2010: The Maturity Election?
Peggy Noonan‘s latest, “Americans Vote for Maturity,” bears the subtitle “Obama gets a rebuke, but so do Republicans who seem unqualified.” While it’s a gross oversimplification of Tuesday’s events, there’s something to it.
What the tea party, by which I mean members and sympathizers, has to learn from 2010 is this: Not only the message is important but the messenger.
Even in a perfect political environment, those candidates who were conservative but seemed strange, or unprofessional, or not fully qualified, or like empty bags skittering along the street, did not fare well. The tea party provided the fire and passion of the election, and helped produce major wins—Marco Rubio by 19 points! But in the future the tea party is going to have to ask itself: Is this candidate electable? Will he pass muster with those who may not themselves be deeply political but who hold certain expectations as to the dignity and stature required of those who hold office?
This is the key question the tea party will face in 2012. And it will be hard to answer it, because the tea party doesn’t have leaders or conventions, so the answer will have to bubble up from a thousand groups, from 10,000 leaders.
Electable doesn’t mean not-conservative. Electable means mature, accomplished, stable—and able to persuade.
I truly hope that’s right. And, while I don’t know the House races nearly well to know if it was true across the board, it does seem to be right for the statewide races — the governorships and US Senate races. Quite literally all of the flakes lost. (I suppose one could counter with Jerry Brown; but he not only served two successful gubernatorial terms in his youth but came back up the hard way over the last few years.)
And these paragraphs are Noonan at her best:
Conservatives talked a lot about Ronald Reagan this year, but they have to take him more to heart, because his example here is a guide. All this seemed lost last week on Sarah Palin, who called him, on Fox, “an actor.” She was defending her form of political celebrity—reality show, “Dancing With the Stars,” etc. This is how she did it: “Wasn’t Ronald Reagan an actor? Wasn’t he in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ Bozo, something? Ronald Reagan was an actor.”
Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I’ll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.
The point is not “He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,” though that is true. The point is that Reagan’s career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him. He wasn’t in search of a life when he ran for office, and he wasn’t in search of fame; he’d already lived a life, he was already well known, he’d accomplished things in the world.
Here is an old tradition badly in need of return: You have to earn your way into politics. You should go have a life, build a string of accomplishments, then enter public service. And you need actual talent: You have to be able to bring people in and along. You can’t just bully them, you can’t just assert and taunt, you have to be able to persuade.
Americans don’t want, as their representatives, people who seem empty or crazy. They’ll vote no on that.
There are doubtless exceptions to this, but my sense is that Noonan is correct. And, certainly, that’s my hope.