Listen to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, you all know it even if you don’t recognize these names, and you will understand everything you need to know about the rhythm of a political campaign. This history of the piece is coincidently parallel with the Republican Party’s current angst and misdirection and gives instruction on how the GOP becomes relevant once more.
Ravel was contracted by a dancer to create a piece that drew from previous works by musician Isaac Albeniz. As Ravel set out to perform his duties he discovered that he could not adopt the Albeniz pieces because of copyright restrictions. However, Albeniz gave Ravel permission to proceed. Instead, Ravel decided to reconstruct his own work, but then paused. It is here that Ravel did the brilliant thing; he decided to write an original piece. The result was Bolero.
So what does this have to do political campaigns and the Republican Party? As to political campaigns: The music is composed to build over an unchanging ostinato, or stubborn rhythm played on snare drums. On top of this rhythm is a single theme consisting of two eighteen-bar section each played twice. Tension in the piece is built into a crescendo as more instruments are added to the rhythm and theme, becoming thicker and stronger until an entire orchestra beats out the rhythm that began with only the snare drum.
This is exactly what is performed by a precise political campaign. At first it is a repetitive rhythm, repeating the same message. Slowly different themes are added to the campaign message that reinforces the original rhythm. As an example: perhaps a political challenger campaign chooses fiscal responsibility as it rhythm. As the campaign progresses it adds themes that are examples of wasteful spending by the incumbent and what the challenger would do differently. Every week a new theme; every week the rhythm is reinforced until the rhythm and theme of the campaign climax into a crescendo, ideally on Election Day.
To become relevant again the GOP has to find a simple rhythm and stick with it, adding themes that forcefully build the repetition of the rhythm. While fiscal responsibility and opposition to the Obama Administration’s spending would be an ideal rhythm on which to build themes, the GOP hasn’t much credibility given its enablement of Pres. George W. Bush’s deficit spending and debt. Therefore, healthcare is a better place to begin as it is a salient jutting the Obama Administration into dangerous territory where voters, particularly political independents are wary about this expansion of government.
Disapproval of Pres. Obama’s handling healthcare reform has reached 50%. 46% of American voters disapprove of the government’s creation of new a healthcare insurance plan to compete with private insurance. 50% of political independents disapprove of the public healthcare option. With 54% of American believing the country is on the wrong track, the Republican Party is being given circumstances that could allow them to over-perform in the 2010 midterm elections. Unfortunately for the GOP only 21% of voters trust it will make the generally right decisions for the country, which is why Sarah Palin’s “death panel” hoax will do long term damage to the Republican Party.
Like Ravel, the GOP now needs to be brilliant. So far the GOP composition is far from sophisticated, more Chop Sticks than Bolero. Brilliance will not be found in adopting previous rhythms and themes, as it wants to do by invoking Reagan. Invoking Reagan is easy, and easy never spurred transcendence. The GOP must now compose its own rhythm and themes, not adopt Reagan’s or even it own past compositions that gave it a majority in Congress in the 1990s.
If the Republican Party doesn’t find rhythm and themes, it will be singing the blues in 2010.