To the Editor

I do not agree with the thrust of John Podhoretz’s “The Way Forward” [December 2012]. What was the major factor in Mitt Romney’s loss? In my opinion, it’s that Romney is not a natural politician. That is in part a compliment. Very few politicians have as much integrity as he showed during the election. Paul Ryan is exceptional in that he has both integrity and political skills. Romney is obviously very bright, a first-rate family man with very significant accomplishments. He could and should have run a better campaign.

His opponent, President Obama, ran a campaign that was, as Mr. Podhoretz described it, devoid of content. It was full of outrageous distortions of both Romney and Ryan. And while Romney made mistakes (the “47 percent” remarks come to mind), Obama—and Vice President Biden—made plenty of their own. So, with these fundamentals, why did Romney not win? To paraphrase Mark Steyn, the culture trumps the politics. The system has become distorted in a way that makes for a less honest referendum. The Democratic Party is made up of a disparate collection of special-interest groups and the president was able to stitch together a winning coalition of them.

Facts did not matter. Honesty was compromised and class warfare won out. 

Allen H. Holt

Los Angeles, California

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To the Editor

I would like to suggest one of the biggest problems American conservatism faces in the Obama era that John Podhoretz did not address in his sobering analysis, “The Way Forward.” To wit, the suicidal refusal of the Republican Party and the cultural organs of the right to develop a cadre of articulate, cultivated women.

The American right desperately needs a Rebecca West, a conservative Mary McCarthy, or a female Hilton Kramer. Irresponsible women like Ann Coulter (who throws around the words traitor and retard in a way that only tarnishes the right) should not be what the college-educated female voters, whom the right is losing in droves, see. And Fox News tends to feature women who are heavily made up to appeal to its aging white-male demographic. The “babe gambit” only turns off fiftyish, single, frumpy professional women like me, working married women, and up-and-coming married women with no children.

It is not that the intellectual organs of the left are substantially better at featuring women writers. But it is the right that desperately needs female votes. The lack of female writers on literature and the arts, social science, cultural affairs, national defense, biography, history, economics, public policy, law, academia, and health policy is killing the right intellectually and politically. Watch C-SPAN and note that right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation are clueless about sending women out to represent the their side. NPR features women regularly, whereas women are almost invisible in the magazines of the right. Guess which way women are going to vote? The right-wing press needs to hire women right now or conservative causes are going to get creamed in election after election. The notion that conservative women can’t write or that there are not enough of them ready and able to assume their rightful places in the intellectual spheres of conservatism is bogus.

I wish the right well. But I am so tired of the monopoly position of men in almost every major organ of its intellectual life that I despair of its prospects in the next 20 years. As was said 20 years ago, “They just don’t get it.”

Hope Leman

Corvallis, Oregon

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To the Editor:

John Podhoretz wrote: “Let someone say that perhaps taxes on millionaires can and should be raised if other worthy conservative goals can be fulfilled; let someone argue that conservative principles may be fulfilled by [changing the legal definition of marriage]; let someone speak of the need to discuss abortion in terms of the miracles visible to all on ultrasounds rather than the invisible and unseen ensoulment of the fetus; and some voices cry heresy. The limitation of opinion and analysis is not only a luxury the right cannot afford; it is a sign of a distinct lack of self-confidence on the part of those who seek it that their ideas can survive the necessary stress tests.”

That is simply sophistry. Why would conservatives want to change the legal definition of marriage (other than for political expedience of course)? Doing so is not “heresy.” Rather, it’s stupid and wrong. Conservatives are not seeking the “limitation of opinion.” We’re seeking to limit embracing foolish ideas that have been rejected after sufficient consideration. 

It seems that Mr. Podhoretz is dressing up his favored policy changes in the costume of the “better, more effective, and more compassionate way forward.” In reality, he seems to be engaged in the same banal preference in search of a justification.

Stephen Gregg

Centerville, Ohio

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To the Editor:

Until the final sentence of John Podhoretz’s piece, I found nothing to disagree with. Mr. Podhoretz’s narrative is clear and provides the insight so often missing in these recent weeks after the debacle that was November 6. 

But in the last sentence he writes, “Conservatism will explain?.?.?.?what is happening as it happens, and in the process, reveal how there is another, better, more effective, and more compassionate way forward.” 

The extent and breadth of this explanation will not be heard due to the same forces that conspired to cloud Romney’s message: namely the mainstream media. Additionally, upwards of 18–20 percent of American voters never tune in to politics until at most two weeks before the next presidential election. They won’t hear it, and the GOP will ignore it. 

