Recent remarks by Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., to the Broward Republican Executive Committee in Fort Lauderdale summed up the biggest problem facing the conservative movement in America: "Ladies and gentlemen, you don't win on defense. You win on offense." Conservative Americans would do well to heed West's advice while there is still time.
For decades, every major political initiative in the United States has come from the far left: Obamacare, amnesty for illegal aliens, gay marriage, gun control, cap-and-trade; everywhere one looks, the left is on offense and the center-right mainstream is on defense.
Now try to name a strategic cultural or political initiative in which conservatives are on offense and the left is on defense. If you thought of tax breaks, think again. Keeping more of your own money is not a gain; it is the absence of a loss. If you thought about the Defense of Marriage Act, note that the operative word there is "defense." Conservative victories at the polls, such as those in 1994 and 2010, may slow the pace of the left's advance, but government never loses an inch of ground that it has gained, and liberty never regains an inch of ground that it has lost.
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The left's dominance in American politics is stunning for two reasons. First, the catastrophic failure of socialism across Europe has made redistributionist policies indefensible from an intellectual point of view. Second, conservatives outnumber liberals by two-to-one. In terms of political views, America is a center-right country. In terms of policy, however, America is sinking in the moral and economic quicksand of socialism.
How does the liberal minority wield power that is far disproportionate to their numbers or to the quality of their ideas? The answer is twofold. First, the radical left has a political strategy that has worked, and mainstream America has no political strategy other than to defend against the left's advances. Second, the left examined the character of the right, found our Achilles' heel and learned to use it to their advantage.
Leftist intellectuals long ago recognized the prime rule of politics, that a small number of people with an agenda can always dominate a large number of people who just want to be left alone. They also realized that the path to formal political power lay not in fomenting the violent revolution of classical Marxist theory, but instead in dominating cultural institutions such as education, news and entertainment. From these two insights came a strategy of trickle-down Marxism called the "long march through the institutions." If leftists could dominate the universities, their ideas would gradually work their way into the educational system as a whole and, from there, into the news media, entertainment and the culture at large. The process was one of immersion rather than conversion. The Judeo-Christian culture that provided the moral foundation for personal liberty and limited government would simply be eroded away without a shot being fired.
The brilliance of the cultural strategy is evident in the fact that our educational system, the traditional news media and entertainment are all far to the left of mainstream America. But these institutions define the terms of political debate, the heroes and the villains, and so the values of mainstream America are painted as suspect and those of the leftist minority as normal.
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Furthermore, the left knows that the mainstream sees politics is a necessary evil, and that may be the cause of our undoing. The mainstream does not like the conflict of politics, the name-calling and the seedy world of backroom deals. The center-right majority works for what we get, we mind our own business, and we have little inclination to meddle in the business of others. But politics is all about meddling, and meddling is the lifeblood of the left. No aspect of life is beyond the liberal's need to meddle, to decide what others may have and what others may do.
The center-right mainstream is running out of time to learn that minding our own business is not a political strategy. Until we learn to advance the cause of liberty and force the left to defend the cause of statism, the mainstream will always be caught off guard and forced to defend our turf. And when we get tired of defending, we compromise in a vain hope that the left will be mollified and that we can get back to minding our own business. But with each compromise, the statist agenda of the left becomes more and more the policy of the country.
As we argue in "Waking the Sleeping Giant: How Mainstream Americans Can Beat Liberals at Their Own Game," conservatives can never win America back if we continue to debate the left on the left's terms. The only way out of our current crisis is for the mainstream to get off the defensive and take control of the debate.
Or, as Rep. West told his audience, "You must be like sharks that smell blood in the water, and you must attack."