Rubio in Lakeland: The Message

I had the opportunity yesterday to hear Sen. Marco Rubio speak at an event in Lakeland, Florida, where I live. I’ve been a Rubio supporter from the beginning of his quest to become a United States senator, and have always appreciated his direct approach whenever I’ve heard him speak. This was the third time I’ve heard him in person, but given his high-profile stance on immigration reform, and the storm of criticism he’s faced from his fellow conservatives, I was particularly interested in how he would handle that issue in his talk. I’ll get to that.

Rubio’s theme was the future of the Republican party. What must Republicans believe and do to regain momentum? He stated at the start that the party had to be true to its beliefs and not just do whatever would bring short-term political gain. Republicans, he said, had to remain principled.

His message had three parts as he charted the course for Republican ascendance:

  1. Be the party of strong national defense. America invites trouble when it is weak. While we cannot get involved in a multitude of foreign escapades, we have to be strong and vigilant to protect ourselves. There will be times when we have to intervene overseas to stave off a threat; we must be ready to do so when necessary.
  2. Be the party of upward mobility. He took dead aim at the misrepresentations of Republicans, noting you can’t allow the opposition to define you—that definition will always be a lie. While Democrats focus on being envious of the rich, Republicans, he urged, should concentrate on showing the way for raising people up and allowing them to succeed. Instead of tearing down the rich, congratulate them, and move as many people as possible into that category. Republicans should be the party that is truly for the downtrodden, offering a path for them to get out of their situation rather than blaming those who have done better. He extolled the nature of America and the vision of a shining hill (without using those exact words) that was reminiscent of the Reagan approach to inspiring people.
  3. Be the problem-solving party. This is where he spoke on immigration. He took on the critics, but in an earnest, thoughtful way. He stressed that our current immigration system is already amnesty. We hardly know who or where those eleven million illegals are. There is no system for tracking them. Four million of them came here legally, but overstayed their visas, and our current system provides no accountability for finding them. Rubio freely acknowledged the proposed plan, of which he became the public voice, is not all it should be, but he sees it as an improvement on what passes for an immigration policy now. He is open to strengthening it, admitting that border enforcement has to be one of the keys, and that it’s difficult to trust the present administration with carrying out any meaningful enforcement. He got involved, he said, because someone has to take the initiative to begin the process for changing the status quo. He stressed that Republicans have to be the courageous party, willing to tackle the hard problems and provide viable solutions.

Some have accused Rubio of being naïve, of not realizing he is being “used” by the Democrats on this issue. Maybe, but I got the impression he’s gone into this with eyes wide open, understanding the political risks. If his input can push immigration policy in a more positive direction, he will have performed a public service. We’ll have to see how that turns out ultimately. Rush Limbaugh, for one, now senses that Rubio’s influence might be more than his critics have been willing to believe.

Overall, his message to the audience was that simply criticizing Obama is not enough. He believes the voters are souring on Obama’s policies, and that when the next presidential election arrives, they will be looking for alternatives. If Republicans don’t offer genuine alternatives, they will lose again. Therefore, Republicans need to be the party of alternatives.

Rubio handled himself well. He was poised and clear in his message. The message is sound. Are Republicans listening?

That RNC Report

The Republican National Committee just released a one-hundred-page document that attempts to explain why the party didn’t do well in the last election. The document also offers recommendations for what needs to be done to assure victory in the future. Before I had time to peruse the report, I was getting some inkling that a lot of social conservatives were upset with it. Not wanting to pre-judge, I waited until I had time to look it over before commenting. Disappointingly, I find myself in agreement with much of the criticism.

A good portion of this postmortem deals with the nuts and bolts: how to conduct primaries differently, etc. Most of that is certainly worth rethinking, and the party is right to do so. Perhaps it can help iron out some of the logistical errors. But when it comes to substance—what the party stands for and how it seeks to present its message—the document leaves a lot to be desired.

