One of my heroes is George S. Patton, Jr. I’m sure it’s beginning comes from the magnificent performance given by George C. Scott in the film, “Patton.” I have since read and watched biographies, read histories and even had the privilege of interviewing a man who served in Patton’s 3rd Army in the European campaign, Arnold Whittaker. As I began thinking about this topic, I realized Patton’s famous speech before the 3rd Army kept running through my mind.
Patton told his men he didn’t want to receive any word about holding position or staying on safe ground. He said to let the German’s do that. He wanted his men to know they were to be advancing all the time. He believed all Americans love to win — love the sting of battle in whatever form.
“When you, here, everyone of you, were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big league ball players, and the All-American football players. Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed.” (Patton, June 5th 1944)
To win, Patton knew he had to be decisive and committed. So let’s apply this to the current political climate in this country. I hear from many that the majority of Americans want to be in the middle — they want everyone to get along. They don’t want to win the debate but settle for a “middle of the road” moderate point of view where everyone is a little right and a little wrong.
Politicians are given a special seat at the inside-the-beltway table if they can tout their “moderate” positions with pride. Citizen’s in our country go through great lengths to claim they are not for either side, but remain “independent.” This is a wonderful self-appointed title. It sounds so erudite, so cultured and sophisticated. You can imagine the voice of Thurston Howell III with his ivy league drawl saying, “I don’t choose sides. I’m an Independent.”
This notion is anathema to an overwhelming majority of Americans and this can be demonstrated by looking at the last 40 years of presidential elections.
1980 – Reagan v. Carter
In the run-up to the 1980 election, this nation was in a state of depression. Not just in terms of economic and energy policy, but in how we thought of ourselves in the world. We were filled with doubt. The misery index was never higher at 21.98. Interest rates were through the roof, lines at gas stations stretched for blocks, and inflation was ballooning out of control.
Would any argue with me if I said Jimmy Carter represented a clearly liberal way of governing? That he was solidly identified as on the left? Would anyone call him a moderate?
Enter Ronald Reagan. Ask yourself the same questions? Was he a moderate? A maverick that walked that middle-of-the-road line to governance? Or was he clearly right-wing and conservative?
When the electorate was given the choice between two very clear alternatives, the conservative won and won soundly.
1984 – Reagan v. Mondale
Four years later it was time for another race. Again, Americans were given a very clear choice between a right-wing conservative in the incumbent president and the challenger, Walter Mondale. The DNC convinced themselves that the reason Carter lost was due to not being liberal enough and Mondale would be the alternative to what they believed was a war-monger with his finger on the button. And, when the polls closed in November of 1984, Reagan managed to surpass his impressive landslide win from four years earlier. Reagan won 49 of the 50 states. A resounding win by anyone’s measurement.
Given the choice between a decisive conservative agenda and one that was liberal, American’s voted for the conservative.
1988 – George H. W. Bush v. Michael Dukakis
Spurred by the red tidal wave of conservatism, the Republican primary was a no-brainer for Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush. For most, Bush (41) was considered a vote for a third term of Reagan. He ran on the same conservative record.
The left, believing their strategy was still correct, nominated the Massachusetts liberal, Michael Dukakis. The thinking this time was to select a northeastern liberal rather than one from the mid-west or the south. In one aspect, this was a more successful campaign in that Dukakis was able to win 10 states plus the District of Columbia. Though a dramatic improvement over Carter and Mondale, it was a still a huge defeat as Bush (41) took the other 40 states with ease.
The American populace had been given a clear choice for three election cycles and when shown stark differences, opted for the unabashed conservative.
1992 – Bush v. Clinton v. Perot
Here’s where things begin to shift. It will mark the first time in modern history when a president is elected without garnering 50% or more of the popular vote and an independent, third-party candidate, will cost a sitting president his bid for reelection. Running for a second term, Bush (41) started to make noticeable shifts toward a more moderate stance. He was labeled as disconnected from the ‘common man’ when he was incredulous over the cost of a loaf of bread during a photo-op at a grocery store. In an effort to combat this notion, he began to support greater social spending initiatives and supported tax increases in an effort to gain support from the Congress. His famous, “Read my lips,” mantra, about not signing any bill raising taxes, pushed to the side.
But, there was more to this race than just Bush moving to the center. A third-party candidate, Ross Perot, was actually leading in the polls early over both Bush and Clinton, due to his fiscally conservative speeches, utilizing white pads and a no-nonsense delivery that never pulled punches. He was a businessman, not a politician, and championed this as his best attributes.
Toward the waning months of the campaign, Perot inexplicably made a decision to drop out of the campaign, but returned later and attempted to regain his lost momentum. It was too late. The fiscally conservative candidate had lost the confidence of many of his followers, while the more centrist Bush was in a battle with the dynamic orator in Governor Clinton. Clinton was very much a leftist candidate, but his great smile and mesmerizing charisma obfuscated his liberal underbelly.
The electorate was left to choose from an incumbent who had moved to the center, an untrustworthy fiscal conservative, or a dynamic, but liberal candidate with a clear message. The voters opted for the latter, though Clinton became our 42nd president with only 43% of the overall vote.
The candidate with a clear stance, unmuddied by trying to be a moderate, won.
1996 – Clinton v. Dole v. Perot (again)
The 1996 presidential election was like a bad Hollywood sequel. Bill Clinton? Check! An aging war hero? Check! The short Texan with the odd voice and no political experience? Check! No one doubted the service Dole gave to his country, but similar to how the DNC failed to understand the country wasn’t looking for more liberal candidates from 1980-1988, the GOP made the mistake of thinking the country would vote for someone because they had served in battle and had been “around a long time.” What it did was show the American people that Dole was chosen for no other reason than he was “entitled” to it — the elder statesman.
