Capitalism!!! LOL Uncle George.

Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 7:11 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

This is what we get when we have an uninformed electorate and idiots who sit on their respective asses and not bother to vote. How many times have I heard one of them say: "My one vote won't count so why bother" They fail to understand that if enough of them don't go to the polls and vote it makes a tremendous difference in the outcome. I can only hope that after the next four years they wil have learned a very painful lesson. However, by the time Odumbo and his brain-dead minions finish turning us into a Marxist paradise there may not be an election for them to vote in.

Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 7:47 AM

Gregory in Yakima said:

The "experts" lecturing you on how to conduct a post-election loss autopsy seem to have completely forgotten their pre-election mis-diagnosis and their fatal bottle of beer prescription cures.

Too bad they didn't understand what was wrong then, or perhaps they had a clue but were afraid your reactions would cause them grief. In any case it's either no brains, no guts or both.

There are a couple points Mr. Will belatedly points out that are worth hearing. The Republican field of Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum etc. are an embarrassment of anti-intellectual political dwarfs (my apology to dwarfs).

After the intraparty war we'll see the religious, anti-abortion crowd continue but they will no longer be capable of orchestrating another fiasco such as this last election. They'll be limited to states and then to counties. We'll have them forever in those little niches and that's all.

The primary message of conservatism will be to convince voters of the long term benefit of budgets that are more balanced than we have now. They'll not only be right, they'll be correct. Reality will become conservativism's ally instead of its enemy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 12:26 PM

Robinius in Broomfield, Colorado replied:

" The Republican field of Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum etc. are an embarrassment of anti-intellectual political dwarfs (my apology to dwarfs)." Sort of like Obama without his teleprompter.

Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 10:34 PM

JJStryder in Realville replied:

Greg; We certainly aren't going to take your advice. You seem to think we have short memories about your posts. I'll take any one of those dwarfs over the pseudo-intellectual Obama. We are out numbered by the results of decades of bad press, bad education and bad choices. It just isn't bad enough for Americans yet. Just wait, after the riots maybe they'll be ready to listen.

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 1:44 PM

demsarerats in Oregon said:

Lol, “Romney ran a gallant campaign.”

Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 5:48 PM

David Thompson in Bellville, TX said:

"With much work -- the most painful sort: thinking -- to be done, . . . "
Only a member of the nation's intelligentsia would think that the most painful work to be done is thinking. Laughable, Mr. Will.

Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 8:55 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Where's our Patriot- Richard Ryan, of Missouri?

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 5:53 AM

richard ryan in Lamar,Missouri replied:

I`m here Tod. Sometimes the other people who post on these pages just leave me without anything to add. Never fear, I thoroughly enjoy reading what everyone here, with the exception of the faggots like Gergory of Yakoff.

I am sorely disappointed with the voters of this country. I am also tired of George Will`s swill. If Mitch Daniels is so great, how come he didn`t win the primary? At first I was not a Romney supporter. However; after seeing him in action, and learning the facts about his character and love of country, I came to the conclusion that he would make a great president. Will we have another chance in 2016? I`m not sure. This may have been our last election.

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 7:44 PM

India in GA said:

"immigrating -- risking uncertainty for personal and family betterment -- is an entrepreneurial act."

Um... so is bank robbery.

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 1:36 PM