Several years ago, friends and family gathered for a trip to San Diego including Sea World, now under its very own PC fire. The highlight of any visit to Sea World is the killer whale show and at the time it was entitled “Believe.” The whales and trainers were great doing the usual set of behaviors, but the accompanying multimedia presentation was baffling. The music and video moved us emotionally, telling us over and over to “believe,” including a big finish that had the word traveling around us like a bird in flight. When it was over, we all looked at each other and virtually in unison said, “Believe in what?!”
In 2008, we were served up a similar smoke and mirrors presentation around the word “hope.” Things like “belief” and “hope” require objects and sources. Despite popular conception, belief is not holding as fact that which is without evidence. It is really a conviction of fact in that for which the evidence is not completely conclusive. It is based in a lot of evidence. Even the much maligned Bible, describes belief’s sibling “faith” as “assurance” and “conviction,” not invention. Belief has a source, which is evidential, and an object, which is that the belief thereby asserts as fact. Hope is really simply a belief about something yet to occur, and is sourced in the facts at hand and the object is the predicted outcome.
So what was the source and object of the “hope” that we were promised in 2008? Superficially, the source of the hope was Obama’s campaign promises and the object was a better America. Subliminally the hope was sourced in the civil rights movement of the past and the object was finally and completely “overcoming” that past. But neither of those are really based in evidence. They are appealing, but they are without any serious basis in reality.
The fact that the word “hope” was disappeared from the 2012 campaign is very strong evidence of Obama’s failure to deliver on the perceived promise of hope in the 2008 campaign. The “hope” of 2008 was a multimedia presentation designed to evoke emotional response, but without any actual substance. And as the second term proceeds apace, hope is rapidly turning to despair.
The civil rights movement, rooted deeply in Christian conviction, has been transformed into identity politics in which Christians are cast as enemy. Our means of governance is, at best, dysfunctional. Families, schools and neighborhoods are falling apart. The aberrant, and in some cases horrific, is slowly being normalized. I could go on, but Dennis Prager summed it all up on April 7. The current state of affairs, after six years of Obama, is anything but hopeful.
Conventional wisdom would say that the word “hope” has been contaminated by the Obama administration and that it is now toxic in the political environment. But when I consider the actual state of the nation, I am convinced that what we need more than anything else is hope. But we need hope that is actually based in something and that has an object that is real. That is to say we need real hope, not smoke and mirrors hope.
Americans want to hope. They want to know that they can improve their situations and themselves. They do not want to be given by the benevolent government the means to survive in their current compromised situation – they want to actually improve their lot. Those that accept government benevolence have largely lost hope and they need that hope restored to break the cycle of dependence.
The task confronting the bevy of 2016 GOP candidates is not to avoid a contaminated word, but to reclaim it and give it back to the American people. The source of our hope is our own capabilities (often rooted in our faith) and the object of our hope is our own success. The question is how to help us remember that at a time when so many people appear to be so hopeless.
The first step is to remember that most people are not so much hopeless as they are downtrodden. In the end hope springs from within. We have had hope beaten out of us for the last six years. As policy initiative after policy initiative has been shoved at us by means that stretch the constitution and civil convention almost beyond recognition, we have been left feeling powerless. Without power, hope cannot thrive.
This makes it incumbent on the 2016 candidates to make the election about the people and not the candidates. It is a referendum not on the candidates but on the country. That is how any successful GOP candidate needs to frame the entire election. Do we want to be a part of the country that continues on the path of the last two terms or do we want to be nation where all men and women, with sufficient energy and effort, have the opportunity to better themselves and their offspring?
That is going to be a pretty tall order given the current media environment of proctological examination of the candidates. They want to make it about the candidates because their candidates are “cool.” Mitt Romney tried to run on policy and not personality. He expected the American people’s inherent hope to take hold of that approach. Whoever is our candidate this time around is going to have to do it much better than Mitt. They are going to have to appeal directly to the inherent American hope, not simply count on it. Every personal inquiry is going to have to be answered shortly and straightforwardly and followed by, “…but this election is not about me, it is about returning the country to its people. ”
The candidates don’t want to run against Hillary and/or Obama – they want to run for the American people. That will have two great effects. One, it will be far more welcoming to the undecideds and independents. But secondly, opposition is not about hope it is about survival. Opposition admits weakness, hope is born of strength. Hope is about what you are going to do, not about what you oppose. Tell us what we can do, do not tell us what you are going to stop them from doing.
The candidates should have a few, a very few, simply-stated goals for their administration’ Anything else that comes up should be responded to by saying, “I intend to set the American people free to fix that problem, rather than dictate to them from Mt. Olympus.” Candidates should talk a lot about governance by law, not protest and complaint. They should talk about opportunity, not result.
The political pros are likely to complain that all of that is old hat; the times have moved on and if the candidate wants to win, he/she has to move with the times. I disagree. My business is to help people deal with the government. More and more I am running into people that have simply given up – they feel powerless in facing up to the government and the government is asking so much of them that they cannot see a way forward. This message of hope, properly expressed, will ignite a fire. This applies to everyone, from the business man confronted with daunting regulation, to the injured person confronted with a disorganized maze of bureaucracy and paperwork to get treatment. The political pros need to be real pros and find the best way to express that message, not change the message.
So what are the very few goals? That is where the candidates should differ and the primary should be won or lost. This is the list that would appeal to me:
- Restore the United States to world leadership. This will include rebuilding our military, continuing the war on extremism – Islamic and otherwise, and fixing our immigration policy.
- Setting our economic might free. This means reigning in countless federal agencies, starting with the EPA and fixing/repealing Dodd-Frank.
- Fixing Obamacare. Repeal will create chaos (it has been around too long), as will a “grand deal” to fix all its flaws at once. Create a pathway and a timetable, let everyone know what it is, then get busy.
- Return to the people their faith-based sources of hope. Whether it be through support of various state RFRA’s or judicial appointments, or new and currently unthought of law – people of faith, the traditional source of hope in this nation, need to no longer feel as if they are constantly being beat upon.
As a nation we have spent a long time with the bit in our mouths under rein. We do not need to be steered in a new direction. We need to be set free to hope in our own capabilities.
Addendum the next day: As Day 1 of the Clinton campaign unfolds, news comes of a memo distributed to the campaign team that sounds many of the same themes this post recommends for the GOP candidates. Note two crucial differences. One, “The campaign’s goal is ‘to give every family, every small business, and every American a path to lasting prosperity by electing Hillary Clinton the next President of the United States.” They are not going to let us forge a path, but they are going to bless us with one. Secondly, “The note ends on an inspirational note: ‘We are guided by Hillary’s bedrock values of hard work, service, fairness, and faith in the American Dream.'” Not faith in ourselves, not faith in God, faith in the “American Dream.”
Say hello to more smoke and mirrors.