Job one for any politician is to get elected. Job two: Get reelected.
For decades now, one tried-and-true method for accomplishing that goal is to make the voters fear something, blame someone, and despise the other political party. This campaign strategy is rarely about how the candidate will help people; it’s about how the “other candidate” would take what they have and ruin their lives.
Democrats and Republicans alike excel at this basically foolproof strategy and, because they do, working-class Americans are dealing with a “misery index” that’s going through the roof.
One well-connected and influential person seems to have had enough of “the other side is evil” contrivance. Speaking recently to an audience at the National Conservatism Conference in Florida, billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel addressed this negative trend. He admonished Republicans who have been barking out what the Democrats are doing wrong — as opposed to outlining what the GOP would do right — saying, “The temptation on our side is always going to be that all we have to do is say, ‘We’re not California.’ It’s so easy, so ridiculous to denounce, but … should we maybe have more of a positive agenda? … We’re leaning way too far into pure nihilistic negation.”
I have two quick thoughts on that: The first is that Thiel is 100 percent correct. The second is, even though he said “our side,” implying that he is a committed Republican, I suspect he is more for the “Pragmatic Party” than anything else.
But therein lies the crux of the problem for Thiel and others hoping for … well, hope. Neither party cares much for what’s pragmatic. Offering up commonsense solutions doesn’t make you fear something or hate someone, and, in the minds of many politicians, no fear and no hate equals no vote.
Going back to working-class Americans, the people who represent the foundation of our nation, no one has paid a higher price than they because of the hardships brought about by the pandemic, government-ordered lockdowns, anarchy in city streets, supply shortages, high fuel prices, crumbling infrastructure, escalating inflation, rising crime, and a dysfunctional political class in Washington and many state capitals.
If anyone needs a sliver of sunshine, it is the American people. Can Thiel help to uncover that beam of positivity? Maybe not, but he could jumpstart a healthy discussion.
As evidence, consider the reaction of Larry Kudlow, former director of the National Economic Council in the Trump administration and former associate director in the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, who is now a Fox News financial host. “GOP tech guru Peter Thiel is undoubtedly right that Republicans should have a more positive agenda based on broad-based economic growth that benefits all Americans,” Kudlow said. “Sen. [Rick] Scott is right to develop his 12-point plan. [Former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich is also right that the GOP should focus on key issues, rather than the 2024 presidential election.”
I’m glad Kudlow emphasized those things, especially the plan offered by Scott (R-Fla.), which is a blasphemy of traditional values that has been getting lit up by President Biden, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and practically every far-left site in the country. Because it has attracted such criticism, some conservatives are beginning to think, “With enemies like that, maybe Scott is on to something.”
Again, maybe he is. But, like Thiel, Scott is trying to take on a special-interest machine with tentacles that reach back decades. Legendary filmmaker Frank Capra brought it to light more than 80 years ago with his award-winning film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Anyone hoping to introduce a “positive agenda” in politics — including politicians who actually may be doing what’s in the best interests of their constituents — should watch that Jimmy Stewart movie. It will remind them of reality: Some politicians are afraid to govern because they don’t want the responsibility or accountability. They simply want to cast blame.
Special interest corruption and an attitude of “me, before the people” is an indelible stain on the fabric of our republic. Talk may be a step in the right direction, but it is still cheap. I would remind Thiel that the great-grandparents of the working-class Americans now paying the price for negativity, incompetence and corruption in government likely heard those same words.
Still, Thiel is on the right track. But it’s a track that goes in rhetorical circles. Since he’s an entrepreneur who knows how to “think outside the box,” maybe it’s time for him to jump the tracks and blaze his own trail to a better government for all.
Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.