How incredible that the antidote to what ails the Republicans can be found in the words of a famous Democrat. In his tragic run for the presidency in 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy said, “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’ ” The magnificent poetry of that challenge — to do more and to do better — is at the core of who we are as a society, what we want for America and for ourselves. Here is the reason why the Republican Party has faded from relevance in the past two years.
Despite its many problems, the United States remains a nation of dreamers. The American psyche is genetically wired to see possibilities. Faith in the future is in our DNA. It’s why we historically vote for the more positive, hopeful, upbeat candidates. ~Frank Luntz
It is pretty incredible. In fact, I don’t believe it for a minute. As I have said before, Republicans who invoke RFK are certainly not conservative, because the answer to RFK’s (and Shaw’s) “why not?” question is blindingly obvious, and I don’t know how the GOP could begin its recovery by engaging in even greater utopian fantasising than it already has over the past few years. As I wrote back in January:
RFK’s quote of Shaw should horrify conservatives, and if Mr. Bush can be said to be following RFK’s lead conservatives should be horrified by Mr. Bush.
More than that, however, Republicans who invoke RFK’s quote as the remedy to their ills would show themselves to be deeply confused about why they lost. Luntz’s reference to the RFK quote suggests that he thinks the GOP lost because they ceased being irrationally optimistic, upbeat and utopian, when most of the reaction against the Bush Era GOP across the spectrum occurred because the GOP had become entirely unrealistic in its utopian aspirations and only too happy to dream a dream of a new world that those in the “reality-based community” could not hope to understand. Normal people look at the odd people who say these things, and then they look at the disasters unfolding in the real world, and they conclude that utopian dreamers are extremely dangerous people to have in power.
GOP defeat occurred not because, contra Romney, people had lost faith in government. Good grief, if anything people have had an abiding faith in government–their discontent of last year was an expression of frustration with the ineffective management of a government in which they have only too much faith! Contrary to Obama’s view of politics, the GOP did not lose because their politicians have been too cynical and too lacking in hope. If anything, there has been all together too much trust in the good intentions of Presidents, not nearly enough cynicism and far too much talk about hope in politics in the last decade in both parties, and especially in the current administration.
Luntz’s analysis gets everything almost completely backwards. I don’t think Americans really are a nation of dreamers. This is such an oft-repeated line that we all let it pass without objection, but I don’t think that it’s true for most Americans (except to the degree that all people everywhere have aspirations and seek to fulfill them, which would be like saying that we are a nation of humans). We have a tendency to produce more than our fair share of the wild-and-wooly utopian set, who think that they can restructure human nature or solve ancient and inscrutable riddles of earthly existence, but the broad majority of the nation is actually pragmatic and concerned about visible, immediate problems.
What baffles me about Luntz’s article is that he really ought to know better, at least when it comes to citing the example of disaffected voters from the ’92 cycle. He worked on Buchanan’s campaign in the primaries and then worked for Perot. The Perot voters of yore, like the Buchanan voters before them (some of them were the same people), were not dippy utopians who dream of ushering in an age of sunshine and bunny rabbits–or whatever it is that optimists want. They were much more like Disaffected voters, who are like the voters that responded to Buchanan’s clarion call about the culture war and the raw deal of NAFTA or Perot’s warnings about a “giant sucking sound” enthusiastically. Many of the Upbeat, NAFTA-loving, “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” sort voted for Clinton. I guess that might prove that at least a plurality of voters buys into this sort of political optimism, so it might be a winning approach of a sort, but if we are trying to understand why these Perot voters revolted against the GOP establishment in 1992 (and, to some extent, in 1996) we will not find our answer coming from RFK. If we are trying to understand why the GOP lost in 2006 and how they can recover, we will likewise not discover anything in RFK’s remark.