With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, Congressional candidates on both sides of the aisle are carefully choosing the messaging they use to communicate to voters. This has long been a struggle for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that many of the people running for office have never experienced the trials and tribulations of the average voter.
The other significant problem is that money drives agendas more than it ever has in politics, and for these candidates to gain or remain in office, they have to engage in a difficult balancing act of catering to their special interests without losing the respect of the people who have the power to elect them.
Neither party is without their communications shortcomings, but there is one that stands out as particularly flawed. Much of conservative rhetoric today is derived not from a passion to help people in need, but is part of an any-means-necessary strategy in order to win elections. Instead of claiming to believe in a particular policy because of what it can do to help Americans, conservative politicians all too readily articulate that they have taken the position they have because it will win them votes.
Senate Minority Leader and 2014 candidate for re-election, Mitch McConnell said “the time had come for the GOP to stop being the handmaiden to Wall Street and instead attend to the anxieties of the middle class." On the surface level, this is admirable, but it’s tainted by McConnell’s follow up statement: "Our average voter is not John Galt…Hymns to entrepreneurial-ism are, as a practical matter, largely irrelevant.'" (NY Times, "Can the GOP Be a Party of Ideas?")
In the real world, we subscribe to ideas and principles because they are good for us or because they are in tune with our moral standards, not merely because we stand to benefit from saying we believe those things. Our leaders need to believe in helping the lower and middle class because the lower and middle class needs help, not because these classes make up the largest voting demographic.
So, why isn’t it okay to believe in a good policy for a bad reason? It’s because, in this political climate, politicians’ beliefs are more fluid and malleable than ever. After gaining power, what motivation do they have for serving the people? If a politician's platform is not based on passion for the issues and the people they champion, it is just as easily tossed away because power doesn't just mean the power to do good things; it means power to do what you want to do. It is only a matter of softening your rhetoric to accomplish it.
As long as Republicans' largest effort to connect with voters is changing the vocabulary of their policies instead of the policies themselves, there is no reason to assume the party is evolving. A vocabulary change is a shifty and embarrassingly transparent effort to manipulate those who disagree with your ideas in their raw form. We deserve leaders who not only implement the right policies, but do it for the right reasons, because policy and politics are as much about trust and character as they are about depth of policy knowledge and political prowess.