It reads like a manual put together by paid political consultants—you know, the ones who have so marvelously led the party to defeat in the past two presidential campaigns while treating social conservatives as necessary evils that just can’t be avoided, much as the political pros would like to. In summary, the meat of the analysis is the essence of a party created by the consultants, who will always get paid, and paid well, no matter who wins or loses. If this is the blueprint for the future, the GOP will be a party of the political consultants, by the political consultants, and for the political consultants.

The report’s recommendations undeniably lead to a diminution of the conservative message. While giving lip service to conservatism, Republicans are informed they need to connect with radical groups like La Raza [a recommendation outside the report but endorsed by RNC chairman Reince Priebus] and the NAACP (yes, the NAACP has definitely become a radical group). Those are organizations that will never vote for a Republican; all that will happen is they will be the conduits for inserting their liberal agendas into the party while they continue to merrily support Democrats. It’s an exercise in utter futility as well as supreme foolishness.

In a desperate attempt to win over minority voters, Republicans are instructed to go along with policies that may compromise their principles, but carefully phrasing it as allowing diversity of views so as not to appear narrow-minded. We must leave room for those who are pro-abortion and in favor of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It’s not stated that bluntly, but it’s not difficult for those practiced in deciphering politispeak to see it clearly.

Throughout the entire document, there are no ringing declarations of principles or strategies for communicating those principles to new audiences; instead, there is kowtowing to views that ultimately will destroy the party by making it Democrat-lite. There is no acknowledgement that one of the main problems was the alienation of a considerable number of conservatives; rather, the focus is on reaching out to the mushy middle and bringing them aboard. But aboard what? What will the party really stand for?

The RNC doesn’t speak for all Republicans, so this doesn’t have to be the final word. What it should do is energize those who seek to put the party on a stronger foundation. Now isn’t the time to give up; the soul of this party is up for grabs. If social conservatives leave the party in droves, those who are left will be astounded by how little support remains. The GOP, whether the professional politicians realize it or not, needs us. Without the conscience conservatives, the Republican party will be a hollow shell, devoid of principle. They don’t know it, but we are their last best hope.

We Are Now Entering Fantasy Land

President Obama held a press conference yesterday, doing what he does best: placing the blame on Republicans for out-of-control spending. He even had the gall to talk about being “responsible” fiscally. This from a man who has overseen more additional debt to the nation’s fiscal picture than all previous presidents combined. It takes a lot of hubris to say the Republicans are the primary culprits when it’s so blatantly obvious he has never met spending he hasn’t liked—of the non-defense variety at least. What has he really saddled us with?

That looks like a pretty accurate representation. Then we are treated to “solutions” such as the following:

If that looks like a fantasy land, you’re not far off the mark:

But we all really know what’s going to happen. There’s only one viable solution to our quandary, from the president’s point of view:

You are now free to be very concerned.

Happy New Year? Why Would We Think So?

On January 1st each year we fall into a pattern long emblazoned on our psyche of saying “Happy New Year!” I realize it’s mostly a hope that we hold out, expecting that things certainly have to be better this time around. But on what basis do we hold to such a hope? Is there a solid reason for hoping, or is this more a shadowy, wispy type of wishful thinking?

For me, on a personal level, I have what I consider to be a well-grounded hope. Having been salvaged from a life of despair and purposelessness by the grace of God, hope is real. Yes, I will be affected adversely by circumstances in the world around me—by culture rapidly losing its Biblical underpinnings and a government in the process of destroying basic American liberties—but even if the worst occurs, I will still have the faithful God who gives the promise of eternity in a much better place.

It’s our society on the whole that concerns me. What is happening right now that would give anyone a reason to hope that things will improve? As I noted above, the culture is changing for the worse and needs to be turned around for anything to get better. There are a lot of reasons for that change; some can be seen in this political cartoon’s depiction of our current situation:

The cartoonist used the image of the Newtown murders as one manifestation of how our culture has been debased. Then the media and the politicians come along and make matters even worse by blaming the wrong people. One newspaper decided to show a map of the homes of all those in its county who have legal gun permits. The goal, according to the paper, was to increase “awareness” of the gun problem. Excuse me, but the legal ownership of weapons is not the problem. Yet now those who have followed the law, and have always done so, are being targeted [the use of that word is intentional].

