Time for the GOP to Close the “Compassion Gap”

ObamaCare is a disaster. Our enemies could hardly have contrived a more destructive, divisive set-up for the practice of medicine. But if there is any silver lining to this national nightmare, it’s that it offers a second chance to a party that badly needs one.

So let’s seize this opportunity to re-introduce the Republican Party to America. 

Some complain that the party’s traditionalism on social issues prevents the GOP from extending its reach to more women, minorities, etc.  I disagree.

The problem with the GOP — for some women, minorities, young people, you-name-it — is the perception that somehow, our party is lacking in compassion.  That has never been true, and now — in the midst of the ObamaCare trainwreck — Republicans have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to put that canard to rest.

There are good people who are being needlessly and badly hurt by ObamaCare — especially  the middle class; those who aspire to economic mobility;  and small businessmen. There are people whose livelihoods are being threatened, whose family budgets are being destroyed, whose control over their own medical care is being eradicated.  It’s time their stories were told — and with the same moral indignation, urgency, and sympathy our nation has (rightly) accorded the accounts of those who are in need of insurance coverage.

(And yes, I know that there are some conservatives/Republicans who find any sort of “I feel your pain” politics annoying.  Sorry. That’s what some people respond to, as those orchestrating Olympic coverage realized some time ago.  As Dale Carnegie put it, you bait the hook to suit the fish, not the fisherman.)

Republicans can avoid overt political triumphalism and instead choose outreach to those who, through no fault of their own, are facing needless worry and turmoil because of arrogance and government overreach.  We can demonstrate our own humility — in contrast to the pride of those who would presume that a self-selected group can manage health care for 300 million Americans — by asking voters for a second look.  

Then, we earn their trust by offering practical, serious, market-oriented alternatives – and train our spokesmen (whether elected officials or pundits) to discuss them in a way that is accessible to ordinary Americans.   Here’s a start.

But if we’re going to reach a broad swathe of Americans, tone will be important.  If Republicans succumb to the temptation simply to bash ObamaCare and wallow in schadenfreude, voters will be completely justified in feeling that our primary concern is politics, rather than the governance of the country in general or their well-being in particular.  Loud or belligerent displays of anger are also out, because histrionics frighten and repel people — and Americans are already worried enough.  Rather, the GOP must meet the moment with soberness and creativity, demonstrating that we understand the problems Americans are facing; are committed to addressing them; and have concrete plans for how to do so. 

Above all, Americans need at least one party to assure them that, under the right conditions, the American dream not only survives, but can flourish.  If Republicans can project this optimism — even as we acknowledge the “wrong turn” that ObamaCare represents — the rewards for the party can be great.  Best of all, so will the rewards for America.

  1. BrentB67
    Carey J.: I thought we got over the “compassionate conservative” schtick with Dubya.  · 5 hours ago

    This is the problem. If we go out and profess that there is a direct relationship between compassion and the size of the federal government it is a loser. Look no further than what happened in mid term 2006 for the road map of 2014.

    Conservatives, including fiscal ones like me, will get hit in the face yet again and send even less money to the party, give up on campaigns, and skip voting – congratulations Speaker Pelosi.

  2. Lucy Pevensie

    I was going to suggest that the problem with the term “compassionate conservatism” is that it implies that much of conservatism isn’t compassionate. There is nothing wrong with telling everyone that all our ideas are compassionate and if implemented would lead to a better life for everyone.

  3. Thank you for this post; Republican’s major weakness so far in opposing Obamacare has been that they haven’t that I know of presented other options. They spend a great deal of time attacking Obama, but they don’t present their own solutions, which leads some to believe that they just hate Obama and could care less about people with pre existing conditions. For those who don’t like the word “compassion”, emotional detachment would be another way of putting it. Not that I am in a position to instruct others on how to be emotionally detached, but I think many of us conservatives need to become more emotionally detached, and I very much include myself in that. :)

  4. Annefy

    Hi Carol! We needed you last week – long discussions about the GOP and women. I came up with this: http://ricochet.com/member-feed/Only-You-Can-Attract-More-Women-Voters/(comment)/859931#comment-859931

  5. Carol Platt Liebau
    C

    Anne — sorry I missed it!  Life has been crazy around here.  I’ll take a look. And Judithann, I agree that the GOP needs more “emotional detachment” in terms of ramping down any hysterics, but I’d argue that Republicans need more “emotional engagement” if they are serious about convincing a broad swathe of Americans that they “care.” And the cynics among us can scoff, but not only have the men elected to the presidency in recent times been more “likable” than their opponents, they have also been the ones who seem more “caring.” Just a thought.

