Friday, June 15, 2007

The Message

There are the official topics, and there are the issues, which show up more pervasively than the agenda suggests. At last year’s Conservative Leadership Conference, it was the need to do something about illegal immigration. From many of the featured speakers, this year’s theme would have been, "Get over it and get to work."

The unusual step of scheduling both Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele, former governor and lieutenant governor of Maryland, underscored this message. The two of them formed a Republican administration in a liberal state, and in spite of high approval ratings and significant and quantifiable policy success, were unable to secure re-election in the "wipe-out election" of 2006, as Ehrlich described it.

Like many other speakers, the former governor said it is not enough to simply be conservative or even to carry out conservative policies; we have to give the electorate an understanding of what that means.

"If these numbers are going to turn around, we have to be hyperactive to get this message out to the community," Ehrlich said. "We’ve got to be relentless."

However, exactly how conservatives do that may be a problem. Sessions featuring talk radio hosts and writers from the state’s major markets were sharply divided on what their roles in the conservative movement should be. Commentator and former congressional candidate Nathan Tabor urged the conservative media to unite around a common agenda, but Jeff Katz from WBT in Charlotte, shot back, "I couldn’t disagree more; our job is not to promote an agenda, but to attract and retain as many listeners as possible for our stations."

Others on the panel agreed with Katz, and several complained that conservative politicos aren’t effectively using the media because they are clueless about the news process.

And that doesn’t address the question of what the unified message should be. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani gave strong support to educational reform, but offered remedies more appropriate for the state than the federal level. Gubernatorial candidate Bob Orr delivered an excellent speech on the dangers of courting and providing business incentives, a favorite development strategy of lawmakers of all sorts, which some called "dry." Representative Walter Jones prompted a walkout during his brief speech.

I have to agree with the Maryland team’s call — we conservatives need to rally around the basic principles we intend to stand for, and then stand for them, for crying out loud. Our first problem, though, is going to be defining just what those principles are going to be — the ones which are conservative first, but then secondly, those definitive conservative principles that we’re really willing to offer more than lip service. That is a topic for another conference.

From Conservative Citizen, Summer 2007 issue, pp. 34-35


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