A fundamental principle in politics is that a small number of people willing to push their agenda will always dominate a large number of people who just want to live in peace and mind their own business.
This principle helps to explain how America, with only 20 percent of voters describing themselves as liberal, lurches steadily toward a socialist state that the center-right majority does not want. This principle also helps to explain the success of cultural movements that are not supported by the mainstream, such as efforts to drive any mention of God from the public square or efforts to change the definition of marriage that has prevailed for millennia throughout Western civilization.
But self-described conservatives outnumber liberals two-to-one in America, and yet public policy somehow ratchets only to the left. Conservative victories are measured in terms of how much the growth of government power is slowed, never by how much liberty has advanced. Why doesn’t the “demanding minority” principle work for the right, especially considering our decided numerical advantage?
The answer is that conservatives are not demanding. For conservatives, it is ironic that the explanation of our political weakness is found to some extent in our personal maturity and strength of character. The live-and-let-live independence and the respect for the rights of others that permeate conservative political positions are also characteristics of emotionally mature adults. For the most part, conservatives are content to live our own lives and willing to let others do the same. That’s what grown-ups do. It is not in our nature to meddle.
Conservatives are not by nature political animals, but liberals seem to live and breathe for political power. There are no limits to their need to meddle. Every liberal itch must be scratched by a new law, every prejudice becomes a cause, every whim gives birth to a new right. And though they are vastly outnumbered, liberals have learned to use the mainstream’s maturity against us. Left-wing community organizers know that businesses and governments will make concessions to radical demands to avoid a scene and get back to business, and the left’s strategy has been to accumulate those concessions over time to increase their power over the rest of us.
There was no great public demand that the teachers’ unions be given their own federal department, but the unions demanded one and Jimmy Carter delivered. Demands for Obamacare came from the liberal minority, not the majority. Mainstream America wants secure borders, but our borders are open because open borders serve the electoral interests of the left-wing minority. In case after case, the agenda in American politics is set by the left, and conservatives defend against that agenda. And when we compromise, the compromise always moves the country to the left. The only question is how much.
Conservatives cannot win a protracted political struggle from a defensive position. The tea-party movement has given a voice to the center-right mainstream, but so far that voice only says “whoa there” to the left’s agenda. From the left’s current efforts to weaken the Electoral College system to amnesty for illegal aliens, there is not a single political battlefield in which the left is on the defensive. All political initiatives come from the left.
To put it bluntly, the liberal minority dominates American politics because liberals have a strategy for eroding liberty but conservatives do not have a strategy for promoting it. Decades ago, leftist intellectuals recognized that gradual occupation of our educational, news and other cultural institutions would give the liberal minority the power to decide the political agenda. They knew that the mainstream would be too busy minding our own business to provide much resistance and that the inevitable compromise would always work in their favor. Their strategy of constant pressure applied over time has worked.
Meanwhile, there is no conservative strategy to ensure that every high-school student in America can give a spirited defense of liberty or free enterprise, or to remove tax funding from left-wing political groups, or to ensure that immigrants assimilate. There is no conservative strategy to take back our cultural institutions and use them actively to promote the cause of liberty.
We were warned by our founders that the price of liberty would be eternal vigilance. The American mainstream is running out of time to learn that saying “whoa there” every now and then does not qualify as eternal vigilance. Unless the sleeping giant of the American mainstream wakes up now and learns to flex our political muscle, this will be the last generation of Americans to know liberty.
Tim Daughtry is a conservative writer, speaker and political consultant with Concord Bridge Consulting in Greensboro, N.C. He is co-author of the upcoming book “Waking the Sleeping Giant: How Mainstream Americans Can Beat Liberals at Their Own Game.”