Keith Brown
Puyallup, Washington

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To the Editor:

In his article “The Way Forward,” John Podhoretz might have considered the damage Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum did in the long, drawn-out primary process. While neither had any chance of winning the election if handed the nomination, they harmed Mitt Romney by spending money, bruising him, and pushing him too far to the right for the general electorate.

Republicans should realize that in the November election, 53 percent of the voters were women and 55 percent of them voted for Obama. Among younger women the percent was higher. Republicans are going to have a tough time winning until they learn to ignore the abortion issue and focus on the economy, budget, debt, foreign relations, and national security.

If there is any hope of electing a Republican president in 2016, the GOP must find someone who is moderate enough for the general electorate on social issues but able to capture Iowa and the nomination.

Without major changes in focus, the way forward looks very difficult.

Sheldon Rabinowitz

Des Moines, Iowa

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To the Editor:

No anti-abortion presidential candidate will ever be elected president again. Your December issue rounds up all the usual explanations for Mitt Romney’s loss—inadequate organization, alienated Hispanic voters, a content-less campaign—but misses this essential point. The socially conservative right wing of the Republican Party will have to abandon its suicidal litmus test. First, there is no point to it. A president cannot single-handedly outlaw abortion. A president will not be able to pack the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is now considered part of the Constitution and will stay that way. Second, it is the wrong position for a party dedicated to individual rights and limited government. The world has changed and the Republican Party will have to change with it. No amount of campaign organization, Hispanic votes, or conservative ideas will overcome the deficit in women’s votes.

Romney’s campaign lacked content because the positions he favored were all opposed by a majority of the voters and he knew better than to be specific about them. The main ones were tax cuts for the wealthy, the continuation of pointless wars in Muslim countries, restriction on abortion, and benefit-program reductions. What else did he have to run on?

Robert L. Dunn
Corte Madera, California

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To the Editor:

John Podhoretz presents an excellent analysis of the statistical details of the election. However, he has missed a critical underlying issue almost entirely. He has missed what Marshall McLuhan taught us, that the medium can be the message. The election is about persuading the 10 percent of voters who are undecided that your candidate is the best choice. The undecided are largely the youth, unmarried women with children, new citizens, Hispanics new to our system, and the least educated. If they are undecided, they have missed the message already, so “content” is not as persuasive as the emotional factors. Regarding these people, the intellectual content of the message is not as important as the medium through which it is presented. In an election, the medium is the person, or the persona of the candidate.

The medium selected by the Republicans was a loser from the start. Romney is an exceedingly rich white man, born to an illustrious family, with a silver spoon in his mouth. In that regard he is similar to both of our Bush presidents. Both Romney and the Bush family have destroyed the great Reagan legacy of communication with the undecided voters. In essence, Mr. Podhoretz’s article explains how Romney was never able to connect with the undecided voters. His race was lost from the start because of who he is, not what he has to say.

Obama represents the new man, the cultural interface, the blending of the races and sects that our country now wants. After all, in the American melting pot, the end result is an amalgamation of all cultures, neither white nor black, neither Christian nor Muslim. Simply put, the Republicans needed to select a more culturally diverse candidate in order to carry our important message of private property, freedom, and economic growth.

Jerry Udinsky
Berkeley, California

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John Podhoretz writes:

Theories about why the Republican effort to oust Barack Obama failed in 2012 abound, as they do here. The GOP alienated women, it is said, either through pushing social issues or by failing to feature women sufficiently. The GOP was not sufficiently culturally diverse. The media made it impossible for the GOP to prevail. 

My article argued, quite simply, that the GOP got outplayed in 2012—that Barack Obama and his team figured out how to squeeze every last vote they could out of the American electorate using innovative marketing and get-out-the-vote techniques no one in politics had ever come close to attempting before.

Now, technique will not succeed when the war of ideas has been lost. If Obama had run against a candidate who could have held his feet to the fire on the condition of the economy, his governing philosophy and its shortcomings, and the reckless course on which he has placed this country, he would have had a vastly more difficult time prevailing. And if he had run against a rival who had an expansive vision of the country’s future and where to take it, he would have been soundly defeated.

Mitt Romney was not that candidate; there was no such candidate in the Republican field. The question one must ask is why there was no such candidate. Here, too, technique served the Obama campaign; telegraphing its intention to aim a billion dollars in negative advertising at a single target almost certainly scared away people who might have had a better go at it than Romney did.

But it’s also the case that the loose conservative alliance in the United States, from the grass roots to right-leaning media to interest groups, is making the process of fielding a national candidate who can appeal to independents and even a few Democrats very difficult if not impossible. They are narrowing the range of policy options and ideas available to candidates rather than expanding them, as a healthy movement would do. If a party’s arteries are clogged, eventually it will go into heart failure. If they are clear, the ideas will circulate and strengthen the body politic. Clearing them is the challenge of the moment.

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