All politics is personal

Why do you think that Barack Obama beat the “unbeatable” Hillary Clinton? It’s because he gave us “hope.”  Why did George Bush win two elections? People liked and trusted him. Bill Clinton won because he “felt our pain.” Ronald Reagan connected with people on a level that few politicians can.

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We’ve seen it time and time again that the politician who makes a personal connection with people wins the election.  Sometimes we – especially conservatives – forget that there is an emotional component to politics.  It’s not just about presenting the best policies. It’s about showing people that you care about them and think about how every issue affects them.  The best politicians seem to have the right formula of part policy wonk and part Oprah.

In their quest for finding that balance, it’s important for politicians to remember that personal connections aren’t always made in the context of government.  In fact, many times the best way to connect with someone politically has nothing to do with public policy.  Such was the case on last Friday when Jeremy Hunt, the British Secretary of State for Health, gave a speech about loneliness. That’s right, he spoke about the need to address loneliness and isolation among older people in Britain.

Did Mr. Hunt propose new government policies or mandates? No, except for heightened awareness and training in state-run care facilities.  His speech was a call for the people of his country to come together and take care of each other and their families.  He said, “And uncomfortable though it is to say it, it will only start with changes in the way we personally treat our own parents and grandparents.”

I was struck by his topic and thought that it was a very smart political move.  Hunt is a member of the Conservative Party and seen as a possible successor to David Cameron as its leader.  By taking on this topic, whether politically motivated or not, he was making a personal connection.  There is no feeling as personal as the feeling of loneliness, and it’s a feeling that every single human being experiences. Hunt’s speech was an emotional call for action to combat one of our most human vulnerabilities – loneliness and despair.

The steps of the politics of his speech are important to recognize, too.  He identified a problem that nobody else was talking about to raise awareness and offer solutions.  Of course, his liberal opponents criticized his remarks for not including more government-base solutions.

That’s the opposite of the way it usually works in this country.  The liberals usually identify a problem and propose big-government solutions. Then conservatives oppose those proposals. Conservatives usually end up looking like we don’t recognize the problem or care about people.  That’s what made Hunt’s speech so impressive – it’s a model for what conservatives in this country should do more of.

One thing that I think that many American conservatives have also forgotten lately is that we want people who don’t agree with us on everything to vote for our candidates.  Making a personal connection with people is the best way to accomplish this.

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) is a good example of a conservative who attracts support of people who may disagree with him on some issues.  He does that because people trust him, and he’s shown that he thinks about how issues affect everyone – whether they agree with his solutions or not.  Why does Christie have a huge lead in a blue state? He’s demonstrated that he really cares about the people of New Jersey.

So as conservatives look forward to the election in 2014 and 2016, let remember these lessons and never forget that all politics is personal.  Let’s get personal and talk about issues that affect everyone.  Let’s identify problems that liberals don’t want to talk about – or just aren’t talking about. Let’s propose solutions to those problems, whether or not they involve the government. Let’s run campaigns on a positive solutions-driven agenda, and let’s connect with people on a personal level.

Jimmy LaSalvia is a contributor to Rare. Follow him on Twitter @JimmyLaSalvia

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