Vail Daily column: Victories disguised as defeats |

Vail Daily column: Victories disguised as defeats

Jack Van Ens

When telling a story, do you use a zoom lens that focuses on a compelling character? Or, do you step back to gain broad perspectives and shape a story by peering through a panoramic lens? Looking through lens that zoom in or expand determines how we interpret history.

Luke employs this telegenic dynamic to heighten the Christmas story’s tension. He views the Roman emperor as a colossus bestriding the ancient world. Using a zoom lens, Luke tells how Jews and Romans knuckle under to Caesar’s taxing power. “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all in the world should be taxed,” he relates. (Luke 2:1).

Then, switching to a panoramic lens, Luke sees millions of Roman subjects trudging to tax booths. Look closely, he advises. See a family traveling to Bethlehem. Look again a few days later and see Mary and Joseph laying their first-born son “in a manger” (Luke 2:7).

Why does Luke juxtapose Jesus with Caesar? The initial winner is the emperor. But he loses out to Jesus as history unfolds. Readers stuck to a zoom lens don’t understand this reversal, however, until they see events through Luke’s panoramic vistas.

Republicans failed to learn this lesson in the mid-term elections because sizeable victories clouded their vision. They zeroed in on political wins, crowing that voters rejected President Obama’s progressive agenda. Few Republicans, flush with victory, are wise enough to step back and assess their cloudy political future, which is shaped by a pyrrhic win at the polls.

What’s a “pyrrhic” victory that pulls down the GOP? This term denoting winners in battle goes back to Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus in ancient Greece. He defeated the Romans, but paid for it with huge losses. A pyrrhic victory brings momentary triumph that exacts a high price. A U.S. office summed up how a pyrrhic victory backfired in the Vietnam War. Vietcong guerrillas infiltrated a village friendly to the U.S. cause. Our soldiers had to “destroy the town in order to save it,” declared the officer who crisply sketched what a pyrrhic victory looks like.

Perhaps the GOP doesn’t see its disguised defeat at the mid-term elections because it focuses on immediate results. Republicans gained a Senate majority and added to their House total.

GOP’s supporters of mid-term candidates are the same voters who make it difficult to win the 2016 presidential election. Flushed with pyrrhic victories, Republicans naively set winning sights on midterm election results. They don’t see massive blocs of citizens shunted to America’s margins who didn’t vote.

Not that the GOP wasn’t warned. After the 2012 presidential debacle, the Republican Party commissioned a blue-ribbon panel to find out why they bungled. Using focus groups, the panel reported that, aside from die-hard tea party types, moderate conservatives and independent voters expressed revulsion towards the GOP. Republicans were judged “scary,” “narrow-minded,” and “out-of-touch.” Plus, they looked like the party of “stuffy old men.” Right on target, isn’t it?

“Stuffy old men” who control the GOP buried this report that advised a change in political message and tone. They opted to modify only the tone. Their mid-term candidates didn’t make Neanderthal statements about rape. They softened doubts about President Obama’s birth certificate and quit screaming “no compromise.” Nor did they chime in with Mitt Romney that 47 percent of their fellow citizens are moochers.

Why are GOP’s recent victories pyrrhic? The 2014 mid-term elections attracted the lowest turn-out since 1942. When Republicans say voters gave them a mandate to re-claim America, they zero in on mostly older white guys whose ballots comprise most of the 37 percent who voted. Sixty-three percent of Americans didn’t cast ballots.

The majority of those who stayed home are gays, Latinos, women, African-Americans and the poor. They hung back in order to come on strong in the 2016 presidential election.

What older white guys sporting tea party credentials don’t see is how Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush won the White House. Both presidential candidates didn’t win because they corralled the conservative vote. They won because they appealed to enough independents and moderates. Reagan beat Jimmy Carter among independents. McCain lost that group by eight points in 2008 against presidential contender Obama. Obama won over moderates by six points, while Mitt Romney lost them by 15.

Toying with tone but not message, the GOP — the “Grand Old Party” — consists largely of a white male-dominated political bloc that practices “Grand Old Patricide.” By winning mid-terms, have they killed chances to win the presidency in 2016?

Michael Grunewald crisply expresses the GOP message that propelled them to a pyrrhic victory. “ … Republicans need to change what they’re selling. For one thing, they’re selling buggy whips. Undeterred by the Iraq debacle, the meltdown of 2008 or the warming of the planet, they’re still peddling rah-rah neoconservatism, deregulation and climate denialism. They’re still carrying water for fossil-fuel industries, anti-gay activists and other interest groups on the wrong side of history while doubling down on the austerity measures that created double-dip recessions in Spain and Britain” (Time magazine, “Road to Nowhere,” Feb. 11, 2013).

There are two ways to read the Christmas story: A winner who loses; or, a seeming loser who wins. Caesar appeared to be the winner, like the GOP at the mid-term elections. That’s the zoom-in-view that’s easy to see and gets readers sold on pyrrhic victories.

GOP conservatives, who assume they know the Christmas story, need to re-visit it before their surface wins turn into substantial losses at the 2016 polls.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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