Rebuilding the RI GOP Part IV: Politics on the Personal Level
So far, in addition to alluding to Dan Yorke’s thought about disbanding the RI GOP and remarking upon the post-election insight provided by the current RI GOP Chair Patricia Morgan, I’ve written about the need for the Rhode Island GOP to coalesce around a cohesive and cogent political philosophy and how work needs to be done both from the top down and from the bottom up. I ended this last by writing that “All politics may be local, but in Rhode Island, it’s personal.” It’s my opinion that therein lay the key to political success for the RI GOP.
I think that it is the process whereby the RIGOP chooses its candidates that needs to be refined. I believe that the party relied too much on “self-starters.” While a willingness to run is admirable, too often it seems that simple desire doesn’t translate into electability. I don’t mean that they haven’t organized their campaign or that they don’t have attractive ideas. No, what I’m getting at is a much more visceral problem. Too many of their fellow Rhode Islanders don’t know who the hell they are!
As I mentioned in the last post, money would go a long way in solving this problem. It can be an equalizer. It’s a quick solution and also absolutely necessary for running a campaign. Money can get you 30-35% of the electorate. Being known by the electorate is crucial, but “being known” is more than just name recognition. No, here in Rhode Island, where everybody knows everybody, a candidate has to make sure they are known–and I mean really known–in the community BEFORE they decide to run.
Success in Rhode Island politics is heavily dependent upon personal connections. A candidate will get votes for being a “good guy” regardless of his political disposition. (This doesn’t mean that only native Rhode Islanders need apply, but I think it is a tremendous advantage over an out-of-stater like myself and most of the rest of the Anchor Rising contibutors). The RI GOP needs to identify their own “Jimmy who lives up the street” to run against the Democrat’s “Tommy who lives down the street.” And these candidates need to already be integral members of their local community.
But what about the rank and file Republicans who may want to run some day but may not be so visible within their community right now? Read on.
While ruing the political and philosophical failings of the national GOP, Joseph Farrah recently explained:
Most of that work needs to be done outside the political arena — way outside. It needs to be done in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our churches and synagogues and in our cultural institutions.
Farrah’s fundamental argument, then, is that conservatives–and by extension, Republicans–need to engage their fellow citizens at the local level. That sounds fine and is nothing new: it’s really politics 101, isn’t it? Yet, while Farrah has become chastened to the idea of counting on political solutions to solve societies problems, Alexis de Tocqueville explained that these private “civic associations” can serve as a training ground for “political associations.” So, while Farrah is correct in emphasizing extra-political solutions, it shouldn�t be forgotten that the members of those groups and clubs are also voters.
Tocqueville wrote about the importance of “associations” in the democratization of early America. He explained that, for any given group, “associated members must always be very numerous for their association to have any power.” Nonetheless:
As soon as several of the inhabitants of the United States have taken up an opinion or a feeling which they wish to promote in the world, they look out for mutual assistance; and as soon as they have found one another out, they combine. From that moment they are no longer isolated men, but a power seen from afar, whose actions serve for an example and whose language is listened to.
Whether it be Save the Bay, a Church group, the local Little League or the PTO, groups of citizens can be more effective than a single citizen. Further, and more important to this discussion, Tocqueville explained that joining and participating in civil associations could be viewed as “practice” for political associations and that there is a symbiotic relationship between civil and political associations.
Civil associations facilitate political association; but, on the other hand, political association singularly strengthens and improves associations for civil purposes. In civil life every man may, strictly speaking, fancy that he can provide for his own wants; in politics he can fancy no such thing. When a people, then, have any knowledge of public life, the notion of association and the wish to coalesce present themselves every day to the minds of the whole community; whatever natural repugnance may restrain men from acting in concert, they will always be ready to combine for the sake of a party. Thus political life makes the love and practice of association more general; it imparts a desire of union and teaches the means of combination to numbers of men who otherwise would have always lived apart�
What I’m getting at is that Republicans need to get to be known and become embedded in the fabric of the community. It is only in this way that they demolish the negative abstraction that “Republican” has become in the minds of too many Rhode Islanders. But you know what? You shouldn’t do it just because of any possible political advantage it may give you in the future. You should do it because it’s your civic duty. Giving back to your community is an investment with a thousand fold return.
So, my final bit of advice to Republicans is to meet your neighbors and to join clubs and community organizations. Don’t even talk politics if you don’t want to. Be cordial, be yourself and show your fellow Rhode Islanders that you’re a nice person, you’re one of them…and you’re a Republican.