It’s no secret what happened Tuesday night: an unmistakably Republican electoral tidal wave swept across the country. The question is why. We know we’ll hear the predictable punditry on 24-hour cable news from both the left and the right, slicing and dicing the demographics, pointing fingers of blame for losses…and of course taking all the credit for wins.
But that shallow analysis does a disservice to the millions of Americans, regardless of party, who cared enough to make their voices heard. These voters expressed their deepest held beliefs about their country and their communities…and in many cases the very real fear that the American Dream is slipping through the fingers of our generation.
Without a Presidential candidate at the top of the ticket (despite the President’s attempts to insert himself as the defining issue), what we saw in these midterms was a policy – not personality – driven election. The fact is, governors who lowered taxes to create growth and opportunity in their states won, even in traditionally moderate or left leaning environments. Those who raised taxes lost. Voters stood by governors who stood strong against Washington’s mandate to push able-bodied, working age people into the broken Medicaid system at the expense of the elderly and disabled.
Even in governor’s races in solidly blue states like Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts we saw a repudiation of irresponsible government spending and the unsustainable “good intentions” that are bankrupting those states (and ironically, trapping the very people they claim to champion in a cycle of perpetual poverty).
Voters decisively rejected destructive identity politics that seek to divide us by race, gender, income. We saw an historic victory right here in our own back yard as Senator Tim Scott became the first black elected to the U.S. Senate from a southern state since Reconstruction. And that rhetorical “War on Women” (that never actually was)? Stick a fork in it, because it’s done with the election of Iowa’s first female Senator Joni Ernst; Elise Stefanick, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress; and the re-election of several strong female governors.
And if you really want to pack a paradigm shattering one-two punch, how about Mia Love, the first-ever black female Republican to be sent to Congress? It’s clear that voters are looking for courageous leadership that is grounded in principled ideas and promotes policy solutions to unite us in true hope, not divide us for partisan political purposes.
And therein lies both the challenge and the opportunity ahead. As the dust settles and the real work of governing begins, we know that on both sides of the aisle, the inertia of status quo thinking and the poison pill of political calculation will be as strong as ever.
But we can do better. Let’s determine on both on the left and the right that we are stronger than the culture of political cynicism and division in which we swim. Let’s recognize that commitment to our state and country can only be properly expressed in personal love of our fellow man.
Love that enables us to put down tired political dogmas and sets us free to risk engaging in respectful, authentic conversations with people who may see things differently. To extend and inconvenience ourselves for the sake of our neighbors and communities. Not in a condescending, government-driven paternalism: after all, government can’t love anyone! But in an ennobling belief in the inherent dignity and worth of every human being…and a resulting determination to create a policy environment in which everyone can thrive:
More choices in education to allow every student the opportunity of a customized, high-quality education. Locally controlled healthcare solutions that lower cost, increase access to care and put the doctor/patient relationship first. Responsible development of energy resources that lower gas prices for families and foster energy independence. Tax policies that grow local businesses and create new jobs. And that’s just a start.
This love – and not electoral politics – is the soil out of which our ideas and future actions must grow. It is the nourishing common ground on which we stand as conservative to say that we fight not for things but for people. For the chance of every individual to realize their fullest God-given potential.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully expressed from a jail cell in Birmingham, “…by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.” Unless we put this truth into action in our public discourse and actions, this midterm will soon fade into the memory as just one more election in the never-ending cycle of negativity.
So will our leaders recognize the challenge and seize the opportunity? Let’s pray for the sake of our state and country that they do.
Ellen Weaver is President & CEO of Palmetto Policy Forum a non-partisan, 501(c)3 education foundation.