The other focus of news reports at the moment is the so-called fiscal cliff. Few, though, are the news outlets that are willing to expose the real issue: it’s not a revenue problem; it’s a spending problem. The media are in protection mode—ensuring that the One is not blamed. Of course, he has made blaming others into an art:

The next fiscal controversy will be the debt ceiling, which Obama seeks to have removed altogether. He wants the power to spend whatever he desires, without any constraints. The result would not be difficult to foresee:

And what of the loyal opposition? To what extent are Republicans willing to go to stand for sound principles, regardless of the political fallout? There is a segment of the party that mirrors the old Republican lack of vision that dominated pre-Reagan: never challenge the roots of the problem but just try to be a little more moderate than the Democrats:

That approach has always led to defeat.

So, I ask again—on what basis can we hold out hope that anything will improve this year?

In my view, the main reason we are where we are as a society is that the church of Jesus Christ has not fulfilled its obligations as the salt and light of a nation. There are a number of areas in which we have failed, but let me acknowledge three that are paramount:

  1. We have watered down the message of salvation in the desire to draw more people to the faith. A watered-down message leads to a weak faith, or no genuine faith at all.
  2. We have deviated, to some extent, from Biblical morality and do not grasp how Biblical principles apply to a proper understanding of the limitations on civil government, the primacy of the rule of law, and how economics really works.
  3. We have abandoned control of our children’s education and turned that task over to the government, thereby making the problems worse with each succeeding generation.

Those are the three areas I want to address the rest of this week.

Majority vs. Minority

For the past week and a half, I did a series on the teaching ministry the Lord has given me all these years. So that means I’ve sorely neglected all the excellent political cartoons that have appeared during that time. It’s time to make up for the oversight.

Our political system rewards the one who is able to receive a majority of the vote. That’s as it should be. However, that doesn’t mean the minority can be discounted. The constitutional republic we set up protects the rights of the minority as well. No leader should ever believe he can simply run roughshod over his opponents. Neither should any winner get the false idea that his victory means he has a mandate to do whatever he wants because the majority voted for him:

Yes, there are limitations . . . and sometimes the majority of the voters can be wrong, not only on whom they have chosen but in their support of the “chosen one’s” policies. And if things go wrong with those policies? Not to worry—he has a built-in excuse that will be readily accepted by his minions:

He also has his enablers in the Congress. Harry Reid is already dreaming of ways to override any opposition. Never mind what it says about his character:

While the president himself has his own plans for beefing up his administration:

The loyal opposition, meanwhile, has a decision to make. Is it going to continue to rely on consultants who believe in nothing but political expediency? The problem seems to be that even their concept of political expediency always falls short of reality:

There is a leadership vacuum on the Republican side. Someone needs to fill it who is Biblically based, constitutionally conservative, and articulate. That’s the true path to leadership and ultimate victory.

The Election: An Analysis

I spent a good part of my day yesterday culling through analyses of the election in preparation for my talk to a local Republican club last night. But I did more than just gather information; I prayed as I gathered, seeking to know how the Lord wants me, and all Christians in particular, to respond to the results. In today’s post, I’m going to share what I told that group. Tomorrow, I want to address the perspective Christians should have on what has transpired.

Election Results

Obama won nearly every swing state, which was a shock to most prognosticators, myself included. The popular vote was 50-48 in Obama’s favor, but he received about ten million fewer votes than in 2008. Romney underperformed also, receiving nearly three million fewer than McCain did. The great opportunity for Republicans to take the Senate dissipated; not only did they not retake it, but they lost two seats, despite the fact the Democrats had more seats to defend—nearly 2/3 of the races. The House stayed in Republican hands, but even there they lost a few seats. The lone voice for some sanity in Washington, DC, is slightly weakened.

