I’ve never been a John F. Kennedy fan, primarily because I found the Kennedy hagiography so distasteful. Even as a teen, I seem to have been immune to, and even repulsed by, Leftist politician worship. Over the years, I’ve learned, of course, that Ted Cruz and John F. Kennedy would probably have been very happy working together. Jeff Jacoby’s article is as good a distillation as any I’ve seen about Kennedy’s true political conservativism. I still find room in my heart to dislike Kennedy’s narcissistic hedonism but, if he ran today on his 1960 political platform (only substitution Islamists for Communists), I would vote for him.
It has everything: the response to Leftists’ adoration for affirmative action, the insidious control pop culture has on us, and the way to challenge pop culture.
I enjoy reading my Liberal-Lefty friends’ Facebook posts because they are so insightful into the mindsets of the Left.
One insight that I have gained over time is that the differences between us conservatives and the Progressive/Left are so profound that they are unlikely to ever be bridged, barring some cataclysmic, life-changing events. What I have tried to do is understand why this is so. I share this with you because I greatly appreciate the insights that Bookworm group has to offer on such issues – be it “yay” or “nay”.
Our disagreements appear to come down to three levels of separation.
1) First, there are objective facts (OK, I am being deliberately redundant here). These are easy enough to resolve. Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock world has arrived: everybody is so overwhelmed with information that we can’t absorb and process all there is to know and we therefore choose our facts selectively.
As Ronald Reagan said, ““It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.”
In discussions, factual disputes are easy enough to resolve: my typical response to Liberal /Lefties is simply tell them to “Google it”. Amazingly, many apparently don’t know that you can Google entire texts or sentences. A good example was the recent George Zimmerman trial…many people with whom I disagreed told me outright they were too busy to bother looking up facts. The Left operates on so many facts that just aren’t so.
2) The second level of separation involves our assumptions or premises. These are tougher to resolve, because we assume and presume events based on our past experiences. I suspect that we humans are hard-wired to build assumptions (true or false) as a defense mechanism: for example, my cave ancestors probably assumed that to allow a saber-tooth tiger to stand in their path was not a good thing and that such assumption is one reason why I stand here today.
We go through life building mental templates on how the world works in order to short-circuit decision making and evaluation. Otherwise, we would soon be overwhelmed with indecision. As long as our world templates work for us, we continue to hold onto them. Many formerly Liberals (e.g., David Horowitz, Bookworm) only became conservative when one or more events (e.g., 9/11) rendered their previously comfortable world views untenable. For me it was Reagan’s second term, when his policies led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and an economic resurgence. I, young man at the time, knew then that my Democrat world template had been very, very wrong.
I use the word “comfortable” deliberately, because our templates represent our comfort zones. Losing that comfort zone is terrifying. Imagine if all of a sudden nothing in the world made any sense to you; you would feel totally deracinated and quite possibly insane. You would also feel a deep sense of personal failure, as in “how in the world could I have been so deluded?”
And, the older you get, the more frightening that sense of loss, confusion and failure would be. So, the older we get, the more desperately we defend our mental templates, selecting and force-fitting “facts” to fit our own perceptions of reality. I believe this is where modern Liberalism and Progressivism are today (Google “Paul Krugman”). As Thomas Sowell put it, people of the Left expect the world to conform to their misperceptions. Eventually, however, reality hits like a 2 x 4 between the brow…as in “Detroit”.
I believe that this dynamic also explains the sheer viciousness expressed by many on the Left when the presumptions of their world templates are threatened (as by Sarah Palin or by black conservatives, for example). This is also the reason why I believe that world Islam will fail, because it doesn’t work and eventually people in Muslim worlds, aided by the internet, will eventually realize this (some of my Middle Eastern friends assure me that many already do). Reality is a harsh mistress.
This level of separation helps to explain why Liberals and Conservatives usually talk past each other. We try to rationalize our positions to each other, but our rationalizations only make sense if the other party shares the same assumptions and understandings of how the world works. We operate from completely different templates.
3) Faith. This the most difficult and potentially dangerous degree of separation, because it addresses fundamental values that are non-negotiable. Our “faith” defines how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world, irrespective of facts, logic and reason. I cannot, for example, “prove” the veracity of my Christian faith. Environmental extremists and atheists cannot “prove” the righteousness of their positions. We just “know” that what we believe to be true is true. There is no logical argument that I know of that can challenge faith-based values. Our values define who we are and how we perceive the world to be. Utopian fascist ideals (Progressivism, Nazism, communism, Islamism, etc.), for example, are defined by a faith in a future to come – they require no proof. Abortion is a similar issue of faith and values – there is no middle-of-the-road compromise if you believe abortion to be murder and that murder is wrong (a value proposition). Psychologists have claimed that only very powerful shocks to the system can challenge faith.
