Vol. 41, No. 6

A Note from the Chairman Emeritus

Branding is one of the hottest buzzwords in advertising circles. It’s catching on in political circles, as well. It’s easy to understand why.

The Republican Party and the Black Vote – A Q&A with J.C. Watts

The former Oklahoma Congressman and Chairman of the House Republican Conference has some strong words for his party over its efforts – or lack thereof – to win support among African American voters.

“Why I Am A Republican”

Amidst efforts to rebuild the GOP brand, the FORUM asked prominent Republicans to discuss why they joined the party and the issues they believe will be critical to its success in 2008.

Why Lincoln was a Republican

Abraham Lincoln’s decision to become a Republican had a greater impact on the GOP than any other decision in the party’s history. Why did he do it, and what does it mean to the party today?

Running on Iraq

All during the 2006 campaign, our Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, Congress and local offices knew that they were headed for the worst election for Republicans since Watergate.

The Youth Vote in 2008

Fact of the matter is that the voting behavior of young persons between the ages of 18-30 will likely decide the outcome of the 2008 election.

It’s More Than Just Words

The current problem is that many Republicans have chained themselves to a number of words that they use as incantations, somehow believing their repetition will guarantee them victory or protect them from defeat.

Why Silence can be Golden

In a campaign atmosphere like this, it may seem ridiculous to preach to the candidates the virtues of virtual silence.

Real Barometers of Success in Congress

Congress has been called the “broken branch” of our government. But is it still broken now that Democrats hold the majority on Capitol Hill?

Done on the Cheap

It must be recognized that the idea of 24/7 news coverage counts for little without the will to make meaningful use of of all that time and, significantly the resources to make that will a reality.

Economic Diversification

We need to acknowledge that many families that play by the rules still run the risk of economic ruin.

The Walls Have Fallen, but the Pillars Remain

by LOU ZICKAR The mood is indeed grim inside the Republican Party. It’s grim because the party is living in the house that Reagan built, but it’s trashed the place and the walls have fallen down. And now the house needs to be rebuilt. It needs to be restored. It needs to be renovated.

The Ripon Profile of Charlie Crist

We must govern with common sense, understanding that we are here to make a difference, not to mark time.

It’s More Than Just Words

The importance of tone in politics


One of my best friends is a retired clergyman.  When he was in seminary, a professor told him that he could wander around theologically wherever he pleased, as long as he chained himself to the rock on which was written the word “Resurrection.”

Some words are like that, abiding and meaningful, words like love, kindness, friendship, integrity, and we should chain ourselves to them as we go through life.

The current problem is that many Republicans have chained themselves to a number of words that they use as incantations, somehow believing their repetition will guarantee them victory or protect them from defeat.  Instead, whether you agree with the words or not, their constant use — without intellectual challenge or support — deprives us of the political depth and vitality that gives a party strength and confidence.

Today’s Republican stump speech is the political equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation.  Here is a typical Republican congressional candidate’s speech in PowerPoint form:

  • Reagan Republican
  • Hillary zinger (laughter and applause)
  • Washington’s wasteful spending
  • Limited government
  • Our troops (standing ovation)
  • Pro-life/family values/sanctity of marriage
  • Greatest country in the world

Sometimes, when I hear Republican speeches larded with the knee-jerk, base-tested words, it reminds me of the worn Henny Youngman story about the group of comedians who had a numbered list of the world’s best jokes. One of them would say, “Number 17” and all the others would double over laughing hysterically.

The current problem is that many Republicans have chained themselves to a number of words that they use as incantations, somehow believing their repetition will guarantee them victory or protect them from defeat.

Today a Republican candidate will call out “Number 8” and expect the audience to react with applause and knowing validation.  But is that the basis for a political party?

These commonly invoked words have lost the power they once had.  This certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t words with power. Democrats rightfully should be afraid of the words, “driver licenses for illegal aliens.”  But you cannot sustain a party on wedge words alone or on the tired, tried and true old favorites.  Times change.

Take the popular and much-used words, “Reagan Republican.”  I hear candidates running around saying they are Reagan Republicans, meaning, among other things, that they are optimists, because as everyone knows RR was an optimist.  But he had a darker Armageddon side that tempered his blind optimism and made him more intellectually interesting.  He was not the Republican version of Hubert Humphrey, the Happy Warrior.  Reagan had a seasoned and developed political philosophy that was based on far more than a buoyant heart.

Or consider “Washington’s wasteful spending.”  When it comes to Republicans reining in spending on pork, they are Profiles in Porridge.  Backbones of oatmeal.  To mean something, words must have some credibility behind them.  Let’s face it, we have lost our credibility on fiscal prudence.  The majority of Republicans in the Congress prefer earmarks over the earnestness of real convictions.  They have spent their children’s inheritance, which they bemoan as if they were not involved in the plunder, and they have also spent their party’s own political inheritance, which had been earned over the decades.

“Limited government” should be a Republican strength, but we have lost credibility.   Can someone tell me what we Republicans were doing in the middle of the Terri Schiavo case?  Talk about government sticking its nose in the middle of a private family decision.  It appears we abandon the core principle of limited government if it involves one of our powerful constituencies.

Anyway, you get the point.  We Republicans have kept repeating the same words long after we abandoned them.  The voters finally noticed.  So, the road back is about more than using or finding the right words; it is about regaining the credibility behind those words, whether they are old or new.

It is also about changing the tone that Republican words have acquired over the years.

Psychological/physiological research shows that a soft voice relaxes the body of the listener.  In fact, therapists sometimes use an established technique called guided imagery, where a soothing voice leads the individual to a different inner time and place to encourage reflection.

Parties and politicians have voices, too.

If someone wants to be a real Reagan Republican, he should listen to the tone of Reagan’s voice.  It could be firm, absolutely, but its natural tone was relaxed and reassuring.  The power of his tone came not just from the warm, golden-honeyed radio announcer’s physical voice but from an underlying reasonableness and approachability.

What is the voice of Republicans today? Is it firm, reasonable and reassuring or is it a more strident voice with harsher words but weaker will?

As one of his speechwriters, I would sometimes write a line that I thought he would deliver with force, and he would surprise me by delivering it softly.  I would feel disappointed that he did not go for the applause line; it took me years to understand why he didn’t.  Sometimes those applauding are not the ones you want to reach.

His famous question in the 1980 presidential race, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” is both subtler and stronger than a pedestrian applause line like, “My fellow Republicans, this country is worse off after four years of the Carter Administration and it is time for them to go!”

Which tone is more reasonable, more inclusive, more thoughtful?

What is the voice of Republicans today?  Is it firm, reasonable and reassuring or is it a more strident voice with harsher words but weaker will?  The Republican voice certainly is not more strident than the Democratic voice, but that is faint praise.

My instincts tell me that a change in tone could liberate the Republican Party, free us from the straitjacket of increasingly empty words and begin to rebuild a connection to the voters.

This party needs to relax and breathe.  It needs to take some risks.  It needs to actively encourage a greater range of views and to take confidence in that variety.

The Republican Party will be on the path to renewal when it puts away the worn-out buzzwords aimed at a shrinking base and decides to develop the confident, credible, reassuring attitude necessary to reestablish our political integrity and energy.

If we get the tone right, the words will follow.

Landon Parvin is a ghostwriter for political and corporate leaders.