Opinion

A SAD commentary on the GOP

Timothy Philen Freelance writer

Ah, spring!

That bittersweet time when a young man’s fancy turns to love, unrequited love, and then hate — culminating in the diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

You may remember it by another name along the SAD spectrum — before it too became a treatable and billable disease: “Spring Fever.”

Here’s how it works: The brain releases large amounts of endorphins and serotonin, the “happiness hormones,” to provide for the increasing demands of the increasing daylight hours of spring. This produces a storm of energy in the body and a flood of optimism in the mind — which the mind immediately recognizes as completely inappropriate given the reality of your circumstances. In response, the brain goes back to releasing the “sleep hormone” melatonin. The ensuing chemical struggle causes depression and exhaustion, and once again we slip beneath the weary waves of winter.

As a result of these disparate symptoms, Spring Fever also has the rare distinction of being a “contranym,” a term which functions as its own antonym, like the Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project,” fittingly released last week, just in time for the emotional vagaries of the vernal equinox.

This beautifully typeset and tidily enumerated 100-page political paean to Spring Fever brought me from ecstasy to agony in record time this year.

I was initially euphoric, hoping that this elite team of GOP experts would not only perform an autopsy on the 2012 campaign, but also begin to illuminate that elusive “soul of the Republican Party,” which would lead to core belief and policy blueprints for the next national election.

What we got instead was a dizzying punch list of new committee construction projects, from developing “growth and opportunity inclusion councils,” to inaugurating idea exchange “symposiums” in minority neighborhoods, empowering “master surrogate programs” to teach eloquent Pacific Islanders to articulate Republican ideals, and building a “data analytics institute” that would allow strategists to “capture and distill best practices” for the targeting of specific voters.

It was consultant-speak at its most glorious, which actually bemused rather than bothered me, because all the T-bills in China couldn’t pay for the scores of new Republican bureaucracies that this massive makeover would require.

As for the suggestion that enlarging the party would be facilitated by improving our “tone,” particularly on issues like immigration — so that we sound more like Tony Robbins and less like Andrew Dice Clay — I’m all for it. More targeted tweeting? #GottaBeGood. And that new GOP acronym “Growth and Opportunity Party”? Branding at its best!

No, what got me loosening my tie, and what should get all conservatives a little hot under the collar, are not the tactics, but some of the strategies suggested in the report.

But even before that, my eyes began watering at the inexplicable absence of what I thought would be the first and most obvious recommendation: the dismissal of Chairman Reince Priebus.

My goodness, if a Japanese prime minister accidentally wore navy blue socks with black shoes to parliament, he’d probably fall on his sword for the dishonor he’d brought to his party and his nation.

Reince Priebus presided over the 18-month kabuki tragedy of the last election and he not only didn’t resign, he got himself re-elected to another two-year term by a 166 to 2 vote, like nothing ever happened.

Even more astounding, Priebus became the special prosecutor tasked with investigating the political incompetence of his own Republican campaigns, and making suggestions for strategic reforms.

Most troubling of all, however, were the suggestions themselves: that the party stop wasting time providing “ideological reinforcement to like-minded people,” start being more “inclusive and welcoming” on social issues, and “appeal to more people, including those who share some but not all of our conservative principles.”

That seems to me like code language for not worrying about rallying core constituencies, being willing to vacillate on core moral issues like abortion, and downplaying core conservative principles so that we can attract more independent swing voters.

The problem is that we just had a walking contranym at the top of the ticket — a poly-principled fellow who did all those things supremely well. In public anyway. In private, as we all learned, he didn’t even believe his own stump speech. At his core, there wasn’t much of a core.

But he did end up teaching us one invaluable lesson: the truism that “Americans always vote their pocketbooks” isn’t always true.

Astonishingly, the majority this time voted their gut instead, even though it meant re-electing a president they trusted was a socialist and a clear and present danger to their pocketbooks. But at least they trusted him! That’s how determined we Americans are to elect someone with consistent core beliefs.

Yes, we’ve learned from the debacle of 2012, and we’ll recover from the “Growth and Opportunity Project” as long as we remember that all of these pie charts and platitudes and packaging ideas mean nothing without a platform.

A platform of core principles and policies that will never seem perfectly pure, but will always be strong enough for authentic and compelling conservative candidates to stand on and proudly identify as Republicans.

Our job now is to identify those candidates, identify the principles that will coalesce into a national platform consensus going forward, and put our 2014 campaigns in motion.

We’ve got to get back to work like never before. Fortunately, the RNC is making it easy. They used up all of our sick days last week with that Spring Fever report.

And that’s okay with me. Just knowing I don’t have to read it again, I feel better already.

Timothy Philen is the author of Harper&Row/Lippincott’s “You CAN Run Away From It!” a satirical indictment of American pop psychology. He is currently at work on a latter-day “Walden,” a collection of essays on post-modern American culture.