For three weeks now, this depressed conservative has struggled to find what some of my editorial betters claim to have found in the rubble of November 6th: shards of hope pointing not to a decisive defeat, but to a determined Madisonian electorate wisely choosing to re-install divided government to prevent the kind of legislative mischief that could lead to permanent fiscal and social ruin.
I humored myself with this analysis, and with the fact that Mitt Romney handily bested John McCain in nearly every subset of old and young white men.
But nothing worked.
So, in desperation, I seized the nexus between the Hostess bankruptcy and the looming Mayan apocalypse as the perfect excuse, and stuffed my sorrows into the creamy center of a couple of final Sno Balls® while I escaped into Frank Capra’s classic Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
You remember Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, the American everyman whose everyday heroics made all the difference in the lives of the people around him, and without whose life — he was shown by an angel — his community would have sunk irreparably into decadence and despair.
And then, as I nibbled on that last shag carpet of coconut, it came to me. This movie contains all the wisdom Republicans need to win again. And again.
And it won’t be by re-calibrating our micro-messaging, tweaking our get-out-the-vote software or gerrymandering our way through the Ohio countryside.
It will be by “speaking the truth in love,” as Christians would say. And that begins with believing that what we’re speaking is the truth, as George Bailey would say. It’s also believing that the virtues of capitalism, individual freedom and personal responsibility — if unflinchingly extolled — will draw a majority of Americans to our point of view.
To be fair, Mitt Romney did some of that — a few times almost matching the rhetoric of George Bailey’s impassioned pleas to save his struggling Building and Loan from the hands of the evil slumlord Henry Potter.
The problem with Mr. Romney was his chronic vacillation, in the public’s mind — and seemingly in his own — between being George Bailey and being Henry Potter. And then, with those contemptuous “47%” remarks to his inner circle of donors, he lacquered with his own broad brush the diabolical portrait of him painted by the “Chicago School of Fine Arts” in the three months previous.
Finally, he compounded his woes with a laughable attempt to walk back those remarks, and then followed by floating the idea — which he quickly disavowed — of raising revenues by ending mortgage interest and charitable deductions, suggestions that could have alienated another 37% of the electorate!
As it turned out, the blowback from all of this was the only hurricane needed to sink Romney’s ship.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Mitt Romney shares with George Bailey one stellar trait: he has exhibited the utmost in moral character, compassion and generosity in his personal life.
But, by all accounts, so has Jimmy Carter. It wasn’t Romney’s personal life, but his public life that — like Carter’s — was the problem. A problem that George Bailey never had because he led only one life.
To win again nationally, we need a standard bearer as authentic as Jimmy Stewart’s character. One who believes out of conviction and not political expediency — who also believes that behind this new “changing face of the American electorate” are the very same hearts and minds that have always yearned for the unfettered freedom and opportunity that only America can provide.
Next time around, GOP candidates should give voters the same tour that Clarence the angel gave George Bailey. We need to show just what America will look like if we cede it to the Henry Potters of today: the goose-stepping collectivists who love diversity of races and genders, but hate diversity of thought — who want to control every facet of our lives, from our earnings, to our religious speech, to the size of our sodas.
And then we need to replace that hideous sight with our own vision of America, communicated not with political slogans forged in the crucible of focus group testing, but with timeless American truths, enduring ideas that have a history as old as the Mayflower and still have a shelf life — well — longer than any Hostess product ever made.
I’m usually an optimist, but after watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” I’m downright encouraged. So encouraged, in fact, that I’m saving my last duet of Ding Dongs® to ring in the Republican victory four Novembers from now.
That is unless, of course, Michelle’s minions have succeeded by then in making chocolate cake and cream filling illegal.
George Bailey in 2016!
Timothy Philen is an author and songwriter, and served for 15 years as a Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church in America.