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One of the most brilliant strokes of political genius ever was the idea of capturing a nation’s cultural institutions as a means of capturing political power. Unfortunately, it was the Marxist intellectuals of the early 1900s who hit upon the idea. The real path to revolution, they realized, was not control of the means of production, but control of the topic of discussion.
Marxist theorists saw schools, labor unions, news media, seminaries and even the family as fronts in the war against free societies. The power of these institutions lay in the fact that they determine the “narrative” of the political debate. They determine the buzz phrases, which topics get discussed and which ones ignored, who are the “good guys,” and who are the “bad guys.”
So when Marxists come to power, as they did in 2008, the narrative that rings from the institutions is “hope, change and reform.” When the mainstream comes to power, as we did in 2010, the narrative becomes “hate, extremism and shutting down the government.”
After the Republican landslides of 1994, the left’s institutions accused the Republicans of “shutting down the government.” The Republican response was a puny, “That’s not what we are trying to do.”
Now the left is up to its old tricks again. In an unguarded moment, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., let it out that the radical left’s strategy was to parrot the phrase “extreme” with any mention of budget reform and to tie the Republicans to the tea party. Apparently, in the strange world inside of Schumer’s head, government employees have a right to organize but taxpayers do not.
To their credit, the new congressional Republicans did not fall into the defensive “we are not extreme” trap this time. Instead, they turned the tables on the left by pointing out that it is, in fact, the Democrats who are extreme.
But did you notice who is still controlling the narrative? The topic chosen by the left is “who is extreme?” The Republicans have accepted that as the topic of debate. The left attacks the tea party, and the Republican response is to defend the tea party. That’s noble, but it still cedes control of the narrative to the most extreme element of American politics, the radical Democrat left wing.
But at least the current Republicans have gone from “We’re not as bad as they say,” to a somewhat stronger, “Hey, look in the mirror.” Our guys are dancing better than they have in the past, but the left is still calling the tune.
But what the Republicans need to realize is that debating the absurd gives the absurd credibility. We have to seize control of the narrative, and Fox News, the Internet and talk radio have given us vehicles that we have not had in the past to do just that.
What is missing is an all-out mainstream assault on the political strongholds of the left. What is missing is a narrative of our choosing, a narrative that lays out what a restored American republic would look like, a narrative that forces the left to defend a record that is nothing short of indefensible. Mainstream America has to learn to stop defending common sense and to make the radical left defend absurdity and corruption.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has been on the right track in his attempts to limit the power of government unions. Government employee unions reek of conflict of interest and corruption. Even left-wing icons like George Meany and Franklin Roosevelt realized the conflict when the union gets to choose the management with whom they will “negotiate.”
The left cannot defend the inherent corruption of government unions but, until recently, they have not had to. So when Walker called the question, the left was reduced to beating drums in the capitol building, screaming “Nazi” at mainstream politicians and otherwise showing their true colors. At no point has the left attempted to make the case that government unions are good for anybody but government unions, because they can’t win that one.
If the mainstream learns to seize moments like this, the new narrative becomes, “Just where else is the left up to no good?”
There are untold billions in wasteful and corrupt spending that can be targeted without hurting the poor or weakening the country if we have the will to force the right topics to the forefront. For one example, could the left really make the case for keeping the Department of Education, Jimmy Carter’s payoff to the teachers’ unions, in the face of catastrophic deficits?
We are told that the choice is between austerity and bankruptcy. Maybe the real choice is between bankruptcy and backbone.
Tim Daughtry is a conservative writer, speaker and political consultant with Concord Bridge Consulting in Greensboro, N.C.