The president articulates this with a straight face, even on the same days that Republican senators and congressmen propose detailed substitutes. This trope immediately transmutes into a Democratic talking point, which prompts the Republicans to respond by insisting “Oh yes, we do.”
How many times have we seen this vignette played out? How many times have Republicans risen to the bait to grumble that the charges made against them are untrue? So when will they learn this is not the way to win this argument? When will they realize it is not how elections are won?
Democrats will never acknowledge the legitimacy of Republican initiatives no matter how reasonable they are. Their game is to put their foes on the defensive — and conservatives oblige. In fact, there is only way out of this trap: It is to go on the offensive.
To some extent this is already being done. Obamacare is, and must continue to be, mercilessly attacked and ridiculed. When Democrats have the audacity to argue that their health care law is brilliant because it eliminates two and a half million jobs, the asininity of this claim must be laughed out of court.
But Republicans must do more. They must have a positive message. Nonetheless, that message cannot be a detailed legislative agenda. Mitt Romney tried that ploy when he ran for president and his almost 90 proposals for reviving the economy were regarded as a joke.
No, the message must be short and inspirational. I, therefore, propose that conservative candidates begin laying the groundwork for 2016 by declaring that it is time to restore America’s greatness. Instead of picking over the bones of an emaciated corpse, they must rally the nation to bring it back to health.
This is what political winners do. Obama did it when promising hope and change, albeit never fully explaining which changes. John Kennedy did it by assuring us he would get the nation “moving again.” Richard Nixon managed the same feat by swearing he would get us out of Vietnam.
In none of these cases were specifics on the docket. Nor were they when Reagan told us it was “morning in America,” or Clinton focused on “the economy stupid,” or Bush the Younger argued for a compassionate conservatism. All knew that voters want reassurance, not the minutiae of particular policies.
So let Republican candidates not forget that Americans want their country to be great. They were raised in the belief that it was and are uncomfortable with the possibility that it may be sinking into second-class status. Obama tells us that stagnation is the new normal and the best we can do. But is it?
I, for one, disagree. Our nation can remain the last best hope of humanity — but only if it stays faithful to the principles that made it exceptional. Obama regards us as ordinary; as no better than anyone else. And if we pursue his warped vision of social justice, this may come true.
Yet why should we let it? Why can’t we seize the bull by the horns and liberate ourselves from subservience to the tyranny of Washington Bureaucrats? The potential of Americans — even of poor Americans — should not be underestimated. Obama told us “yes, we can” and we should respond “yes, we can — once you get out of the way.”
Greatness is, in part, a state of mind. It is never granted to those who do not believe they are capable of greatness. Ronald Reagan knew this. It is time for his heirs to wake up to this reality. A little cheerleading is in order! After all, those of us who love America should want it to be all it can be!
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.