At your next gathering of conservatives, ask a simple question: “What is the conservative strategy for restoring legitimate constitutional government in America?”
While you are at it, ask your fellow conservatives to name a single conservative initiative that has made the left scramble to defend its turf the way conservatives constantly scramble to defend the remaining ground of liberty in America.
Ask those questions, and you will probably get some quizzical looks, or you might hear about conservative hot-button issues such as getting spending under control, lowering taxes, or protecting the Second Amendment. Those are laudable goals, but they are not a strategy; they are all defensive reactions to the left’s political initiatives.
What you will not hear, even from conservative leaders, is a concise description of a strategy to promote a conservative agenda that puts the left on the defensive, because there isn’t one. Every major political initiative in America – from Obamacare to confiscatory taxation to disarming law-abiding citizens – comes from the far left. The conservative battle plan appears to be waiting to see where the left will attack next and then trying to hold them off.
In contrast, the left has successfully carried out a two-pronged strategy for decades, and it can be summarized during the proverbial elevator ride: first, dominate the cultural institutions so that the electorate is immersed in leftist thinking without ever realizing it. Second, minimize resistance to the statist agenda by increasing the power and scope of government in small increments over a long time.
Simple, brilliant, and devastatingly effective.
The left’s strategy has succeeded to the point that conservatives now accept liberal bias in our schools, newsrooms, and other cultural institutions as if it were a constant in nature, like the speed of light or the mass of an electron. Conservatives do not even let ourselves dream of an America in which high school graduates (and future voters) are steeped in the writings of free enterprise proponents such as Milton Friedman, Walter Williams, or Thomas Sowell. The right worries about adapting our messaging to reach young voters, but what we should be asking ourselves is why freedom should have to be sugarcoated to appeal to young people raised in a country known as the land of the free.
But liberal bias in our cultural institutions did not just happen. The left saw those institutions as high-value targets in their quest to transform America’s culture and character, and they carried out what they called a “long march” to take them.
Neo-Marxists of the Frankfurt School realized decades ago that the path to their utopian vision ran, not through ownership of the means of production, as Karl Marx had theorized, but through changing the cultural norms on which freedom stood. Undermine the Judeo-Christian culture of the Western democracies – with their foundational values of personal responsibility, personal freedom, and respect for private property – and the political edifice of free enterprise would crumble onto the ash heap of history.
Some of those theorists brought their leftist ideas to Columbia University in the 1930’s, and those ideas spread through other American institutions. By the 1960s, the leftist worldview permeated America’s colleges, and it spread throughout the schools of education, journalism, and other academic departments that shaped the thinking of future generations. Eventually, leftist assumptions about the world, about America, and about the role of government worked their way into the nation’s classrooms and newsrooms.
The strategy was one of immersion more than conversion. It was not necessary to convert students or consumers of news to leftist thinking; it was only necessary to surround them with liberalism as if there were no other respectable way of thinking.
While conservatives were focused on winning the next election, the left focused on winning the next generation. And they are succeeding.
So, as the Republican Party looks to update its use of social media and get-out-the-vote technology, it would do well to remember that technology is important, but it can only identify friendly voters if those voters are there to identify. As things stand now, the left’s strategy is shrinking the pool of voters who value liberty and who understand the merits of free enterprise.
As it reconsiders its branding, the GOP would also do well to realize that the siren call of moderation as a means of attracting new voters will only draw them into a bidding war with the Democrats. But voters who see government as a giant vending machine will never press “R” to get a pint of whisky when they can press “D” and get a whole fifth. If the GOP loses its conservative identity, it will have no reason to exist.
So where does that leave conservatives? We can keep waiting to see where the left will hit next and we can keep hoping that we can fend them off. Or we can start thinking generationally. We can craft a strategy to counter the left’s gains in the cultural institutions that will shape the political attitudes of future voters.
Conservatives have already won strongholds in talk radio, Breitbart News, and other sites that provide alternatives to the left’s narrative. Conservative filmmakers such as Steve Bannon and Dinesh D’Souza are putting out documentaries that are visually powerful as well as informative. The Heritage Foundation and other institutions provide policy analysis and guidance founded upon conservative principles. Conservatives have our footholds, but our institutions primarily reach the conservative base. While conservatives preach to the choir, however, the left is outside tempting the neighborhood children with free contraceptives. A true conservative strategy has to move conservative thinking beyond our strongholds and into the population at large, into schools, newsrooms, and even entertainment.
Conservatives have rallies and conferences all over the country for education and for policy updates. Now is the time to put some hard strategic questions on the agenda at those gatherings. How will libertarians, social conservatives, tea partiers, and traditional Republicans stop the circular firing squads that divide the movement?
Instead of compromising in vain attempts to appease the left, how can we use compromise strategically, in ways that advance our agenda over time? We did not lose the country overnight; and we will not get it back overnight. Recovery will require craftiness as much as courage.
How do we get a foothold for conservative ideas in the public schools, and how do we expand that foothold over time? And how do we buy time for such a long-term strategy to work? That is, how do we enlist and equip the grassroots to counteract the left’s narrative with our own children, our friends and neighbors, and our co-workers? The left does not yet control the conversations at our dinner tables or across our backyard fences, and these can become the trenches where we stall the advance of socialism and buy time for the next generation of conservatives to make real gains.
Every generation probably sees itself as special in some way, but this generation of conservatives has only to look at the current political landscape to realize the hand that history has dealt us. We will either be the generation that figured out how to turn America back onto a right course, or we will be the generation that saw the light of liberty die out.
Dr. Tim Daughtry is co-author of Waking the Sleeping Giant: How Mainstream Americans Can Beat Liberals at Their Own Game.