Alabama Madness: A Teachable Moment

THE whole internet has already blogged this story, so what’s left for your Curmudgeon? Plenty! This is a huge subect.

Think of that scene in Braveheart where Edward I (Longshanks) is planing to send his son’s wife to speak to William Wallace, and he’s warned that she might be killed. Longshanks responds:

My son would be most distressed by that. But if she were to be
killed, we would soon find the King of France a useful ally against the Scots. You see, as king, you must find the good in any situation.

And so it is that your Curmudgeon finds some good in this madness in Alabama. It’s a teaching moment about politics. We’ll be repeating a bit of what we’ve said before, but that’s okay — doing so is a Curmudgeonly prerogative.

The first thing that comes to everyone’s mind when seeing what’s going on in Alabama is the thought that the Republican party is so insane that it will never be a credible alternative to the Democrats, so the US is destined to experience more of what we have now for at least a generation. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As we said in our Open Letter to the Republican Party:

[T]here was a time when this party stood for the Constitution, the rule of law, national defense, free enterprise, limited government, low taxes, balanced budgets, and individual rights. We still honor those principles; but those who now govern have no concern for or even understanding of such matters.

While the other party has been winning elections and undermining everything we have traditionally valued, what issues dominate our political discourse? Our party has been talking about sex and religion.


Any of these sex or religion topics would be a fine subject for a sermon; but experience teaches us that they are not issues that will propel a party to national leadership. Regional, yes; national, no. A successful political party should understand this, but it seems that we don’t. That is why, at the moment, we are not a successful political party.

In a follow-up to that post we said:

Sticking to our vital national issues, while avoiding the distraction of divisive local matters, is not a compromise. It’s a program for victory. [It’s not] a sell-out. We call it “reality.” Reality is more than a jealous mistress; she’s the only girl in town.

After that we said in our Open Letter to Marco Rubio:

We understand what you’re trying to do — you want to build a coalition. You imagine that you can win the support of those who approve of the first part of your message [fiscal responsibility, etc.], and add to that those who support your theocratic message. But it’s an impossible coalition, because the first group cannot coexist with the second.

What good is a tax cut, if you favor a perversion of the Constitution that could give us a Secretary of Faith with state-supported inquisitional powers? A tax cut is small consolation for someone accused of heresy for teaching evolution, geology, or astronomy. … Yes, we’re exaggerating, somewhat, but only to illustrate the problem.

So here’s our advice: Drop the Dark Ages theocracy. Just drop it. That means you’ll need a Sister Souljah moment in which you publicly repudiate the extremism of [creationism and theocracy]. …

You’ll lose some votes doing that, but those people won’t vote for [your opponent]. … [T]o compensate for the primary voters you’ll lose, you may very well gain a great deal of support you never dreamed could be yours. In the general election there’s that large block of voters called the “undecideds” who will never vote for an extremist, but they just might vote for you — if you change your message.

What we’re getting at is this: Yes, running as a creationist and a theocrat may be the only way to get elected in some rural area, but it’s never going to get anyone anywhere in national politics. Why? Because elections are decided by the “undecided” voters in the middle. The reason they’re undecided is because they don’t like extreme positions on anything. They’ll always vote against a candidate they perceive as being an extremist.

Each party’s base, on the other hand, is made up of voters who are quite comfortable with what the undecideds see as extreme positions. For many political strategists, the key to victory is getting out the vote among the base — the party faithful. Yes, that’s fine, but not if doing so will alienate the undecided voters in the center.

The Prime Directive in any election campaign must be to occupy the high ground, by which we mean preventing the undecided voters from favoring the opposition. This is done by avoiding the appearance of extremism and by labeling the opposition as the extremist. Doing this will assure that the undecided voters are at least neutralized. Additionally, a good number of them will support you.

The reason we consider this to be the Prime Directive is entirely a matter of math. A voter in your party’s base will be one vote for you — if he votes. But if he’s discouraged and stays home, then his is a vote you didn’t get. That’s not good, but he’s unlikely to vote for the other side.

But now consider the voters in the undecided middle. Unlike the base, they could vote either way. If one of them can be persuaded not to vote for the opposition, it means there’s one vote less for them. That’s very nice, but there’s more. A vote taken from the opposition and converted into a vote for you is not only one less for the opposition, it’s also one more for you. Thus, a swing voter in the middle can be twice as valuable as a voter in the base.

That, dear reader, is the thinking behind your Curmudgeon’s Prime Directive: Secure the center. Then — and only then — work on motivating the base. And be careful that in appealing to the base you don’t appear to be an extremist, for then your opponent will surely use that to woo the center away from you.

An openly creationist candidate may win local office in some areas, but as a national candidate he’ll be a joke. Moreover, if his creationism is seen as a pillar of his national party, that party will never win the undecided voters in the middle. Therefore, always remember: Even if you sincerely believe that creationism is the road to heaven, it’s most definitely not the road to the White House.

And so, dear reader, we can learn from the lunacy in Alabama. Let them have their fun in that state; but at the same time, let the leaders of the national party recognize that such local foolishness must never become a feature of the national party.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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5 responses to “Alabama Madness: A Teachable Moment

  1. I’m pretty much in agreement with you until you got to the “Let them have their fun in that state.” I would guess most people don’t draw a sharp distinction between GOP-national and GOP-Alabama (or pick any other state), so they can still tarnish your national reputation. It doesn’t take too many state races supporting X before you get known as the party of X. Same is true for the Dems, of course.

    A poster on PT noted that this campaign ad was funded by the Dems. So, this particular bible-thumper may be the most moderate candidate the Alabama GOP is fielding (i.e. he’s the one the dems don’t want to see in the race). Yikes.

  2. Good point eric. My local GOP is usually a pretty sensible group but, the actions of Republicans elsewhere do seem to taint my view of them. I do agree with SC in most of what he says here except on allowing the lunatics in Alabama to “have their fun”. That’s like not treating an infection and hoping it won’t spread.

  3. eric says:

    I’m pretty much in agreement with you until you got to the “Let them have their fun in that state.”

    Unless the national party expels them, as with a David Duke kind of character, there’s really nothing to be done. Maybe deny funding, but money can be raised locally. Each state party is essentially a local operation. The center doesn’t have much control over stuff like this.

  4. retiredsciguy

    Outstanding essay, Curmy. However, I also agree with eric. Any position taken by any one Republican becomes a part of how the Republican Party is identified by voters in the middle.

    And I think there is something that can be done about it short of expulsion, but unfortunately it would take a strong national leader of the Republican Party to do it, and there doesn’t seem to be such a person to fill that role. A strong rebuke from a respected national Republican leader could get the local yokels to toe the line. Maybe.

    Right now, it seems as though all the local Republican candidates are trying to out-christian each other, out-pro-life each other, and yes, out-creationism each other. There is no credible leadership in the national party.

  5. Submitted for your enjoyment: Bill Maher’s parody “response” ads.