By Bill Rosenthal, CEO, Communispond
The horrific assaults on civilians in Paris November 13th allegedly carried out by Muslim extremists immediately called on Republican leaders and presidential primary candidates to remind supporters of what the party believes is its unassailable and unmatched commitment to national security.
As each candidate works to position him or herself as the best choice for this task and the GOP braces for the 2016 campaign season, this pledge to protect America against such violent and terrifying foes has most Republicans condemning or appearing to condemn an entire faith as incompatible with a democratic and civilized society.
From the perspective of someone who specializes in coaching business managers, sales professionals and public figures who routinely address demanding constituencies, from highly skeptical buying committees to angry, frightened employees, investors, and consumers, there are three reasons to adjust this course as soon as possible.
Roar Like a Tiger, Eat Like a Crow
The first concerns the all too human tendency to promise more than we know for sure we can deliver in competitive, high stakes situations. The more overwhelming and intractable the issue, such as safety for ourselves and our loved ones in a seemingly dangerous world, the bigger the temptation to scapegoat and posture.
If a candidate backpedals right after making an outrageous claim in an attempt to appear strong and determined, there’s no escape from looking foolish, as well as dishonest.
Do it enough, and this tactic becomes counterproductive, maybe not in the eyes of a candidate’s ardent followers but certainly to the goal of capturing the nomination and presidency. The opposition and the media will take turns hammering home what a paper tiger this person really is.
The Lion and The Mouse, or you never know who’s the next MVP
Once a candidate, or a political party in general, becomes known for deliberately isolating people because of race, religion, ethnicity or any other reason, that candidate and that party risk forfeiting the help of anyone who belongs or has links to that community inside and outside the U.S.
For our middle eastern foreign policy, there are unsettling downsides to this familiar campaign tactic. Muslim Americans remain a minority in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same respect, dignity and rights as any other American. Also, our soldiers, advisors and diplomats stationed in the Muslim world depend on local citizens’ cooperation and support for their very lives.
So often in our history, free speech, commitment to our bedrock principles and full debate have overcome long odds, a trend social media and globalization have accelerated. When the time comes to make a decision in the privacy of the voting booth, rational thinking about our policies’ longterm effects and a keen awareness of what it means to be an American that transcends the circumstances of birth and personal identity then take hold.
From Despised Minority to Mighty Underdog
With terrorism and warfare so much in the headlines, anyone tied to Islam remains vulnerable to ostracism and worse, here and in Europe. Still, ceaseless public shaming and calls to demote a whole group to a kind of second class citizenship awaken a universal, deep-rooted fear among observers: the fear of humiliation and its corollary, outsider or low status.
Eventually, those who hold a healthy skepticism of politicians or whose experiences or family history cause them to sympathize with the desperate will ask, what will happen to me if I stand up to this candidate after he or she’s elected? A number of Republican politicians, most notably President George W. Bush, distinguished between the religion of Islam and the perpetrators of abhorrent and criminal acts done in its name. There’s no good reason this truth can’t be deftly woven into a Republican presidential candidate’s message right now so it’s compatible with the duty to protect our nation effectively “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
The resulting positive impression might vault this candidate to the head of the field. How? Most of us nourish an innate respect for someone who takes a bold, challenging, if well-reasoned step. In the current environment, this decision will indicate a willingness to put the country ahead of personal gain.