My two cents: Republicans and educating the public about elections

Shield-Two-Cents-ReverseYesterday was celebrated as “Constitution Day” on many college campuses across our nation. Depending on the institution, there were forums, panel discussions, and even guest speakers to discuss the importance and significance of the Constitution of the United States. As an American historian, I have spent a lot of my academic career studying that early generation of American statesmen that took part in the forming of the government of our great nation. The college where I work was no different; Henderson Community College had a discussion forum where the topic was voting rights. While the forum discussion went fairly well, it was the questions from my students and some former students that really became the highlight of the day’s festivities for me.

In the local area where I live, the Democratic Party is truly the only party that has any sway. Many of Henderson County’s residents are Democratic not because they may agree with the party’s national platform, but because they come from a long line of Democratic Party members or people who in the least, simply supported the Democratic Party candidate. The national Democratic Party platform, to most of them, is something that they do not personally believe in, but they continue to support the party because it’s traditional and it is expected. The hatred for the Republican Party extends in many of these proud Kentuckians to Reconstruction. The people who I have come to know in this area often tell me that they do not agree with amnesty for illegal immigrants, do not support abortion, the open hostility to the definition of traditional marriage, the continued growth of the government, or even the current efforts to further restrict the development and use of coal as a source of energy.

After yesterday’s panel discussion, I had the opportunity to talk to some of the college age people who attended the event. While the issues discussed ranged from voter ID laws, absentee ballots, disenfranchisement, and other electoral issues, there were many questions that were asked about the reasons for the variance in state laws. Many of these college students didn’t realize that the reason for the differences in voter requirements, districting, and even the procedures for voting were because it is the states that oversee the nation’s election process. Not realizing this, immediately the question was asked if this was the intent or an oversight of the founding fathers when they were writing the Constitution. I explained that the intent of the Constitution was to provide a new framework for the national government. The intent was for the national government to be republican in form with the bulk of governmental power, including the oversight of elections, to be at the state level. It was here, at the state level where the common man was to have the most impact on government and government the most interaction with the common man. Yes, the Constitution was an imperfect document in our modern society since it did not end black slavery, grant equal civil rights to women and minorities, but for its time, it was the most advanced political document of its time and instituted the most radical government that the eighteenth century world had ever seen – a government where the citizenry chose their governmental leaders.

This spurred a number of questions from the group of students I was talking to in the parking lot of the college. While Republicans have been quick to write off the college-aged voter, this demographic is hungry for answers and solutions. They want to hear something other than the normal political slant they hear in high school and from within their peer group. They want to hear something than the same old rhetoric they heard in the past that tells them how their standard of living is going to be lower than their parents, thanks to the Republicans. They want to hear how they can become successful and wealthy through hard work, they want to be judged for their individual accomplishments and what they have contributed to society rather than hearing how they are privileged or held back because of their race. As the students began to ask questions related to these issues, instead of seeing what too many Republicans see as a lost voting demographic, I saw an opportunity to educate about the importance of the American election process, building what had been discussed by the panel.

The Democratic Party and the American Left has excelled at reaching this demographic. Besides of having a stranglehold on higher education and a more than passing influence on at least two generations of Americans who have attended public school, Liberals have excelled in bringing their political message to mainstream America. Outside of the basics of education, many of the textbooks used to teach social studies, civics, and history in both high school and college have a liberal/leftist bias. Combine this with social media, traditional media, and even mainstream artists who have no problems sharing their liberal biases, Republicans and conservatives (there is a difference between the two) are often left taking part in a debate where the very terms being used have already been defined. In any real debate, language must remain apolitical and neutral; when language loses its neutrality and becomes defined, the side defining the language will always win the argument. Within the discussion of national politics, the American left has defined anyone challenging their solutions as being racist, bigoted, or even benefitting the wealthy.

The Republican Party needs to do the one thing that the party did well during Reconstruction – it became the party of opportunity and the party of education. While most of the discussion about Republicans during the post-Civil War period focuses on the Radical Republicans, the work of the local Republican Party members is where the bulk of Republican victories were won. Republicans, at the local level, were actively educating voters on the benefits of capitalism, personal responsibility, education, limited national government, and even civil rights. While most teaching of this era focuses on the demonization of a powerful and politically charged tactic used with success by the Republicans of that era, the “waving the bloody shirt” was indeed powerful and untouchable; it claimed that Republicans were responsible for emancipation of slaves whereas the Democratic Party sought to keep and defend slavery. Learning from the Republican Party playbook, the Democratic Party has used this technique against the Republicans in election after election with women, Hispanics and Latinos, and the African-American community. They have painted the Republican Party as a party of racists, bigots, and misogynists – and with great success as the Republican Party leadership refuses to defend itself with its own successes and history.

If the Republican Party is serious about winning elections, it must first win the hearts of the people it is hoping to persuade. It must reach voters with more than a message of “we’re the anti-Obama party”  and focus on issues where traditional Republican ideals have always worked, particularly civil liberties, national defense, the economy, and industrial growth. Instead of focusing its message to appeal to independent and moderate voters, the party must state to the voter why elections are important and the reasons why voters must select Republican candidates  who are actually conservative to hold public office. The Republican Party leadership must also refrain from selecting a plate of candidates and support conservative candidates for public office that have been selected by its local base. There are genuine Republican solutions for every issue our nation faces that if the party were to actively educate the voter on these issues and solutions, the public would respond by supporting Republican candidates. Until that actually happens, expect Republicans to lose more elections.

Alan Simmons

Alan Simmons is an adjunct instructor of history at Henderson Community College. He has been teaching at the college/university level since 2004. Within the scope of his degrees, his areas of emphasis are U.S. foreign policy, public policy history, political history, and U.S. history.

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