I have no dealing with the first degree of separation. I admit, however, that I am totally stumped on how to address (2) and (3). Any ideas?
I’ve noticed that the mainstream media keeps calling Colorado moderate when it reports on the fact that a Democrat legislature and a Democrat governor are trying hard to up-end Coloradan’s Second Amendment rights. I haven’t paid much attention to Colorado over the years, but I can say this with certainty: whatever it was in the past, there’s nothing moderate about a present in which the legislature marches lockstep with the full Progressive agenda. At some point, Colorado stopped being moderate and, politically at least, became Left. To continue to call it moderate is simply the media’s way of trying to shift the definition of “political center” to the Left.
That’s why I was much struck by a Huffington Post article that described Ann Coulter as “ultra controversial.” Yes, she’s outspoken, but most of her stands are right in the dead center of American conservative politics. Heck, she was Mitt Romney’s biggest cheerleader — yet they demonize her. The following is my take, which is all Bookworm, even though it got published first at Mr. Conservative:
The ultra-Leftist Huffington Post has launched yet another attack against author and speaker Ann Coulter — this time because of Coulter’s take on Sen Dianne Feinstein’s response when Sen. Ted Cruz (R. Tex) reminder her that her attempted gun grab ran completely counter to the Constitution. Dianne Feinstein, unable to mount a credible constitutional counterattack, instead expressed emotion-fueled outrage that someone would dare talk to her that way.
Coulter had a field day with Feinstein’s “helpless wittle me” response. Speaking to Sean Hannity, Coulter pointed out that both Feinstein and fellow “I am woman, hear me roar” feminist Hillary Clinton, the moment they got called on bad conduct (in Hillary’s case, very bad conduct), practically burst into tears.
Based upon these women’s pathetic responses to challenges to their conduct as political professionals, Coulter cracked one of her usual sarcastic, over-the-top jokes, with a little bit of gleeful exaggeration wrapped around a large, solid core of truth:
I used to think women just should not be able to vote. Now I think at least liberal women should not be able to hold office. Every time you try to have a discussion with them, they become hysterical, they cry, and they want to show pictures of dead children. As if our position is “we don’t mind a few dead children.” Our position is “concealed carry” would stop these slaughters.
Except for what are obviously quips about women and voting, everything Coulter said was accurate: in the past few months, Hillary used hysteria to avoid questions about the four men who died in Benghazi while on her watch; while Feinstein has used everything from maudlin statements about children’s dead bodies to shakey-voiced refutations about her constitutional ignorance.
It began by dismissing her as “ultra-controversial.” She isn’t really. Ann Coulter is a solid, middle-of-the-road conservative. She’s against abortion and Islamic terrorism, and for small government, secure borders, and the Second Amendment. If that’s “ultra-controversial,” so is roughly half the country.
What upsets the HuffPo crowd about Coulter is that she tells the truth. She has no patience for political correctness, and she’s willing to force Leftists to face the absurd reality of their policies. For example, HuffPo says that Coulter got heat in February for pointing out that America’s gun crime is a “demographic” problem. Tragically, Coulter is right. FBI statistics show that, if one removes from the equation black-on-black crime (which usually occurs in Democrat-ran cities), America ends up with gun crime rates comparable to those in Europe.
Coulter does not say this to be racist. She says it to point out the liberal policies that turned blacks into poverty-stricken government dependents have robbed blakcs of their God-given right to stand up as moral men and women. The high black-on-black crime rate exists, not because blacks are in any way inferior, but because liberals incentivized them to be so through decades of aggressively-pushed abortions that have decimated the next generation of blacks; welfare policies that have made black men useless and that have destroyed the bond that should exist between man and woman, and mother and father; and a form of soft racism that never calls blacks on their crimes – as one would call any person one respects – but instead says that blacks can’t help themselves. This attitude is the underhanded liberal way of making the ultimate racist statement; namely, that blacks have less moral decency and self-control than whites.
It’s that ugly truth about their own racism, and its horrible effects on blacks in America, that the HuffPo crowd cannot tolerate. They try to shut her up because she holds a up mirror to their faces and says “Your policies have failed – and you’ve destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.”
Principles aren’t a big thing over at the HuffPo in any event. Its founder, Arianna Huffington, made her career jumping from one famous person and cause to another. On three occasions, she’s been credibly accused of plagiarizing other writers’ work in books he published under her own name. In England, she was a liberal democrat. In America, she married Republican Michael Huffington, and suddenly became a Republican who stuck with him as he won a House seat. She left her husband after he lost a Senate bid and then decided to reinvent herself as a Democrat.
