Republican Governors Conference Challenges Party Strategy

Former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, participating in a Republican Governors Conference panel chaired by pollster Frank Luntz, said Wednesday in Miami that Republican leaders seemed to forget in this election cycle what we all knew in the Reagan era: “Politics matter, but culture matters more.”

Bennett continued, “Plato wrote that the two most important questions any society can ask are, ‘Who teaches our children and what are they teaching them?’ Our children are being taught not just in the classroom but by the popular culture. Ask high schoolers who Rosa Parks is, and they know, and they should know. But ask them who Seargeant York and George C. Marshall are, and they don’t know. Obama’s was a campaign that reflected his personal story but also tapped into the mass culture ethos — permissive, liberal, and what passes these days for tolerance. John McCain’s campaign was not as good as his personal story, in part because his personal story did not resonate within a culture that increasingly considers his personal journey irrelevant.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry echoed Bennett’s assessment of what went wrong: “Reagan’s three pillars for electoral success were defense, free enterprise, and traditional values. We forgot the third, which is way more than just pro-life. It’s family, traditional, timeless values that can reach voters in both parties.”

Luntz agreed in comments made to this reporter after the panel: “If the GOP had raised the culture and values issues as Bill Bennett just did, it would have made a difference. It would have been an electoral homerun.”

Responding to Bennett’s call for the GOP to return to a promotion of “values,” Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska called publicly, he said for the first time, for Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens to resign from the U.S. Senate and for Republican leaders to demand his resignation. “We can’t be the party of values and put up with his being in the Senate.”

Bill Bennett responded from the podium to Governor Heineman’s demand: “Yes, imagine that: The Republican Party coming out for ‘law and order.’ What a concept.”

Gov. Sarah Palin, who just arrived in Miami, will conduct a press conference Thursday morning.