Before I was a conservative pundit, I wanted to be a rock musician. Throughout high school and beyond I wrote, recorded, and performed songs with bands. While I'm still a musician, I haven't written a single song since getting into political punditry full time. This is not something I'm particularly proud of given my enduring love for music, but it is something I think I've grown to understand.
Human beings are ruled by emotion. This is not to say that mankind is impervious to logic — my job would be rather useless if this were true. But it is to say that our emotions tend to overwhelm everything else. Do most people who fall in love with a song do so because they are drawn to the lyrics, the melody, or the beat? It is certainly true that good lyrics can enhance one's love for a particular song. But it is even truer that most people probably can't tell you what their favorite songs are about as they tap their feet and hum along to every word.
How most people approach music is how people approach most everything else, including politics. If a candidate is terrible on every issue of importance to a particular group, he or she can still expect to do reasonably well so long as they are charming or personable. If a candidate has little to no charismatic appeal, his or her ideas will have to be extremely powerful to overcome his or her lack of a personality. Most voters first need to have an emotional connection to who they support. Can voters tap their feet or hum along to what their leaders are saying? Ronald Reagan was a superb example of a rock-star politician whose appeal crossed party lines. In 2008, so was Barack Obama.
Creating a political narrative is like writing a song. If it sounds good, it is often perceived as being true. A well-reasoned argument is important, but so is crafting a "melody" or "beat" conducive to the current political mood.
The mood in the GOP at the moment is definitely closer to Reagan's Republican brand than the big government years of George W. Bush. When Bush defined what it meant to be a "conservative," none of my arguments would persuade Republicans of the glaring absurdity of such a notion. The War on Terror superseded all else, and the Republican Party was a place where big spending was excused, government expansion forgiven, and liberal Democrat hawks like Sen. Joe Lieberman became right-wing darlings. When I tried to reject this on logical grounds, in print or on the radio, many conservatives called me a "liberal" for not singing the Republicans' tune. This didn't change the fact that their tune sucked. Bad.
But slowly the Republican mood is changing. The New Republic's Ed Kilgore notes the difference between the 2008 and 2012 elections. He writes: "Endless fulminations about profligate monetary policy and the evil Fed, as well as ... draconian prescriptions for a radically smaller federal government, now all sound completely within the conservative mainstream."
Kilgore then gives this GOP shift context: "This development is due, in part, to the fact that there is now a Democratic administration that all Republicans are happy to demonize. More subtly, [the] narrative of a long disastrous national slide into socialism, which sounded very weird to many Republicans when their party controlled the White House and Congress, has become commonplace."
The Tea Party promoted a simple but logical conservative idea: stop spending. Yet the movement was first and foremost an emotional reaction to the big-spending status quo. Conservatives have always believed in less spending, but it was the emotional power of grassroots voters finally demanding it en masse that shifted the GOP's priorities and those of the American Right. Republicans are still as worried about potential terrorist threats as they were during the Bush years — just not at the expense of everything else. Did the logic that conservatives use change from the Bush years to today? No. The GOP's beat changed, as did the melody of the party and the Republican tune.
It's hard to imagine 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain running in 2012. It's hard to imagine most of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates talking about, as Kilgore notes, "profligate monetary policy" or "the evil Fed" or bothering to talk about "a radically smaller federal government" back in 2008.
As it turns out, I never really stopped writing songs. My job today is to make sure the Republican Party continues to dance in a conservative direction.
Jack Hunter is the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul's The Tea Party Goes to Washington. You can hear Southern Avenger commentaries on The Morning Buzz with Richard Todd on 1250 WTMA.