Huffington is an opportunist and a dishonest one at that. It’s scarcely surprising that her publication would be hostile to someone who points out that Liberals have no fixed moral points, and that their policies are terribly destructive.
In one of the comments to my earlier post about Ted Cruz, Mike Devx noted that Cruz is attractive because he has “the courage of his convictions.” That particular phrase tied in with something I’ve been thinking about for the last few days, regarding freedom of speech, or rather the lack thereof, when it comes to Islam and Leftism.
The starting point for my thoughts was this Topher video, in which he focuses on the importance of free speech:
As you can see, Topher structured the video around the argument that so much of what we accept as true today started out as highly unpopular speech that the majority tried to quash through censorship both official and informal.
We tend to think of censorship as something that arises because we fear the power of “the Other’s” ideas. Certainly that is the animating purpose behind all those hate speech laws throughout Europe, and the hate crime laws in America. Both are predicated upon stamping out the overwhelming temptation of an enemy’s words or acts.
Here’s the thing, though: If we trusted in ourselves we would not be so afraid of the Other. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case if Islam, which includes as core doctrine the requirement that its practitioners must stamp out any opposing speech, ideas, or religion. A self-confident ideology would not be so paranoid about potential opposition.
The same is true, of course, when it comes to Leftism. Marx didn’t make censorship a core ideological demand, but Leftism invariably leads to censorship. This is true whether we’re talking about government ukases or about the social strictures of Political Correctness. Leftism knows, because history has shown, that when people start to speak out against Leftism, Leftism falls by the historic wayside.
What’s so deeply depressing in today’s political scene is the fact that conservative politicians are so desperately afraid that their own ideology is too weak to compete. Rather than taking the Islamic or Leftist tact of imposing censorship on others, they preemptively impose it upon themselves.
America’s conservative politicians have Stockholm Syndrome. Despite recognizing that the opposing party is their enemy, they have become so cowed that they seem truly to believe that there’s something wrong about equal treatment under the law (as opposed to the affirmative discrimination the Left encourages), about the virtues of self-sufficiency and self-reliance, and about other common conservative and libertarian principles.
In some ways, I know I’ve just stated the obvious — the more you believe in yourself, the less scared you’re going to be of the other guy. Nevertheless, we need to remind Republican politicians that there is no virtue in preemptive surrender to the other side. If you’re going to die anyway, at least die fighting, with your own banner bravely flying.
If I were in charge of CPAC, I would ignore the Democrats entirely. Instead, I would spend the entire time educating conservatives about conservativism. They need to believe affirmative, rather than passively, that to the extent the American people want freedom, equality under the law, and affluence, conservative ideals are the ones that are going to take them there.
We conservatives think we’re pretty smart. We have time-tested ideas, great thinkers (Thomas Sowell, Mark Steyn, Milton Friedman, Jonah Goldberg, etc.), and people support our values in the abstract if the questions don’t have political labels attached.
Given appealing messages and smart messengers, why do we keep losing? Why was our most recent political candidate, who is supposed to be a business genius, incapable of running an efficient campaign right up to and including a functional get-out-the-vote effort? How did we find ourselves in a position where Pres. Obama proposes sequestration, then refuses to offer a budget that would make sequestration unnecessary, then refuses to negotiate with the Republicans, and, at the end of the day, is the one who comes out smelling like a rose in the public’s mind?
How did we end up with a president and a Department of Justice that decide not to defend the law of the land when it comes to the Defense of Marriage Act? Whether not you support that policy, shouldn’t the chief executive be tasked with the responsibility of defending it to the Supreme Court?
Again, if we are so smart why are we losing on our main issue — the budget — and not even making any headway on other issues that will irreparably change America’s fabric? These changes, such as immigration, marriage policy, leading from behind overseas, etc. may actually be changes for the good, but shouldn’t conservatives have a voice in them? Right now, both in DC and in our own cities and states, we’ve been cut out of the debate.
I have no answers to all these questions. I know that, when I see the headlines, I get frustrated. I cannot tell if conservative voters have a knack for electing ineffectual candidates, or if the Democrat media juggernaut is so powerful that we have reached the point at which there is nothing we can do anymore to penetrate Or affect the public debate.
If it’s the former we can perhaps make changes at a grassroots level. If it’s the latter, it seems to me we’ve already lost. It’s time for us to pick up our pathetically small number of marbles, go home, and make our peace with the America that is unfolding before our eyes.
