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Following last night’s travesty of a speech, we find ourselves in an lamentably familiar predicament. Our present administration reeks of corruption, lies and brazen lawlessness. But is there any way to make the public care?
It’s an enormously important question, and not just for political strategists. If the public doesn’t care, this is the new normal. If the public doesn’t care, then our Constitution will rapidly dwindle into little more than an interesting historical document. Where corruption isn’t punished, integrity will soon be effectively banished. No political party can maintain high standards of lawfulness if the other is permitted to cheat with reckless abandon.
As so often happens, the real problem here is not just apathy, but ignorance. Most people don’t really understand what is happening, and why they should be upset about it. When politicians are quibbling over matters of jurisdiction and legality, middle-of-road voters are inclined to shrug their shoulders and tune out. They don’t bother to explore the details of why Obama’s move on immigration is so dramatically different from what Bush or Reagan did in the past. Washingtonians pointing figures at one another is pretty much business-as-usual these days, so it’s not obvious why they should pay extra attention in this instance.
Obviously, we’ve all been debating what the GOP should or could do to check the Administration’s lawlessness. It’s a hard problem, because it really is the job of Congress to stymie this kind of executive overreach, and yet, if they do, Republicans will likely intensify their reputation as zealots and obstructionists. I have no special insight into this particular problem. But I do want to suggest that, moving into the next few years (and particularly the next election cycle), the party needs to make a serious and concerted effort to highlight justice and integrity as particular Republican values, and to persuade the public that they mean it.
This is hard, because of course every political candidate makes some noises about “transparency” and “bipartisanship,” and recent experiences have left voters deeply cynical about this sort of pitch. Voters are undoubtedly tired of being lied to and manipulated, but they also know that every fresh-faced candidate will promise not to lie. Hillary Clinton (if indeed she becomes the Democratic nominee) does not have a fresh face, so that’s a mark in our favor. But we still need to consider carefully which candidates might be effective in pressing the corruption charge with force, while making a credible case that they are capable of orchestrating genuine reform.
I think the candidates are enormously important in this regard. Voters instinctively mistrust parties, but they can occasionally be persuaded to trust people. So, who seems trustworthy? What candidates (especially presidential, but I’m interested in lower levels too) have the kind of record that would enable them to credibly claim that they will govern with integrity?
I have a few ideas of my own, but I’d love to hear other people’s first. Of course my general idea is that, even if we can’t “win” the short game on the immigration issue, we might still be able to mitigate the long-term Constitutional damage if we can make the Democrats pay heavily over the longer term.