Between ideals and fact

26 01 2013

I said I wasn’t going to concern-troll the Republicans, right?

Well, what about concern-imp-ing? Concern-nixie-ing? Is it really concern-monster-ing if my recommendations apply to all political parties?

Whatever.  Here it is: Focus on governance.

Shockingly original, I know, but its obviousness has been obliterated in the past decade or so by Republican operatives (Karl Rove) so intent upon winning that they forget that winning is only the beginning, and not the end, of electoral politics.

I’ve described election campaigns as free-for-alls, governed solely by the standard of “what works”, i.e., solely by what increases the chances of winning. Another shockingly original insight: if you want to win, you have to concentrate on winning, full stop.

But after  you’ve won, you have to do something else: You have to govern.

Now, however distinct are the ways of the campaign from those of governance, it is worth considering whether a platform for governance can help you to win. Sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes all you have to do is remind the voters of what a great guy you are or what a great team you’re on and how terrible is the other guy or team. You go for fear or pride or collegiality (“I’d like to have a beer with that guy”) and don’t say much about the Eurozone crisis or CAFTA or the eligibility standards for SSI and bim bam boom, you’re in.

At some point, however, folks might wonder just what it is you plan to do once you’re in. A backbencher representative might be able to get away with platitudes and ideas to nowhere, but party leaders—governors, senators, presidents—have to do something. They have to govern.

If, therefore, you want your candidate or party to win, it might just help to have some ideas of how to govern. It’s not enough simply to say “there’s a problem and the other team caused it”; you have to offer solutions.

Edward L. Glaeser gets this. He’s an urban-conservative, and as such focuses on what can done to make things better. I disagree with both his analyses of and suggestions to fix the problems of urban life, but I really like that he grounds the symbolic appeals to conservatism in practical policy-making. I really really like that he thinks Republicans should engage in governance as something other than acts of arson, and that he doesn’t consider conservative policy-making a contradiction in terms.

He thinks Republicans should compete for cities, and points to what he sees as the accomplishments of Republican mayors as both reasons and guides for a GOP commitment to urban America. Focus on what we have to offer—what good we can do—he counsels Republicans, and go from there.

In other words, build an electoral strategy based on policy accomplishment, and you might just win.

Elections and governance are way too messy and contradictory for a simply Competence=>Victory equation to pan out (see: Michael Dukakis). Dirty tricks and fear-mongering and lies and money and error and passion and whole tangled nest of interests and reasons and desires will all play parts in electoral campaigns, as will the always-important backdrops of economic performance and unpredictable crises. Arguably, policy achievement might not play much of a role, at all.

And yet, it’s just possible that policy achievement might matter, perhaps even enough to cross that line from defeat to victory. There’s so much that can’t be controlled in elections; why not focus on what you can control, what you can do?

Unless, of course, you think it’s better just to control the elections so that you don’t have to worry about governing at all.

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5 responses

26 01 2013
dmfant

I thought that actively not-governing was their monkey-wrenching approach to causing the engine block of govt to seize up and die…

26 01 2013
geekhiker

I think it will be interesting to see how the 2014 election goes. After all, conservatives were moderately successful in 2010 by having spent two years not governing at all, and simply working to stop Obama from any forward movement that they could. If they exercise the same strategy over the next two years, and are successful in 2014, we may very well be moving to an era where only the election matters, and governance is simply about doing as little as possible until the next election (and making sure to blame the lack of action on the other guy).

Damn, I just depressed myself. I need a beer.

27 01 2013
28 01 2013
28 01 2013
absurdbeats

@dmf: There was a Doonesbury cartoon on that, back in the day—something about Reagan and deficits and bankrupting the government.

@gh: There ARE conservatives who are interested in governance; it’s just not clear that, at the federal level at least, there are many REPUBLICANS so interested.

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