I’m usually fairly enthusiastic about taking on semi-lost causes. I am not, however, very sanguine about taking on absolutely lost causes. If we, the party of tried and true ideas, as opposed to the the party of ideas that have failed every time; if we, the party of genuine intellects instead of sophists, cannot make our case; and if we, the party tackling real issues, such as economic meltdown and national security, as opposed to the party prevailing on cosmetic, made-up issues, such as free birth control and cell phones, cannot make our case, and cannot penetrate the media smoke, we are DOOMED.
Sorry to be such a downer, but we ought to be winning, and we’re not, and at a certain point we need to take responsibility for our manifest and multiple failures. Our candidates are bad, our thinkers don’t communicate outside of the community of true-believers, our ideas are unappealing, and we’re being encircled and destroyed by peanut-brained media talking heads.
UPDATE: It occurred to me that an alternate caption for this blog could have been “When it comes to messaging, we’re reaching each other, while they’re reaching everyone else.” Did I say “pfeh” earlier? I double that pfeh! now.
I mentioned last week that, in today’s short-attention span universe, we can reach voters with analysis. That’s a sad fact, but a true one. They need to have neatly encapsulated thoughts that they can share on Facebook or tweet out to their world.
My fellow Watcher’s Council member, Michael Haltman, who blogs at The Political Commentator, has assembled a lovely starter collection of pithy posters that spell out conservative bottom lines in a memorable and appealing way.
If you see one you like, spread it around. Or tell people about all seventeen of those pithy posters. And while you’re at it, maybe you should buy a Rubio water bottle. He’s figured out — at least as to this one — how to de-fang the media.
Alinsky put his brilliance to the service of the wrong gods, but it doesn’t mean he wasn’t brilliant. I’ve highlighted my favorites:
- RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.
- RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
- RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
- RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
- RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
- RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
- RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.
- RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.
- RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.
- RULE 10: “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.” It is the unceasing pressure that will result in the reaction of the opposition that is essential for the success of the campaign.
- RULE 11: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.
- RULE 12: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.
- RULE 13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
Conservatives need to start following at least some of these rules, and we need to do it hard and fast.
I spend ridiculous amounts of my time trying to convince my children that, while “Give me that!” and “May I have that, please”, mean the same thing, their chances of success are much greater with the second phrase. I repeat ad nauseum that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. People respond not only to a statement’s core message, but to the packaging around that message.
Advertisers have always understand that packaging is as important as, if not more important than, the underlying message. Will a specific car, beer, or aftershave really turn an insecure, badly dressed young man into a sex God? Of course not. But if you’re a car manufacturer, and you have the choice of buying advertising hours that say to the young man “This car drives well” or spending those same dollars to say “You will be a suave chick magnet if you drive this car,” which ad would you choose? Advertisers know that sex sells. Or if sex is usable, “sell the sizzle, not the steak.”
Politics is also a two-tiered structure. There’s the product, or ideology, and there’s the sales pitch to sell that ideology to the greatest number of people in hopes of garnering their votes. Democrats have fully mastered the sales pitch. Republicans haven’t. Democrats say “Look at this picture of dead children or pathetic (and perhaps dead too) minorities.” Republicans say “Look! We have a chart.” Honestly! The last time charts made a difference was in the 1992 election, when Ross Perot whipped out his little pieces of cardboard — and back then, all those charts did was to tip the election in a Democrat’s favor.
There’s certainly a lot of data to drive Republican charts. Indeed, back in 2011, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), put together a clever little video comparing Perot’s federal debt and spending charts to the numbers Perot would use if he were making the same pitch today:
I liked the video. You probably did too. The problem, though, is that you and I are high information voters who respond to facts and analysis. Though it pains me to say this, we are not the norm. The vast majority of people are probably never going to be high information voters in any society, but there’s also no doubt that a Leftist-controlled education system has rendered Americans almost incapable of either appreciating or understanding hard data.
As the 2012 election proved, facts on the ground (joblessness, flabby economy, disastrous foreign policies) are just too deep for most voters. Properly manipulated, they find it more emotionally satisfying to stick it to a mean rich man who puts dogs on car roofs and wants all women to carry their rapist’s fetus.
In this non-intellectual universe, it’s almost irrelevant what a political party’s message is. What matters is whether the party can position itself as the good guy party, regardless of its ideology, while simultaneously positioning the opposing party as the bad guy party. The Democrats do this masterfully.
As an example, think about the administration’s recent decision to put women on the front lines: Conservatives responded to this announcement with talk of military missions, battle readiness, logistical problems, changing standards, etc. — all of which are sensible and appropriate responses to an administrative fiat that will, more probably than not, have a negative effect upon military missions, battle readiness, logistics, and standards.
Democrats bypassed all that “tech talk” and, instead, went in for the kill: Republicans hate women. Never mind the unspoken part of that sentence, which is that “Republicans hate women, because they won’t allow women to go into situations where they are extremely likely to be killed and raped.” If you speak the unspoken, you get a very clear idea of Cloud Cuckoo Land that Leftist’s inhabit. But never mind about the reality behind the ideology — the Left sells sex and sizzle.
No doubt because I am the quintessential word person (although I have no knack for clever quips and pitches), I’ve been harping on this issue for years. When it comes to the Democrats and Progressives, there’s a message to their madness: We, the Democrats/Progressives are good; they, the Republicans/conservatives, are bad. Everything flows from that.
Fortunately, given that my voice has no resonance in world outside of my blog, better thinkers than I am are making the same point. David Horowitz, who understands Leftist thinking from the inside out, urges Republicans to stop the anguished, self-involved, navel gazing and to begin the hard work of communicating to voters in language they understand. He argues, correctly, that the Left is fighting an epic battle, complete with villains and heroes, and we’re still whipping out our gosh-darned charts.
Horowitz’s article, though long, is worth reading in its entirety. I’ll just leave you with a few of his conclusions:
A Winning Strategy for Republicans
1. Put the aggressors on the defensive.
2. Put their victims — women, minorities, the poor and working Americans -- in front of every argument and every policy in the same way they do.
3. Start the campaign now (because the Democrats already have).
The Weapons of Politics Are Hope and Fear
The weapons of political campaigns are images and sound bites designed to inspire the emotions of fear and hope. Obama won the presidency in 2008 on a campaign of hope; he won re-election in 2012 on a campaign of fear.
Hope works, but fear is a much stronger and more compelling emotion. In a political campaign, it is directed at one’s political opponent. Democrats exploit this emotion to the hilt; Republicans often seem too polite to even use it.
Please read the rest here.
Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven are also engaged in the work of using a prominent forum (National Review Online) to publish a series of articles aimed at shaping a coherent, and salable, political narrative for conservatives. This week’s installment is “The Moral Case for Conservativism.”
As with Horowitz, Habeeb and Leven urge a level of public discourse that avoids charts and data, and that frames an epic battle in the same way that Progressives claim politics as an epic battle — except that, in this version, we’re the good guys:
If there is a single reason why conservatives continue to lose the battle of ideas, it’s because we don’t make the moral case for freedom and free markets. Our political class instead makes the economic case for our philosophy. Our smart guys are so impressed with their own intelligence, they think we can win the debate using numbers and data, charts and graphs, and political tactics and strategy.
It’s the Left’s secret advantage. They create the feeling that they care more about the average American because they make the moral case for their philosophy.
One of the advantages this confers on the Left is this: They get to play large ball, while we play a dour brand of small ball.
As with Horowitz’s article, I urge you to read the whole thing.
Those of us who spend our time following politics understand that we are engaged in a battle for America’s heart and soul. On one side is an ideology that dreams of subordinating the individual to an all-powerful state. History proves that this has never turned out well. On the other side is an ideology that dreams of allowing each individual maximum freedom in a state that exerts minimum coercion but that, instead, provides a stable infrastructure and a level playing field. Our own history demonstrates how successful this approach is.
Put another way, life is imitating Star Wars, with an epic battle taking place over America’s future. We’d better call our agents and make sure that they let the audience know that we’re the rebels, not the Empire. Once we’ve established that we’re the good guys, we — the ordinary people who aren’t paid political operatives — need to put on our thinking caps and figure out how we can contribute to winning this battle.
For the past four years, conservatives have been fighting a relentlessly rearguard, defensive action. For those same four years, conservatives have lost every rearguard, defensive action that they’ve fought. Or if they haven’t actually lost, the best that they’ve managed is a stalemate that stalls Progressivism, but doesn’t advance conservative values. Even the stunning 2010 “shellacking” proved ineffective, as shellackings really only work if you take over Congress entirely, rather than just getting half of it.
Conservative also don’t seem to be faring too well in the culture wars. To use abortion as just one example, in the 2012 election, conservatives lost the chance to take over Congress when Progressives successfully demonized two Republican Senate candidates who are pro-Life. More than that, it seems as if, contrary to past trends showing that Americans are inclined to a pro-Life view, a recent poll gave a definitive victory to American support for abortion.
Ironically, right up until the 2012 election, many conservatives (myself included) thought that these tactics would work. We believed that a jobless recovery (a stock market that benefited from Obama’s crony capitalism, even as more and more people became unemployed), creeping inflation, flabby home sales, depreciating savings, rising medical costs, and all the other signs of a sick economy, would turn voters against Obama.
We also thought that proofs of corruption (Fast and Furious), incompetency (Benghazi), and crony capitalism (Solyndra), would turn voters against Obama. They didn’t.
Sure we knew that Romney, although a good and intellectually brilliant man, was only a decent candidate, but we thought that, given all of Obama’s failures and dishonesty, Romney’s charisma deficit wouldn’t be a problem. And had Romney been a Democrat, it really wouldn’t have been a problem. He was a Republican, though, which meant that sterling character and brilliant economic chops were inadequate to fend off the extraordinarily vicious character assassination that the White House and the media launched against him.
We conservatives hadn’t counted on Americans buying such disgusting canards or ignoring ugly facts, but they did. Between the media running interference, general disinterest from voters more fascinated by Honey Boo Boo and Jersey Shores than by politics, and Americans’ probable fear of voting a black man out of the White House, conservatives got to watch Obama win again.
In the wake of Obama’s victory, conservatives in the media and in the blogosphere have responded by amping up their previous tactics. Considering that Obama won’t be running again in 2016, spending all of our political capital and emotional energy attacking him doesn’t seem like a good use of resources. Be that as it may, conservatives are Obama is still Target No. 1. There certainly is a lot to get fired up about, most notably the way in which Obama seized upon Sandy Hook as an excuse to seize guns. Nothing will come of it, of course, since there are too many Democrats who like guns too, but Obama has successfully framed the issue to be one of life- and child-loving Democrats squaring off against gun-crazed, child-murdering Republicans.
Rather than running about like headless chickens who are still trying to peck the President to death with details, we might do better focusing on very specific weaknesses and not letting those weaknesses vanish from the public eye. To me, the most obvious are (a) the economy and (b) his handling of Benghazi.
Not content with putting even more effort into tactics that have been proven failures, Republicans are adding something new: finger-pointing and back-stabbing. Stephen Sondheim’s “It’s Your Fault,” from Into The Woods, summarizes perfectly the spectacle that Republicans are now making of themselves:
Here’s the thing: Anger can only last so long and fire us up so much. After anger comes depression, which some say is anger turned inward, but I say depression is anger exhausted.
If even true believers like me are turned off and are tuning out because of this relentless negativity and internecine viciousness, can you imagine what’s going on with ordinary, rather disengaged voters? On the one hand they have an ebullient, confident President who has proudly announced an “inclusive” agenda (never mind that it excludes the 49% of the country that didn’t vote for him) and, on the other hand, we have a dispirited, mean-spirited, flabby conservative movement.
Not only do people like winners, they dislike sore losers. Worse, the media isn’t there to pick up the pieces for us as it did when Bush kept the White House for a second term. Instead, it’s going to prey on our relentless negativity, magnify it, and throw it back at us — all while the American people shy away from the political party that smells like old roadkill.
Well, that was my own carping and finger-pointing. It was a necessary premise to what comes next in this post — coming up with a strategy to re-position conservatives as a winning team.
It’s tempting to begin by trying, yet again, to define conservativism. I’m not going to make the mistake, however, of sticking myself onto that tar baby. Unlike the relentlessly lockstep Progressives, whose allegiance to the party line helps them win, conservatives are a diverse lot. Some have had way too much schooling and some have had less than they would have liked. Some are already wealthy and some hope to be wealthy. Some live in urban areas, some in suburban enclaves, and some live on farms or in the back woods. Some have roots reaching back centuries in America (black or white, Asian or Hispanic), while some are recent immigrants from every part of the globe. Some are pro-Choice and some are pro-Life. Most support the Second Amendment, but with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Indeed, when I think about it, there are only two things I can say with absolute certainty about American conservatives: This first is that they truly love America. It’s a pure love. They believe that America is an exceptional place, not in spite of her founding principles, but because of them. While they recognize that America has erred in the past, they also understand that she, unlike just about any other country in the world, has corrected herself, sometimes at the cost of much spilled American blood.
In this undiluted patriotism, conservatives differ from the Left, which loves America as a wife-beater loves his wife: “I show my love for my wife by focusing only on her flaws and failings. And because I really love her, I routinely beat the crap out of her to help her improve herself.”
The second thread binding conservatives is that they want smaller, cheaper Federal government. They differ on how much smaller and how much cheaper, but they recognize two things about the government we have. The first is that it’s breaking the bank, which may not worry Obama, but which is very worrisome for those who have the wits to see what happens to Western countries that go bankrupt. Today’s news shows as Greece, which is becoming scarily primitive; yesterday’s news shows us post-WWI Germany, that responded to economic chaos by inviting genocidal socialists into the Reichstag.
The second thing conservatives recognize when they look at Obama’s inauguration announcement that he intends to keep spending taxpayer money to enlarge the federal government is that bigger government means less individual freedom. Conservatives may disagree about the precise amount of individual freedom necessary for happiness, but they’re pretty sure that individuals aren’t happy when the state has too much control over their lives.
Knowing that patriotism and individual freedom are the ties that bind conservatives, shouldn’t we be embarking upon a campaign to appeal to them and, moreover, to show them that we conservatives are Happy Warriors, not whining, vicious losers? It’s my rhetorical question, so I get to answer with a resounding YES.
Having answered my question to my satisfaction, the remaining question becomes what form should this Reagan-esque Happy Warrior initiative take? Here’s a list of three things we can do:
1. Write to your favorite radio hosts (Rush, Sean, Dennis, Hugh, Mark, etc.) and ask them to devote at least one hour a week to highlighting the good that is America. Even better, have this pro-America hour reach out to minorities who share conservative values, but who have been scared into thinking that the Republicans are the party of White Supremacists and the KKK. It’s useless to point out that this kind of racism was the Democrats’ stock in trade. In the here and now, Republicans are stuck with that label and need to counter it. What better way than to interview a Vietnamese woman who escaped the fall of Saigon, came to America with nothing, started a business, raised a family, and now can point to successful children and grandchildren, all of whom, after leaving college, went to work in the family’s thriving business. Ditto for the Nicaraguan man who escaped the Death Squads, the East Asian family who fled their small village’s grinding poverty, and the black woman who broke free from the crime and degradation of America’s welfare-funded inner cities.
2. Instead of carping about Progressives on Facebook or Twitter (which preaches to the choir without converting anyone else), keep posting American success stories that are premised on traditional American values: hard work, honesty, self-reliance, etc.
3. Leave comments on this blog (or write to me: Bookwormroom *at* gmail.com), giving practical suggestions for revitalizing a positive conservativism that engages people. I want concrete initiatives that ordinary conservatives can do on a daily basis, whether shopping, seeking out entertainment, socializing, working, blogging, etc., that will help to advance a positive, welcoming vision of conservativism that’s predicated on an abiding patriotism and a belief that federal government must become smaller and cheaper.
Everybody likes a winner. We’re not winning right now, but it behooves us to start projecting a winning attitude. Otherwise, we’re just going to be the crazy uncle in the attic who scares voters away.
I promise that this post will be about what Sheldon Adelson had to say in an interview with Alana Goodman of Commentary Magazine. Before I get there, though, I need to begin with a little story of my own.
Readers of my newsletter know that I had lunch last week with seven other conservative women here in Marin. We had all found each other more or less by accident, not because any of us in Marin have proudly worn our conservativism in the open (our kids would be ostracized if we did), but because we listened for the little clues in their words that hinted at a conservative orientation. We then risked exposing ourselves by asking, “Uh, are you by any chance . . . um, you know, conserva-mumble, mumble, mumble?”
That shyness, of course, was before the last election. Since the 2012 election, we’ve all made a vow to each other to be more open about our political identity and to challenge liberals who lead with unfounded conclusions that demonize conservatives and their beliefs or that confer saintly virtues on Obama and his cadre.
Interestingly, the eight of us were a microcosm of conservative views, ranging from fiscally conservative but socially liberal conservatives all the way to both fiscally and socially conservatives. Our common denominator, of course, was fiscal conservativism. Dig deeper, and there were two other common denominators: an abiding belief in the Constitution’s continued relevance to modern America and a fierce devotion to individual liberty.
Where we differed was (a) gay marriage and (b) abortion. With regard to abortion, we did have one overarching point of agreement, which was that abortion is not a federal issue and should therefore be returned to the states. When it came to gay marriage, all of us were willing to recognize gay unions, but we differed about whether the answer is to declare gay marriage the law of the land or, instead, to preserve marriage for religious institutions, while making civil unions across the board (both straight and gay) the law of the land. As regular readers know, I hew to the second view, which acknowledges human relationships and state goals, without interfering in any way with religious freedom.
I walked away from the lunch realizing as clearly as I ever have that the strong fiber weaving us together is fiscal conservativism and individual liberty. The frayed strands at the edges are what are commonly called “social issues.”
The Democrats, recognizing that the quickest way to shred a piece of fabric is to tear at the frayed edges, rather than to try to destroy the sturdy center, worked hard during the election to blow the gay-marriage and abortion dog whistles. As the race in Missouri showed, social conservativism is a political landmine that routinely explodes in the face of struggling Republican candidates. Todd Akin could have won that race if he hadn’t been asked about abortion. When thinking about Akin’s repulsive and misinformed answer, which provided a solid Progressive rallying cry, don’t forget Richard Mourdock. His experience proves that, even if Akin had given a principled pro-Life answer, he still would have been pilloried and destroyed.