  6. Hello, Carol :) Of course, you are right: politicians definitely need to come across as caring, but I wonder if the reason many republicans come across as angry and uncaring is because they care so much! I don’t know most republicans, but I suspect that lack of compassion is not really the problem. I find it easiest to talk or write about the issues I care least about: when it comes to issues I really care about, I often make a hash of it. I wonder if others have the same problem.

  7. She
     And the cynics among us can scoff, but not only have the men elected to the presidency in recent times been more “likable” than their opponents, they have also been the ones who seem more “caring.” Just a thought. · 11 minutes ago

    If the price of electing a ‘likeable’ candidate in order to appeal to women is Bill Clinton, I think I’ll pass, thanks.

    I guess it all depends on what the definition of ‘likeable’ is.

    I completely agree with Judithann that the Republicans seem to be tongue-tied when it comes to coming up with imaginative and viable alternatives to the latest iteration of the Nanny State, and I would like to see that change, too.

    For example, looking backwards to Republicans as ‘socially traditional’ is counterproductive.  Republicans passed womens’ suffrage.  Republicans largely supported desegregation. Look backwards to that instead.

    The Republicans of today have only to take up the mantle of the Grand Old Party, stop behaving like a bunch of Tired Old Men, and update and burnish their message for the twenty-first century.  

    And along the way,  they should stop devouring each other in front of the 24×7 news cameras.

    That’s never helpful.

  8. Asquared
    Lucy Pevensie: I was going to suggest that the problem with the term “compassionate conservatism” is that it implies that much of conservatism isn’t compassionate. There is nothing wrong with telling everyone that all our ideas are compassionate and if implemented would lead to a better life for everyone. · 2 minutes ago

    I was going to post something similar.

    As a parent, I view Conservative policies as the parental equivalent of making my kids do their homework, going to bed at a reasonable hour, and limiting their video game time.  My children think this means we hate them and parents that really love their children let them stay up all night playing video games online with their friends and don’t care if they do their homework or where they go. 

    I often view our current electoral situation as similar to a child of divorced parents being allowed complete choice between which of the two parents described above to go live with.  Most kids will choose to play video games all night if given the choice.

    I agree we need to be more persuasive, I don’t agree that we need to be more compassionate.

  9. Carol Platt Liebau
    C
    Carey J.: I thought we got over the “compassionate conservative” schtick with Dubya.  · 8 hours ago

    Carey, with respect, your comment is emblematic of the problem the GOP is having in reaching out to, for example, women.  Understandably, many conflate “compassion” with “big government” — and that’s a great success of the Democrat message machine.  I think of it in more Reaganesque terms — i.e., “compassion” isn’t getting people on government programs; it’s helping to create conditions where people don’t need government programs. 

    One thing is certain: We will never succeed in reaching voters we need if we consider “compassion” to be a “schtick.” If we want our ideas to prevail, we have to find ways to make them accessible and ourselves appealing to people who don’t already agree with us.  Ultimately, politics is about addition.

    If we can win new supporters without compromising on core principles just by making it clear that we actually do care about people’s well-being — as we should or we rightly have no place in politics — then what is the downside?

  10. BrentB67

    I agree that republicans have  golden opportunity, perhaps once in a generation opportunity, to turn the tide in their favor in short order.

    I also think there are smart people in office that are capable of doing so.

    What concerns me is where/how we stumble with ‘compassion’. 

    Obamacare is destructive because it counts on a central government to re-distribute private property by means of coercion, both taxation and insurance distortion. 

