Conservative commentary: New habits for the GOP

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— "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Did I hear that from Hallmark, my mom or in Sunday school? Turns out the words are from Stephen R. Covey's self-help classic on good habits. They hit me on election night. My Republican party needs self-help if anyone ever did.

Some of our gripe sessions about this year's Democratic sweep feel like a sales meeting where everyone blames the customer. There are echoes of the East German party boss who said if the people didn't like his regime, they needed to be straightened out. I mean serious denial.

Having been a highly ineffective party since 2004 in Colorado and since 2006 nationally, drunk on excuses and worse yet in 2008, maybe the GOP should check into detox. Supervising our rehab could be the stern Dr. Covey with his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."

Bad habits such as credit card binging, entitlement, victimhood, and not practicing what you preach can entrap groups, as well as individuals. Republicans had better do an intervention on ourselves after Barack Obama's blowout of John McCain and state Democrats' pickup of two U.S. Senate seats and three congressmen in four years. What would the Covey cure involve?

To maximize effectiveness, according to his 1989 bestseller, one should be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think win-win, seek first to understand and then to be understood, synergize and "sharpen the saw." Let's talk about how these might apply to the party of Lincoln and Reagan. Eavesdroppers from other parties can snicker all you want. We're too desperate to care.

To be proactive, we'll quit whining about Bush's blunders, the "Messiah's" millions, media bias or anything else in the rearview mirror. GOP congressional leaders will roll out a 2009-10 contract with America before the new president names his cabinet. Colorado conservatives will forge a cash-rich, hydra-headed counterpart to the progressives' amazing Democracy Alliance.

To begin with the end in mind, we'll write a Republican president's 2013 inaugural address and post it on the Web this coming Jan. 1. We'll map the states our ticket must carry to make Obama a one-termer, then target the issues to win those states. Next, write a game plan for taking back Congress in 2010, as we did in 1994.

Putting first things first means a laser-focus at all levels of the party regarding economic recovery, abundant energy, healthy families, fiscal integrity and national security, period. The American dream was co-opted this year by a smooth talker with a European agenda. We can unmask that ruse. Retake the high ground, team.

Win-win thinking isn't easy for Republican individualists, the so-called "leave-us-alone coalition." But without it, we're toast. Our ethic of responsibility and opportunity has much to offer women and youths, blacks and Hispanics. Get better at communicating that, or prepare to be a permanent minority.

Seeking first to understand, then to be understood, is crucial as a habit-breaker for the refusal to listen that undid the Bush presidency and the McCain campaign. This doesn't just mean polling. It means listening with the heart. Millions more "felt heard" in 2008 by their side than ours - and voted accordingly.

Synergizing sounds like Oprah babble, but we'll be uncompetitive until we catch up with the Dems in using social networking and Facebook to make one plus one equal three. Sharpening the saw sounds like Huckabee cornpone, but we'll be perennial losers until we commit to habitual self-improvement and the endless campaign a la the other Man from Hope, Bill Clinton.

The political pendulum has swung left. The right can either wait for it to swing back, or we can form new habits and pull it back. I'm for the Covey cure.

John Andrews, of Centennial, was president of the Colorado Senate from 2003 to 2005. He now is a Claremont Institute fellow, a member of the Conservative Leadership Counsel of Northwest Colorado and host of Backbone Radio. You can e-mail John at andrewsjk@aol.com.

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