The Conservative Crackup

Looking Beyond the Beltway
E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Nov. 7 2008 3:44 PM

The Conservative Crackup

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Douglas, Tucker, Jim, Kathleen, and Christine,

I don't want to hijack this entire discussion, so let me just say that I appreciate Douglas Kmiec's prayers and leave it at that.

Advertisement

I do, however, want to second Tucker's earlier point about the importance of finding candidates who can actually communicate. Going back to Bush the elder, the GOP has now produced four successive nominees for president whose relationship to the English language is about as fraught as Bill Clinton's relationship to Barack Obama. Indeed, the famously tongue-tied George W. Bush may have been the best communicator of the lot. (There were times during this campaign when watching John McCain try to talk about, say, his health care plan made me pine for the days of "Is our children learning?")

One lesson here—which is conventional wisdom, but wisdom nonetheless—is that you shouldn't nominate for president anyone who's spent most of his political career in Washington, D.C. Like Bob Dole and H.W. Bush before him, McCain has a knack for speaking in inside-the-Beltway shorthand, a lingo that's ideal for the Sunday morning show circuit but just terrible for the campaign trail. Time and again during the debates, Obama would deliberately step back and try to frame—or reframe—whatever topic was under discussion, placing it in context for viewers at home. And time and again, McCain would respond with underexplained references to legislation he'd championed, or bills Obama had opposed, or American policy toward Colombia, or some other topic that required vastly more elucidation to have any hope of resonating with the general public.

My hope, when Sarah Palin was plucked from the frozen north to serve as McCain's running mate, was that she'd help remedy this defect in his candidacy—that she'd turn out to be an Alaskan answer to Mike Huckabee, with perhaps a little less corn pone and a little more facility for policy detail. This hope died with the Katie Couric interview, obviously, and while I think that Kathleen has been somewhat too hard on Palin herself—the buck for the "redneck strategy," such as it was, has to stop with the nongeniuses running the McCain campaign—there's no question that the conservative reaction to Palin's difficulties bodes ill for the GOP's future. It may be, as many right-wingers argued this autumn, that sound instincts are more important than communication skills when it comes to governance. But I'm pretty sure that Tucker's right, and that you can't have successful governance in a mass democracy if you can't persuade the public that you're right about the important issues of the day.

This capacity for persuasion was Reagan's great gift, obviously, and Clinton's, too; it may be Obama's as well, though his inspirational rhetoric lacks the seductive quality that the Gipper and the man from Hope could call upon at will. At the very least, though, he's better at communication than anyone in the GOP leadership at the moment. And for the present-day Republican Party—a party that's in opposition, that's fighting a reputation for incompetence and anti-intellectualism, and that's lost the public's trust on nearly every domestic issue of note—the search for national leaders with this gift should be as high a priority as the search for an agenda that they can run on.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 20 2014 3:40 PM Keeping It in the Family Why are so many of the world’s oldest companies in Japan?
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.