    If we accept that it is a proper role of central government to re-distribute property in the name of compassion and republicans just have a better scheme to do it, then they will fail and rightly so.

    There are people with pre-existing conditions that are not the result of poor choices and they do not have the resources to pay for medical care at the present rates. We need to be able to address this issue Without government confiscation and distribution in the name of compassion. 

  11. swatter

    CPL, this seems like a ‘no-brainer’ to the Republican cause. The Rs just need to keep hammering how rotten Big Government (aka ACA) is compared to the private sector while at the same time explaining that this is the right, or compassionate if that is your wish, thing to do.

  12. HANK DAGNY

    I agree, Carol. I have actually started just doing what the other side does when talking up my conservative viewpoint. I ALWAYS say the Racist Democratic Party, and I always say things like “I want to help the poor by using the free market to lower prices,” etc. It has to be drummed into those skulls.

  13. Annefy

    For those who won’t listen to Milton Friedman, there’s always Bono:

    http://www.glennbeck.com/2013/08/14/bono-capitalism-not-aid-lifts-people-out-of-poverty/

  14. Nick Stuart

    Good principles. How do you see it unpacking in practice?I haven’t a clue. My concern is GOP “leadership” hasn’t a clue either and qill fritter away this opportunity.

  15. Joe Paw

    Since 1972, the more optimistic-sounding candidate has won the presidency. Nixon (easy compared to McGovern); Carter (after Watergate); Reagan (need I say more?); Bush the elder; Clinton; Bush the younger; and Obama.

    GOP has to have a plan; believe in said plan; sell it with the belief that it can better address people’s aspirations, not their fears.

    Simplistic, but a recipe nonetheless.

    Ruff.

  16. Redneck Desi

    Before we are ready to move on to market-based healthcare reform can we just enjoy this moment. The hubris, the lies, the faith in a false god, the daily confirmation of what we know is right…this is the most political fun that I have had in a looooong time.

  17. Cornrobie

    We need to take some ideas from the Liberal playbook. They are content well in America to play the game slowly. They practice Fabian Socialism instead of just leaping headfirst into it. How long has it taken to get to this point slowly starting in all fields of education and so on. We need Fabian conservatism to start moving us in the right direction (basically in my opinion Paul Ryan’s approach).

  18. David Williamson

    Carol, I believe you may be referring to the Republican party, as opposed to us wacko birds who have a lot of compassion for those who believed Mr Obama.

  19. Jim Lion

    We need to emphasize that we want compassion, but at the State level, not the Federal level. As to Obamacare, we could start with a movement to double or triple the number of medical schools (handled by the states) so we can have double or triple the number of doctors in a short time. If we follow up by setting them free to compete on price (lower and/or subsidized education costs in exchange for terms-of-service ala “Northern Exposure” and pooling malpractice insurance costs), we can go a long way toward making good medical treatment much, much more accessible for all and cheaper for all.

  20. She
    Joe Paw: Since 1972, the more optimistic-sounding candidate has won the presidency. Nixon (easy compared to McGovern); Carter (after Watergate); Reagan (need I say more?); Bush the elder; Clinton; Bush the younger; and Obama.

    GOP has to have a plan; believe in said plan; sell it with the belief that it can better address people’s aspirations, not their fears.

    You are quite right.  The trouble with almost all Republicans since Reagan is that they have been demonstrably uncomfortable with their own success.  I think the one who was best at ‘connecting’ with regular folks about this was Bush the younger–the ”compassionate” conservative–(as opposed to the other kind, I guess, as Lucy says above) but his father, McCain and Romney were tongue tied when talking about themselves as representative of the American experience and dream.

    Reagan epitomized this optimism and can-do spirit.  

    Obama epitomizes its opposite.

    The Democrats, through their multi-millionaires ( 7 of the 10 richest members of Congress are Democrats) and super-rich celebrities, and the media, lambaste the ‘greedy rich’ and  foment jealousy among those who have less, in order to hold onto their own money and power.

    It’s perverse.