Conservatives must come to grips with the problem of Perception. No longer can we assume that truth and facts matter; that all Americans can grasp how big government means less freedom, or that they understand the urgency of fiscal sanity. We cannot assume ideas like personal responsibility and other values we learn through family and community remain the guiding force in America today.
Democrats make assumptions about perception, not truth. Once the electorate embraces a Perception that is driven by emotions like fear and hatred, leftist leaders know they have little to do but turn out the base. It matters not whether truth or facts played a role in creating that perception. The popular conviction that “our leader gets us and the other guy does not” was the unassailable perception of many voters in the recent election. Conservatives relentlessly pummeled the facts and dismal reality of the Obama first term, to no avail.
The Perceptions are irrefutably powerful. Republicans support rich people and don’t care about the poor; Republicans are mostly aging white males and cannot relate to women; Republicans don’t support minorities, they are out of touch and don’t understand you; Republicans want to take away your freedom. Any Obama supporter could cite the mantra, “Romney only cares about the 1%.” Others giddily declared Obama will “save the country!” but have no idea how he would do this or what it means. My favorite example is the canard, “The Tea Party is racist.” No matter that no one can come up with actual examples of Tea Party racism.
The scary truth is that facts are irrelevant as much as perception is relevant in this political climate. Perception is often based upon little or no truth, but relies heavily on emotion. Obama supporters will always respond when questioned about taxation, “The wealthy don’t pay their fair share.” They have no idea what the facts are and they don’t care. The perception is that the wealthy and successful in this country have a moral obligation to “share” it. With this, another Perception is successfully created: that poor and lower income Americans are Victims of the rich (e.g. the “Occupy” Wall Street movement). It matters little that the “fair share” perception is untrue and divisive, is punitive to job creators and endangers our entire economy. People who have embraced these perceptions will not be swayed by actual truth or facts. It is difficult to change perception – in most cases it requires separation from selfish motives (what’s in it for me) in order to adopt altruistic principles (what is good for our country).
In addition, the indoctrination of young Americans to liberalism in school and in the media is a way of life; large numbers of young people are not exposed to a single conservative value in today’s America. This means they have no basis upon which to understand conservative ideology and why it works to create a stronger America. They are sponges for politicians like Obama. This is where conservatives must start. It is clear that half the electorate cannot (or will not) see how destructive Obama’s agenda is for America; they do not understand why his policies will sink us further into debt and division.
If it was clear to them how could they possibly have voted for him? If it was clear to young voters that they and their children will be saddled with crippling national debt, would they have turned out for him in such large numbers? There are hip, young, female and minority conservatives but we never see them in the “mainstream” media. Some can be seen on Fox News – preaching to the choir. Who is going to promote the tenets of conservatism and why it’s better for our country? How will we reach the unenlightened? Where is the counter balance of conservative professors and artists on American campuses and in Hollywood?
We must find our own strategies to effectively dismantle the Perceptions. Conservative leaders must no longer play it safe. While conservatives on television or talk radio do an exceptional job of reinforcing our values, again they are preaching to the choir. We must promote personal responsibility and the importance of fiscal sanity among Obama’s Perception demographics – knowing all the while we will be viciously attacked by liberals. As a party, we cannot hide from these challenges. As a country, we cannot ignore the need.
A number of conservative Republicans insist the pro-Life issue is not relevant in our loss, but I maintain they are wrong. Data on single women voters shows their belief that their right to choose would be taken away by Republicans – already perceived as out-of-touch and predominantly white male – drove the vote. The reality is, the pro-life policy of social conservatives alienates young women and drives the narrative that we are the party that threatens personal freedoms. While protecting the life of an unborn child is undeniably the noble choice, pro-life conservatives must reassure women that their right to choose will not be compromised by election of a Republican to the White House.
There is one thing conservatives can safely assume. When Obama’s policies send our nation into chaos and depression, Democrats will blame Republicans thereby reinforcing the Perceptions. They will come up with a candidate for 2016 who is well versed in the manipulations and lies that demonize conservatives. The mainstream media, who will protect Obama during his second term, can be counted on to further promote the Perception while ignoring truth and reality.
Conservative Republicans MUST look to change the perception of today’s electorate about our Party. The Perception is of course wrong, but as long as it exists and can be effectively exploited by the Democrat Party we are indeed in trouble, not just in future elections but in the loss of conservative American values that make up the goodness and greatness of America.
Lydia C. Springer is a single mom, a passionate conservative, and resident of Thousand Oaks, CA. Her 25-year professional career included public relations and marketing campaigns for the State of California and the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.