Clinton recognized the need to embrace the accomplishments of the heavily conservative Congress, a body he lost control over in 1994. Welfare reform, acknowledgement that universal healthcare was a mistake, and lower taxes were all parts of his campaign.
And the high-pitched Texan, who believed everyone had forgotten about his last failed attempt, was ready and raring to do it again, this time to Bob Dole.
In the end, the numbers were almost identical for Dole as they had been for Bush (41): 39.2 million popular votes. Bill Clinton actually received two million more popular votes over 1992 with a total of 47.4 million. Perot lost support with only 8 million votes. Everyone else stayed home.
Clinton showed he was happy accepting the conservative accomplishments of the Congress. It wasn’t that the American people had much of a choice, so they opted to keep riding the horse they knew — the one that seemed to be okay being more conservative than he had been four years prior.
2000 – Bush v. Gore
Was there a more contentious race in modern history than Bush v. Gore? Hanging chads. Voters who admitted they didn’t know how to use the voting machines or line up the right names. Results that were fought in the courtroom and escalated all the way to the Supreme Court. Bush took 50.5 million votes to Gore’s 51 million. Yet, the electoral college went toward Bush with 271 versus Gore’s 266.
Gore pushed a much more liberal agenda. Bush favored a more conservative one. In the end, the nation opted to put their support behind the conservative, though by one of the slimmest margin’s in modern history.
One additional observation that may explain why that race was so close. Bush’s selection for VP was Dick Cheney and he very well may have been the nudge that gave Bush the win. He was a known, conservative entity with a wealth of experience. On the flipside was Gore’s selection for VP. Joe Lieberman had long been viewed as a hawk with some fiscally conservative leanings. In a sense, Gore balanced out his own liberal leanings with a much more centrist (if not right of center) running mate.
Americans were given a choice of a double-conservative ticket versus one that had elements of both. Though confusing to most, the conservative ticket won.
2004 – Bush v. Kerry
One could argue that with the terrorist attack of 9/11, an incumbent president who supported the military and espoused politically conservative principles would have little chance of losing a bid for reelection. But, a war-weary nation was starting to reveal itself. The DNC dove back into the back of their political playbook and opted for another northeast liberal in Senator John Kerry. The American electorate was given a very clear choice (something they hadn’t been given in the last three elections) to make — the current conservative incumbent or embrace the much more liberal opponent. And, whenever there has been a clear-cut choice given to the American people, the conservative agenda ends up winning. (Notice I say the conservative agenda versus a specific party?) Though closer than any of the elections of the 1980’s, there was no doubt that George W. Bush had won a second term in office.
2008 – McCain v. Obama
For some reason, political strategists seem to forget the age-old wisdom proffered by the American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) who said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (from “Life of Reason I“). It is beguiling to me that when the 2008 presidential election cycle was put before the American people, the GOP put a war-hero on the ticket who had “earned” the right by having been around awhile — one who was also known as a “maverick” for his tendency to break with his party. John McCain was Bob Dole all over again with one notable exception, the title, “Maverick.” This was supposed to be the merit that would get those elusive ‘independents’ (moderates) to vote Republican. Really? Even though Bush (43) had been running to the middle(much like his father did) since the Democrats won majorities in the house and senate during the 2006 mid-term election, he wasn’t “middle” enough. McCain was going to be the answer.
On the Democrat side, the young and well-spoken Barack Obama, with a dubious background, hidden college records, and questionable political associates and mentors could not have been more liberal. From his own biographies, he grew up in a family that despised capitalism and colonialism, found relief with Marxist professors and groups in college, experimented with drugs and alcohol, and found a church home under the guidance of a pastor that embraced Black Liberation Theology. There is no question that Barack Obama was a far left candidate for any who wanted to look past the his polished veneer.
Yet, the choice for Americans was for a liberal or for liberal-lite? Obama ended up winning the night with 365 electoral votes. In essence, he mopped the floor with the hapless McCain and his “middle-of-the-road Maverick” reputation, who took only 173 electoral votes.
When Americans were given a choice between someone with a clear agenda and someone who was trying to be a self-described moderate, they opted not to support the centrist. They wanted to vote for someone who wasn’t afraid to pick a side.
Obama v. Romney?
The 2012 election results will be known by the end of the night on November 6. There is no doubt that the American voter is being given a choice between two very different candidates. With the addition of Paul Ryan to the Romney ticket, there is no doubt about the fiscally conservative message being offered. Ryan also has a history of supporting limited government, individual liberty, and has demonstrated a strong desire to reform the aged and overbearing tax code. They are also going after the tabooed third-rail in politics — entitlement programs for seniors.
But, rather than serving up platitudes, cleaver campaign slogans, or empty rhetoric, the Romney-Ryan ticket has tangible plans and documents they can point to and let voters read. They have objective financial data they can quote and use in front of an audience. They are not afraid to articulate a clear position that is rooted in a conservative ideology.
The current administration is also providing a very clear difference. They want to continue along the same path they have been laying out for four years. They want Americans to accept the current status quo and to reward Obama with another four years of the same. They are going to run on bigger government, more spending and more Americans living off the government dole.
There is no doubt Americans are being offered a clear choice between a liberal agenda and a conservative one. Let’s remember our past, as Santayana reminds us. We are being given a clear choice between two agendas and this time Americans will side, as they have over the last 32 years, with the conservative one. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a middle-of-the-road losing proposition.
It’s the message Patton evoked in his address to the Allied invasion force on the day before D-Day. No one wins sitting in the middle of the road. Winning requires a decisive and clear vision. And history has shown embracing conservative principles is a winning strategy.
November 6th is our D-Day. I’m going to keep taking advice from General Patton. He seemed to know his history, too.