What Does This Election Say about the Electorate?

 We are a severely divided people. The split is almost even, but that masks the downward trend away from a Christian culture. Consider that Obama won without any agenda for a second term, that experiencing the worst economic time since the Great Depression made no difference, and neither did the massive national debt nor Obamacare, which will now surely be fully implemented. Astonishingly, some polls indicated that voters trusted Obama more with handling the economy than Romney, and that 53% still blamed Bush more for the current state of the economy.

One exit poll (I don’t recall where this was asked) sought to measure the impact of Hurricane Sandy on voters. In that poll, 42% said Obama’s response to the hurricane—interrupting his campaign to “take care” of the emergency—was an important factor in their vote for him; 15% said it was the most important factor. What exactly did Obama do besides get a wonderful photo op out of it? Yet these voters “felt” good about his response, so much so that it either solidified their vote or caused them to change it. All too often in politics, perception rules even when it doesn’t comport with reality. These people were voting primarily on emotion, not principle.

In Ohio, the majority approved the government auto bailout. Of that majority, 75% voted for Obama, believing the false narrative the Obama campaign fostered that Romney was a coldhearted vulture capitalist who would have let GM fail completely.  These voters were not thinking about the good of the nation as a whole; they were focused entirely on their own well-being. In this case selfishness won over principle.

Obama promised more goodies that Romney did. Rush Limbaugh nailed it, I believe, when he commented that Romney’s recipe was the traditional route to success called hard work, whereas Obama took the government-will-take-care-of-you path:

In a country of children where the option is Santa Claus or work, what wins? And say what you want, but Romney did offer a vision of traditional America. In his way, he put forth a great vision of traditional America, and it was rejected. It was rejected in favor of a guy who thinks that those who are working aren’t doing enough to help those who aren’t. And that resonated.

When Romney proclaimed that Obama was the candidate of “free stuff,” the voters took him at his word and grabbed for the “stuff.”

We witnessed a populace more concerned about free contraception than the taking of innocent lives through abortion. We saw three states vote in favor of same-sex marriage [if Washington eventually did so—I don’t have the final word on that] and the election of the first openly homosexual senator, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin.

The maxim that so many conservatives want to believe, that we are a center-right nation politically, has been proven shaky, if not false. I already questioned that; now we have more evidence that we are more center-left and that the real definition of “moderate” in American politics is “liberal.”

What Does This Election Say about the Republican Party?

Republican turnout was not as high as anticipated. We can legitimately debate the specifics of how the Romney campaign was run—not forcefully combating the false images; expecting the bad economy to carry him to victory by itself; avoiding the ripe topic of Obama’s Libyan foolishness; the adoption of the play-it-safe mentality that worked so well for President Thomas Dewey in 1948 [?]—yet those are tactical questions only. The real issue is what the party is willing to stand for. What is its soul?

American conservatism—which is not the same as the Republican party, but ought to be—is a three-legged stool: economic liberty, moral values based on the Biblical worldview, and commitment to a strong national defense. Romney enunciated the first, hinted at the third, and only vaguely accepted the second. He always has been weaker on abortion and homosexuality, and much of the mainstream Republican establishment agrees with him on those issues. Some Republicans tolerate those evangelicals in their midst because they form a key foundation for political victories, but they don’t really like them.

So what will the party become in the post-2012 age? Will it swing toward a tepid middle-of-the-road philosophy or offer a stark contrast to the statist and antichristian stance of the Democrats? As Grover Cleveland noted after losing his reelection bid in 1888 when he rejected the advice of his advisors to change his political views on one issue: “What is the use of being elected or reelected unless you stand for something?”

To those who say a Biblically based, conservative message will not work, I say it depends on the messenger. There is a way to communicate truth and its application to policy that can win over people. They key is finding the principled politicians who can convey that message effectively. We had some principled politicians this time around—Akin in Missouri, Mourdock in Indiana—who lost due to their verbal stumbles. What the Republican party needs are articulate leaders who can guide those who are open to hearing the truth about how government is supposed to work.

What Does This Election Tell Us about the Future of America?

As I watched the tragedy unfold Tuesday evening, and I came to the realization that Barack Obama will be president for four more years, a profound sadness enveloped me. Some of you know I have a book manuscript that compares the optimism of Ronald Reagan with the pessimism of Whittaker Chambers. I want to be a Reagan optimist, but I admit, by nature, I’m more of a Chambers pessimist. I always need a reason for optimism because I know the human condition too well: sin/selfishness dominates this world. In a letter to a friend, Chambers wrote this in the early 1950s:

On one side are the voiceless masses with their own subdivisions and fractures. On the other side is the enlightened, articulate elite which, to one degree or other, has rejected the religious roots of the civilization—the roots without which it is no longer Western civilization, but a new order of beliefs, attitudes and mandates. The enemy—he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within.

Is this true? How far gone are we? While I believe Reagan had good reasons for his optimism in the 1980s, can we say the same today, or has the cultural transformation gone beyond the point of no return? Is there really such a point or is it possible to turn this around? The culture has changed; that much is undeniable. We are undergoing what one commentator calls a “tsunami of secularism.”

We need to rebuild our foundations as a society, but it must begin with a return to the Biblical worldview, which will then lead us back to principles—the general truths that must undergird a society. If that happens, we will then see a renewed commitment to constitutionalism and the rule of law. Only by taking these steps will we be able to restore what has been lost.

I agree with Reagan when he said, “I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.”

What are Christians to do? How are we to respond to this election? I’ll try to deal with that tomorrow.

The Lakeland Rally

 

The Republican convention ended on Thursday evening, and right away the next morning, both Romney and Ryan showed up just down the street from me. For whatever reason, the Romney plane was at the Lakeland Regional Airport; they chose that as their departure place rather than the Tampa International Airport. That means they had to drive from Tampa to Lakeland, about a 45-minute jaunt by bus. Since they were going to be this close, I figured I should travel that mile or so over to the airport to see them off. The rally was much larger than I anticipated.

Romney’s plane already was there as a patriotic backdrop. I didn’t get there as early as some, so my view wasn’t the greatest. I did see and hear our congressman Dennis Ross, though, who is a principled man who stands by his convictions.

As is the case with most of these presidential rallies, nothing starts on time, so even though the official starting time was 9:30, the principals didn’t arrive until at least 10:15. You can see the kind of view I had in this picture:

In case you can’t tell, let me confirm that is Ryan speaking in the distance. Binoculars would have been nice. They did try to help out, though, with a screen off to the left:

Someone else who was there had a much better vantage point, so I owe the following two pictures to him:

Photo Courtesy of Michael Barrett

Photo Courtesy of Michael Barrett

Why a stop in Lakeland? We are the center of the Florida political universe. Northern Florida is resoundingly Republican. The southeast, anchored by Miami, Palm Beach, and Ft. Lauderdale, is predominantly Democrat, with the exception of the Cuban enclave. Central Florida, where I am, is the mixed area, and will determine the direction Florida goes in this election. Lakeland is right between Tampa and Orlando, so we see the candidates quite often. I’m sure this won’t be the last opportunity before November.

I watched a lot of the Republican convention and was impressed with how women and minorities have become a key contingent within the party. While many speeches smack of boilerplate in both parties, there were some addresses that transcended the ordinary. Anytime Marco Rubio speaks, it’s from the heart. Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech was nothing short of stupendous. Romney’s was just what it needed to be, as he introduced himself to the country as someone who took risks and had to work his way up on his own. He didn’t come across as an emotionless robot at all; I’m convinced that many undecided voters who were watching him had to come away from this speech impressed with the fact that he is very human, a true success story, and someone who just might be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The comments today at the rally were nothing new, but recycled from those convention speeches. That’s fine. There hardly was time to come up with anything new. What I did sense in the crowd was anticipation and excitement. They think Barack Obama is in his final weeks as president.

As he should be.