After the presidential election, I found it hard to write about politics. I was So. Darn. Mad. When I thought of the two candidates – incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney—two things were crystal clear to me:
First, the president had not solved our economic problems but had probably made them worse.
Second, whatever you thought of Romney personally, however bothered you might be about his career as a businessman and his pragmatist approach as governor of Massachusetts, there could be no question that his expertise and personality were right for the times, and that he was immensely more capable of leading the country out of financial ruin onto a sturdier foundation than the amateur in the White House.
Obviously, my view was not shared by the majority of Americans. In fact, the “whatever you thought of Romney personally” turned out to be a major factor in his defeat.
“Mr. Romney’s personal image took a hard hit during the primary campaign and remained weak on election day,” wrote Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, in the Wall Street Journal:
“Just 47% of exit poll respondents viewed him favorably, compared with 53% for Mr. Obama. ..By 53% to 43%, exit-poll respondents said that Mr. Obama was more in touch than Mr. Romney with people like themselves.”
Read the full article. It’s chock full of other depressing tidbits—such as how a majority of respondents believed Romney’s policies would help the rich more than them.
This doesn’t surprise me, and I suspect it won’t surprise many Republicans and/or conservatives. We know that many people believe the Democratic party is the one that cares about the “little guy,” and the Republicans are the ones who favor fat cats and that mustachioed fellow in the Monopoly game. Even intelligent friends and family in my circle, who strive to keep up with the news, fall prey to this thinking. So they vote more with their gut than their minds, with their hearts rather than their heads.
And, to a certain extent, I don’t blame them. History is hard to shake off. And the Republican party went through a xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-little guy phase more than a century ago, the foul odors of which still stretch into modern times.
When even the most educated voter can’t get up to speed on all policy points, old-fashioned trust kicks in. Who do you trust to get it right, to protect your interests? For the majority of Americans in this election, it was the Democrats.
But that’s what has me so steamed. I’m tired of being thought of as a member of a party that can’t be trusted to look out for the average citizen. I’m tired of being thought of as a protector of the rich who has little compassion for the needy just because I believe in a sane fiscal policy. Even liberal Slate writer William Saletan gets that there’s no compassion in ignoring the fiscal cliff toward which we’re headed:
“(Paul) Ryan understands that the longer we ignore the debt crisis and postpone serious budget cuts—the liberal equivalent of denying global warming—the more painful the reckoning will be. There’s nothing compassionate about that kind of irresponsibility.”
After the election, I felt like screaming at Obama supporters: “You think it’s compassionate to hold a gun to your neighbors’ heads, forcing them to give money to the causes you like so you can feel good about yourself? That’s not compassion! It’s egotism! It’s prideful!”
Can we please, please, please drop this silly, stupid pretense that calling for higher taxes is somehow an act of kindness, compassion, generosity, or any other altruistic feeling? If you feel so strongly about helping the needy, do what many folks in the “red states” do – give more to charity.
If we get rid of this “who cares more” argument, then maybe we can talk about who has the best plan for financial stability, what government programs work the best and which ones don’t work well at all.
It will take a heap of changed messaging to get past this “who cares more” hurdle, but I’m an optimist at heart and believe Republicans can do it, even in the face of a phenomenally biased media.
In the coming months, I’ll be writing more about the GOP “brand” problem and how to fix it. On social issues, immigration, tax policy and more, Republicans are looked as the Abominable No-Men, shaking their fingers at women, gays, Latinos, and the poor. This is a false image and has to be changed. Otherwise, voters—even those who try to stay on top of the issues of the day—will continue to think the Democrats at least care more and understand them.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist.