Excerpt from David Kahane’s Rules for Radical Conservatives: Party Like It’s 1980
This week, after three years of writing satirically about Hollywood and politics as "David Kahane" on National Review Online, I published Rules for Radical Conservatives, from which this excerpt is taken:
Look, I have to admit there’s nothing wrong with either the conservative or Republican base. Frankly, you guys terrify us, you and your damn fascist Tea Parties. Is there anything more frightening than seas of grandmothers waving American flags and singing “patriotic” songs? I don’t think so. But the bozos driving your clown car need a complete upgrading in order to meet the new challenges of the twenty- first century, and one that the current crop of “leaders” is simply not up to. You morons need smart, ruthless, and savvy leadership, younger than your basic World War II veteran—hell, we’ve run a self- confessed draft dodger and a guy who quit on his comrades after a few months in Vietnam—not that there’s anything wrong with that! If you’re going to bring fruit salad and scrambled eggs to a knife fight, you might as well make sure your fighters are under fifty and are actually, you know, armed and ready to party.
You can’t afford colorless Speakers of the House, or go- along, get-along collaborationists like most of your senators. You need officers who are going to inspire the troops, not dispirit them, commanders who’ve earned the love of their followers precisely by not crossing the aisle, instead preferring to stand on principle. These brave men and women are going to have to step out of the ranks and step up, and when they are attacked by our side—as they surely will be—you must defend them. Nobody wants to lead troops into battle and, halfway across the killing fields, find out he or she is all alone.
Elections are not about programs, but principles.
Hey, Dumbo—“programs” are our thing. Our candidates churn out books on “programs” all the time. They answer endless rounds of questions about “programs,” helpfully posed by our plants in the media. In fact, we’ve made it seem that running for President or any other higher office is all about having the most ten- point plans, or five- year plans, or whatever. But what would you expect from a party that reveres FDR, but really hankers after the cultural revolutions and thousand- year plans that big- time statists of the past century so proudly hailed? We’ve got a “program” or a “plan” for everything, and you chumps have accepted the idiotic notion that one can plan further out than, say, five minutes (no wonder you’ve bought into the farce of “global warming”). Whereas those real military men you ought to be recruiting understand, like football coaches, the first rule of plans: that they go out the window the minute the first shot is fired. After which you rely upon the wisdom and guts of your commanders and the courage, training, and discipline of your troops to see you through to victory.
Principles are what counts. So stop trying to outdo us by rushing to the microphones with a silly plan to solve every social ill this side of halitosis whenever our pet frogs in the media croak about a new “crisis” in the daily news feed. In fact, forget about programs completely. Just say no! And if we call you out and demand to know—which we will, you can bet on that, it’s part of the playbook—the details of your “plan,” laugh and tell them to shove it and start talking about principles.
To do otherwise is to accept our premises, which means you have already lost. Instead, stick to the big picture: liberty, self- reliance, faith, freedom. Those concepts are to us like a crucifix to a vampire, but heed not our squeals. Instead, keep brandishing your integrity and have the satisfaction of watching us collapse, writhing, on the floor into a puddle of putrescent malefaction, just like Christopher Lee in all those great Hammer movies.
To do otherwise displays weakness, and the last thing you want to do when dealing with us is to seem weak. So, keeping the principle in mind that we are bullies on the outside but cowards on the inside, let us now move to a discussion of how to fight.
One of your mistakes, as I noted earlier, is that for some weird reason you seem to think that being Mr. Nice Guy is the way to win friends, influence people, and once in a while succeed at the ballot box. We, of course, know better. As spiritual sons and daughters of the Society of Saint Tammany, we hold and keep a few principles firmly in mind:
- Promise the voters everything, deliver on almost nothing, but keep promising that the Promised Land is just around the next bend.
- Fan resentment as much as possible without actually starting a riot.
- If a riot starts, blame it on the other guy.
- Remember that some people are naturally credulous, some are naturally lazy, some are stupid, some are disadvantaged and content to remain that way, and some are born civil servants. Find these people and make them your constituents. If you take care of them, they will take care of you, pretty much in perpetuity. That’s the deal.
- It is a surer thing to buy or steal an election than to win it.
- Never run an honest race if you can help it.
- Try to eliminate your opponent before the election. Challenge his filing papers, seek to have him removed from the ballot, get your friends in the media—especially if one of them is also your campaign manager—to call their lawyers and dig up any weapon to hand, including broken beer bottles, pool cues, and your opponent’s sealed divorce records. Then tell people, more in sorrow than in anger, what a skunk he is.
- Always do it for the children, because even though your richer supporters don’t have any kids, your poorer ones have millions of them.
In other words, a good general knows never to fight the battle on his enemy’s turf, terrain, and terms unless he has no other choice. And yet your side constantly chooses to do so. You never grab the high ground when you can fight from the base of the hill or, better yet, the bottom of the ravine. You never marshal at least a three- to- one superiority of forces when you’re on the attack—in fact, you hardly ever attack, despite what we constantly refer to as the “right- wing smear machine”—and you never take advantage of turf you know on which to conduct your defensive measures. In short, your leaders stink.
So find and promote the folks who want and know how to fight. Men and women who display the same kind of go- to- hell, don’t- give-a-damn lunacy as Barry Goldwater, who famously said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Oh, how we shrieked at that! Goldwater was one of our first experiments in word twisting and meaning imputation: we just knew that he was one of those crazy John Birchers who saw Manchurian Candidates under every bed. Why, he used the word “extremism”! Whereas we, of course, are nothing if not moderate in all things except our desire to eliminate you.
As history shows, you’re very slow on the uptake. It’s not for nothing that we call you—to your face!—the Stupid Party. You’re like the straight man in an old vaudeville show, the Washington Generals playing the Harlem Globetrotters, Gracie Allen to our George Burns. Let’s face it: your losing streak began with the very first Republican President,
Lincoln, who fielded a stream of inept field commanders, one of whom—that would be George McClellan—later ran against him in the election of 1864 as the Democratic candidate. Sure, Lincoln fired him and eventually replaced him with the man who would actually win the war, Ulysses S. Grant, but McClellan took personal pique to a high order of insolence: his party’s Copperhead platform was frankly defeatist, as was his potential veep, a “peace” candidate named George Pendleton. McClellan lost, Grant fought his way to Appomattox, and Lincoln made the mistake of taking in a show at Ford’s Theatre, but one thing you can say for us Democrats: from the traitor Aaron Burr through the “let’s give up!” election of 1864, right up to our modern day, we have distinguished ourselves by our treachery, our cowardice, and our sheer inability to tell an enemy from a friend.
In other words, you lucked into Grant, one of the greatest fighting men America has ever produced, as well as the greatest military man of letters. And how did we repay his service during the War Between the States? By slandering his memory—not as a general, because there are some facts that even we can’t argue with, but after his presidency, which the country now remembers (if it remembers Grant at all, which is dubious) as having been marked by scandal and corruption. Yes sirree bob, we invented the template of the greedy fat cat Republicans and we hung it on the great war hero, at which point we realized that if we could get away with smearing the general who saved the Union, we could pretty much smear anybody. To add insult to injury, after his painful death from cancer, we even buried him on the Upper West Side.
Sometimes I ask myself why you make such unworthy opponents. Some of us feel it’s an excess of Christianity—the turn- the- other- cheek kind, not the rabid, lunatic, wingnut Christian Right stuff. Some of us feel it’s because you’re a flyover kind of party, raised in parts of the country where lying, cheating, and stealing are actually frowned upon, if you can believe that; where a man’s word is his bond, when for us not even our lawyer’s signature on a piece of paper is worth anything; and where there’s an innate sense of “decency,” an openness, a willingness to let a stranger have his say, even if you don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. It may even be something as simple as the fact that you have real jobs making stuff, and don’t eat, breathe, and sleep politics, while we’ve burrowed into the civil service and the think tanks, and thus have plenty of time on our hands. Whatever it is, what it adds up to is this: you’re the marks and we’re the hustlers, and you never seem to figure it out. And so you consistently bend over backward to see things our way.
You accept at face value our most ludicrous positions, thinking like poor Neville Chamberlain that each of our demands is our Last, Best, and Final. Fools! For us, each accepted bargain only marks the start of a new round of demands; we are insidious, additive, and agglutinative, and our negotiations are really just war by other means.
Which brings me back to principles, and why they’re important, and why you simply must defend them to the death if you expect to have any principles left. Since we have none, in any encounter we always have you at a disadvantage. Here’s the way it works:
- First we find an institution we wish to transform or destroy—for the sake of argument, let’s take a private all-male country club. What could be more unegalitarian, and thus more evil, than that?
- Following the Alinsky rule of demonizing the targeted object, we force you to accept our ridiculous premise that, despite the constitutional guarantee of the right to free association, there is something immoral or actually illegal about the club’s rules excluding women. Forget that the club was legally founded, forget that nobody forces the men to join it, forget that women have never evinced much interest in this club, forget the fact that women have their own clubs—forget all that. All we need to do is find one woman to complain, to spin out a fantasy of oppression and lost opportunity to close that all- important business deal at the nineteenth hole, and you’re doomed. As &$@Bush&!# kind of put it once about the so- called “terrorists”—you have to be lucky every time. We only have to be lucky once.
- And now that, after a century of peaceable operation, you’re on the defensive, we hammer our complaints home until you finally accede to our demands, if only in the hope of making us shut up and go away. It may take some time, but in the end you always give in. And once you do, the battle is over, and now it’s just, as we say in Hollywood, process.
- Why? By making you concede something that by now looks small and petty—by taking your attention away from the big picture (the right to free assembly) and focusing it on lawyerly and/or hypothetical details, we’ve destroyed your faith in your own institution. Why not let women into the club? Naturally, we swear that we’re not looking for any special treatment, that our gals just want to be one of the boys, and aside from the obvious accommodations needed in certain personal areas, nothing whatsoever will change.
- And so the die is cast and the rest . . . well, you know the rest. By definition, the very nature of the club will change and soon it will no longer be the club it once was. And the best part is, you will never be able to admit it because, having accepted the premise of our argument in the first place, you have already taken revanchism off the table. In the end, it may be a better club, it may be a worse club, but it won’t be the same club. Which, after all, was the point of the exercise all along.
Our pal Oliver Stone put it best in his film Wall Street:
BUDD FOX: “Why do you need to wreck this company?”
GORDON GEKKO: “Because it’s wreckable, all right?”
And why did this happen? Because you surrendered on principle. You let us browbeat you into thinking that principles don’t matter, that our principles (or, rather, our battering rams and trebuchets disguised as principles) were superior not only to yours, but to those of all the generations that had come before you. We’ve gotten you not only to reject your own dogma, but to reject and vilify the wishes and desires and covenants of your forefathers. We’ve turned you into us, and convinced you that it was for your own good.
Principles. Once you abandon them, you’re through.
Copyright 2010 by David Kahane. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.