Yesterday, Bob Burnett’s post on The Huffington Post was dead on in advocating a “values based strategy” for 2006 and beyond.
Many liberal activists still think only in terms of issues. Red state voters (including many Reagan Democrats in my district) do not. However disingenuous -- James Dobson complained that Republicans had better deliver this time, or else, immediately after the Nov. 2004 election -- Republican politicians know how to speak their language. Too often liberals are “ugly Americans” who won’t bother to learn the simplest phrases. (Does cultural sensitivity apply only to foreigners?) We can’t engage people whose language we won’t learn. If we won’t at least try to speak their language, they’ll continue to vote for people who will.
I remember distinctly one call I took during the 2004 congressional race. This red-state voter had seen our first TV ad, liked what he’d seen, and went to the web site to find our position on his pet issues. He didn’t find answers there, so he called in.
“I don’t care about jobs or health care or the economy,” he said. “I want to know where she stands on abortion and the gay lifestyle.” These wedge issues were topics we were advised to avoid. We wanted to run our race, not theirs.
This guy just wanted to be heard. We spoke for maybe fifteen minutes, but I wasn’t authorized to speak on unpublished positions for the candidate (who was out). This guy wanted to know that our candidate shared his values, or at least understood them. Clearly, he was looking for an excuse, any excuse not to vote for our Republican incumbent opponent. We need to give him one.
That doesn’t mean pandering, selling out or wearing religion on our sleeves. It means telling people -- boldly -- where you stand and why. It means learning to articulate our beliefs in language red staters (and Reagan Democrats) will understand and not be shy or uncomfortable about it.
Listen to Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Milwaukee talk about facing an American Legion hall audience and telling them bluntly why she doesn’t support a flag amendment. She may not have walked out with their votes, but she walked out with their respect. It's a place to start.
We don't win by shifting left or right. We win by getting broader.