My favorite college football team — the formerly undefeated and No. 2-ranked team in the nation — was decimated this past weekend. The Auburn Tigers were embarrassed by the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. The Tigers didn’t just lose. They were humiliated, losing by 17 points to a team that oddsmakers said they would beat by two touchdowns.
After the game, Tiger head coach Tommy Tuberville took full responsibility for the debacle. He said, “This was not the players’ fault; this is my fault.” He went on to say he and the other coaches made poor calls and failed to put their players in positions to win.
Some Republican bigwigs could learn a thing or two from this coach. Instead of trying to blame others or deflect responsibility, the head man stood accountable for the embarrassing defeat.
This stands in stark contrast to the “spin control” being advocated by many inside-the-Beltway Republicans. Self-appointed “enforcers” seem ready to condemn any Republican who says GOP leaders should be held accountable. The insider logic seems to be that if we acknowledge any culpability for anything it will strengthen the Democrats and hand them victory on a platter this November. So we shouldn’t apologize for Republican fumbling of matters like immigration or the Mark Foley affair. We should just chant “Speaker Pelosi” at the top of our lungs and drown out any wimpy Republican statements of apology or regret.
If this coterie of Republican insiders had been whispering in the ear of Coach Tuberville at last Saturday’s post-game press conference, here is what he might have said rather than taking responsibility. “We may have come up a little short today, but at least we don’t have our priorities out of whack like today’s opponent. A recent report by the NCAA shows that less than half of Arkansas’s football players are getting their diplomas.” That would have evened the score.
It’s time to choose the best strategy for achieving victory on the political playing field. Are more voters likely to respond favorably to acknowledging some Republican failures, apologizing, and making a specific, detailed pledge to do better? Or will more voters respond favorably to our raising the specter of liberal Democratic hegemony?
Tommy Tuberville may have had to contemplate this tough choice after Saturday’s game. Two of his most prized recruits for next year play for Arkansas high schools. After Tuberville’s embarrassing failure Saturday, he could have tried to go on the attack — not-so-subtly letting the parents of these two players know that their kids will be part of an underachieving academic program if they decide to stay in their home state and play for the Arkansas Razorbacks. As a smart coach and a gentleman, though, he rejected that tactic. Instead, he apologized and took responsibility. If you were the parents of these two super preps, which coach would you rather have shaping the values of your kid? The scapegoater? Or the accountable one?
I think voters are like most parents. They respect character. And they admire people who accept responsibility for their organizations’ actions. Accountability still counts for something outside the Beltway. If Republicans honestly accepted responsibility for some shortcomings and pointed to a better way, it would be a positive, not a negative. Voters yearn for spin-free honesty. If we’d only try it sometimes, we’d be shocked at the positive reception.
The insider-recommended alternative — bashing Nancy Pelosi —is insipid and banal. Most polls show that at least half of the electorate doesn’t even know who she is. Only one in four voters holds a negative perception of her. This is the best we can do for a scapegoat? There’s not enough time or money to make Pelosi-bashing a viable strategy for this November’s election. Let’s be accountable instead.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.