I’m a big believer that, when it comes to social issues, culture drives politics, rather than politics driving culture. For the past forty years, social liberals have been planted very firmly in the driver’s seat. They have infiltrated both media and education, which has given them the chance to shape a generation’s social views. They have sensitized this generation’s ears so that the dog whistles most people under 55 hear the loudest aren’t “debt” or “fiscal cliff” or “responsibility,” but are, instead, “women haters,” “homophobes” and “racists.”
What this cultural transformation means is that, in the short term, conservatives can win on the fiscal side (and, possibly, on the individual liberties side) because people haven’t been deafened by decades of dog whistles on those subjects. Until we take back the culture, though, which we do exactly the same way the Left did — namely, a slow march through the culture — we will invariably lose on social issues. Significantly as the most recent election shows, losing on social issues inevitably means losing on all issues.
Now, finally, have established my premise about the way in which social issues invariably play against conservatives in national elections, I can get to Sheldon Adelson’s interview in Commentary Magazine. For purposes of this essay, Sheldon Adelson is important for three reasons. First, he is a conservative who is willing to put his money where his mouth is (unlike Warren Buffet, a true-to-form liberal who wants to put other people’s money where his mouth is). The second reason Adelson is important is that, after his emergence as a money-player in this election, the Left has worked as hard to demonize him as they did to demonize the Koch Brothers and Mitt Romney. And the third reason is that Sheldon Adelson agrees with me that conservatives cannot win on social issues:
For someone whose name and face were a regular staple of the election coverage, the public does have many misconceptions about Adelson. His liberal social views rarely received media attention during the campaign season, though he’s certainly never hidden them.
“See that paper on the wall?” he asked, gesturing toward a poster with rows of names on it. “That is a list of some of the scientists that we give a lot of money to conduct collaborative medical research, including stem cell research. What’s wrong if I help stem cell research? I’m all in favor. And if somebody wants to have an abortion, let them have an abortion,” he said.
Adelson has not said whether he will use his influence to try to change the GOP internally. But he does believe social issues cost the Republicans the last election.
“If we took a softer stance on those several issues, social issues, that I referred to, then I think that we would have won the most recent election,” he said. “I think people got the impression that Republicans didn’t care about certain groups of people.”
You should definitely read the whole interview.
Adelson is precisely what my self-admitted conservative friends are: fiscally conservative, socially fairly liberal, very receptive to legal immigration (because a nation, for health, national security, and economic reasons should control its own borders), and supportive of Israel. What’s funny, though, is that Adelson is also pretty close in actual outlook to all the upscale, white collar liberals I know who reflexively vote Democrat because of the conservative issues. These people are also fiscally conservative in their own lives; they what their country safe and fiscally sound for their children; they like immigrants but recognize that illegal immigrants pose risks both for American citizens and legal, Green Card immigrants; and they like Israel’s values.
The problem at the ballot box is that, after forty years of Leftist indoctrination, these educated liberals are unable to harmonize their values with their politics. Despite recognizing the wisdom of fiscal management in their own homes, they think a state can survive indefinitely by spending more than it takes in; despite training their children in self-reliance, they believe that we should destroy self-reliance in “the poor”; despite believing that people should be able to protect themselves and their homes, they are embarrassed when their country tries to defend itself; and despite admiring a pluralist, democratic society, which is what Israel is, they bemoan the plight of the poor Palestinians who have allowed their (now sovereign) territory to devolve in a crazy mix of anarchism and Islamic fundamentalism.
What makes this cognitive dissonance possible for white collar liberals is their unswerving allegiance to unlimited abortions and (of late) to gay marriage. Just as fiscal conservativism, the Constitution, and individual freedom bind conservatives of all stripes together, so too do abortion and gay marriage (with a soupçon of illegal immigration) bind together Progressives of all stripes. We cannot entice Progressives to fiscal conservativism if we insist on a purity test for abortion and gay marriage. It’s just not going to happen. And here’s the kicker: abortion and gay marriage become moot issues if our nation collapses entirely under the weight of debt or if our walls our breached by Islamists or if we become “tuberculosis central” because we cannot assert even a modicum of polite control over our borders.
As a parent, I hew socially conservative, so those are values I want to advance. But I’m a pragmatist who recognizes that the ballot box isn’t the place to make it happen. The ballot box is how we manage issues of sovereignty (including national security and border control) and fiscal health. Our social institutions are where we make headway on social issues. If we can keep those lines from crossing, we can be a resurgent conservative political party and, eventually, a somewhat more traditional America, one that preserves the best and healthiest social policies of the past and the present.