The Politics of Yes


President Barack Obama’s victory was secured by a politics of yes. Telling voters yes is essential to victory since most voters do not like to be told no. The key to political victory is figuring out how to tell the most people yes and the fewest people no. The president secured a second term by successfully employing this strategy.

There are two groups of voters that gave him a second term: women and Latino voters. Women voters do not want to be told no when it comes to their bodies. What put women voters in the president’s camp was such social issues as abortion. As long as abortion is put in terms of women’s health and rights, Republicans will not be able to capture a large enough portion of independent women voters in swing states to win the White House. The Republicans have three options: (1) adopt a pro-choice stance, (2) let the issue fade into the background so that it no longer plays a pivotal role, (3) reframe the debate over abortion from a woman’s health issue to a fetal health issue.

The first option will not, and perhaps should not, happen. Option number three will be a difficult maneuver and may prove too nuanced to change anyone’s mind. This leaves option number two as the only good option for capturing the votes of women who voted for President Obama because of the Republican stance on abortion. At a minimum, though, Republicans need to do a better job of keeping people like Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri from making inane comments on the topic.

Latino voters, either in fact or in rhetoric, were told yes by Democrats and no by Republicans. Whether it was Arizona’s controversial immigration law SB 1070 or Mitt Romney’s policy of self-deportation, Latino voters saw the Republican Party telling them, “We don’t want you here.” Rick Perry was crushed by the Right during the primary season for his decision as Texas governor to support a bill that would offer in-state tuition to some undocumented students. In other words, when a Republican tried to say yes to the Latino community, the base of the Republican Party turned against him.

Latino voters understood the Republican Party to be telling them no, which is why they went with the president by a 75-23 margin nationally. In an up for grabs Colorado they went his way by a margin of 87 to 10; in Ohio by 82 to 17. Just as with women voters, the GOP needs to find a way to appeal to Latino voters by either changing its stance on controversial issues, emphasizing new issues that may appeal to Latino voters, or reframing the existing debate. The most effective and consistent strategy would be for Republicans to find issues about which their ideas align with the Latino-voting population and push those to the center of the debate.

The evidence is clear; voters want to be told yes. Colorado voters want to be told that, yes, they may smoke what they want, while Maine and Maryland voters want to be told that, yes, they may marry whomever they choose. Victory in 2012 went to the party that told more people yes and fewer people no. The point is not which party has policies that are better for the country, but it is about which party makes voters feel as if they were being told yes.

For those who care about the quality of the proposals this is problematic in that there is no assessment of what is good but only what is politically expedient. Some ideas that are good are not expedient. This is an inherent problem with popular government. James Madison, the author of The Federalist No. 10, knew this to be true, which is why he argued for a republican form of government rather than a democracy: only within a republic where power is divided horizontally and vertically can the capricious nature of the electorate be tempered. Perhaps the safeguards have eroded over time or they were insufficient to begin with, but it appears that Madison's “factions” have found a welcome home within the American political process.

Nobody wants to hear that it is in the nation's best interest, or in the best interest of liberty, to let an industry go bankrupt, to let housing prices fall, or to tell retired people that their financial stability is not the government's responsibility. What most voters want to hear, according to what happened on November 6, is that when we need help we should ask the government and the government should always pronounce a resounding yes!

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Gary Jason

It may be true that successful politics is in some sense the politics of telling voters "yes," but is is certainly NOT true that the politics of "yes"is in general the politics of liberty and human rights.

If a large mob wants to lynch me, say, because I am bald, saying "no" to them may anger them, may make them feel that their "right to justice" has been violated, may interrupt their plearsure, but it surely protects my rights and liberty.

So, yes, the number of people who favored the government crony bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler (i.e., all those UAW workers who made out like bandits) voted for the man who said yes to it, but the rights and property of secured creditors and taxpayers generally were trampled upon. Yes, the number of people who want unlimited health care without having to pay for it outnumbers the children who will be stuck with the tab (and--conveniently for the adults who favor "free" healh care, those children can't vote!), but the rights and property of those children are being infringed upon.

Even on issues where I am personally inclined more to agree with the left than the right, such as on legal abortion and open immigration, I am intellectually honest enough to realize that those with whom I disagree are usually not religious nuts or racist bigots, but are often motivated by a desire to protect the rights and property of others. So while I myself don't hold, say, that a one week old fetus is a "person," I do comprehend that IF IT WERE A PERSON, simply waiving your hand and saying "women have the right to chooses" would be to allow those women to violate the rights of other people.

Again, while I myself strongly favor open borders, I do comprehend that--as no less a lover of liberty than Milton Friedman observed--open immigration into a welfare state can violate the property rights of the taxpayers who must pay for those programs. (I discuss in great detail my proposal for allowing open borders in such a way as to not violate the property rights of taxpayers in a long piece forthcoming in these pages).

In short, saying yes to the majority of voters is often to deprive minority groups of their rights.

Gene Berkman

When voters in Colorado and Washington said "yes, you can smoke marijuana" that was a yes for freedom.

When voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington said "yes, you can make a life-long commitment to your partner" that was a yes for freedom.

Liberty really does mean "yes,you can do what you want" but when I look at Libertyunbound it seems to be filled with griping about people who want to do something, and the automatic suspicion that their wants is a claim on your assets.

Libertyunbound has to be the most depressing website I have seen that claims to speak for liberty. Unless we present a positive message of freedom, people will naturally support those who say "yes you are OK" even if they mean to tax and spend to make people feel OK.

And before you condemn people who rely on government for their retirement, those people did pay into the system and are looking to get back what they paid. Until you are in that situation, it is easy to make an abstract point.

Jon Harrison

The first two-thirds of this essay is right on the money. The last third overstates the case somewhat.

Fred Mora

Jon, why do you always comment negatively when someone reminds you that this country was built on the very principles that the Left abhors?

Jon Harrison

I don't accept your characterization, Fred. I criticize any argument that I believe is factually incorrect or logically flawed. There aren't exactly many leftists writing in this space. If there were you would see plenty of criticism of them in my comments. There is a foreign-policy blogsite written by left-wingers that I posted comments on for years. Although not actually barred from the site, it has been made clear to me that my commentary is too sharp for their taste.

Additionally, I naturally want to see the Right move in directions that I favor. Therefore I try to get right-wingers to think differently about certain issues and ideas. In the last analysis, I stand alone; I'm not a party man. That many right-wingers dislike me because I wander off the reservation is of absolutely no consequence to me.

I enjoy the back and forth with you, Fred, and I do take the time to read your stuff. But you lack a depth of knowledge about many of the things you write about. The first thing that all of us must recognize is that we know less and understand less than we think we do. I haven't seen that self-knowledge in you yet.

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