The public wasn't ready for Goldwater, but it was ready for Reagan. Goldwater didn't lose. He prepared the ground for Reagan
How We Can Win
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Let’s begin with what this isn’t. It isn’t a final statement on anything. It’s the opening to a discussion and the discussion is a look at how we can win.
The proposals and ideas that follow are not in compliance with any dogma. They do not call for abandoning principles, but they do call for pragmatic action in the here and now in order to secure the victory of those principles. That’s a tricky line, but that’s also how political battles are won.
Plenty of readers will have philosophical objections to some of what follows and I respect that, but you can either wait for the public to come around or retreat to high ground and wait for everything to collapse. Neither is a very useful strategy and it behooves us to remember that the left did not go up into the hills and wait for us to come around. They used these strategies to win.
We Are Going to Take Care of You
Laying out grand arguments. The romance of the open marketplace and the responsibility to our children are big ideas. Breaking them down into bite sized pieces and hitting people directly on the impact it will have on them is far more useful.
But the bigger problem is that we no longer have a united electorate that can be spoken to as if there is one America. A big argument for the future of the nation does not resonate with many people. It has no impact at all on many minority groups and even on many non-minority groups by class who think in terms of how something will affect them locally, not nationally.
Obama did not bother with big arguments. He made small arguments to different groups and those groups turned out for him.
Romney tried to talk to Americans about responsibility and his turnout ended up being lower than the turnout of those looking out for their own group interests.
Big arguments fracture into someone else’s responsibility. Small arguments zero in on local fears that “my group” will lose out. And that makes them more potent.
What does all this mean? It means that we will have to become community organizers. We will have to find and engage people who often don’t even bother to vote by tying their economic interests to our policies. And we will have to narrow that focus as much as possible, organizing at the bottom in sync with a larger argument.
We will not be making one big argument, but a thousand little arguments that fit a common theme. That means organizing coal miners against the EPA, organizing doctors against ObamaCare and similarly organizing workers and owners in every field, focusing on narrow issues that directly affect them, taking an item of legislation, a specific regulation, an omission that bothers them and turning it into our issue and packaging that issue within the larger program.
If we can do this, if we can make our politics bottom up, instead of top down, then we will be able to bring out a partisan tribal vote that is just as committed to voting Republican as welfare voters are to voting for free phones.
The Democrats have a simple appeal. “We are going to take care of you.” They can use community groups to send that message to entire groups. We are going to have to be able to do something similar, not necessarily by race, but by profession and class, not with freebies, but by protecting their ability to earn a living and being there as a support structure for their economic ambitions.
Voters on principle are not enough. Voters coming out against Obama are not enough. We need voters who will come out because they have a direct and compelling interest, not in an abstract and grand problem, like the national debt, but in their ability to stay employed and earn a living.
The Social is Political
Sorry, but fiscally conservative and socially liberal does not work. If you doubt that, go look at the exit poll data.
A nation of Julias and their offspring are never going to vote fiscally conservative. Not unless they are also socially conservative or financially well off. A nation of Julias want security, they want a pater familias by proxy and that is going to be the government and the taxpayer.
If the American family continues breaking down, then fiscal conservatism is a dead letter. The family is an economic unit. A single parent family is too precarious and too vulnerable for that. Not every single parent family, but enough of them taken together on average are. Too much can go wrong and there is a much stronger need for security in the form of a safety net and antipathy to any talk of financial reform.
A libertarian democracy would only work with a strong sense of national character and the left has been smashing away at that for generations.
If you want fiscal conservatism, the only path that has any long term chance of success is through the rebuilding of the family. The only way that people will be less dependent on the government is if they have stable social and family structures. Absent fathers mean single families. Single families mean that the government is now everyone’s father. There is no way to break this cycle without also breaking democracy.
The objective goes beyond rebuilding the family. It means setting up stable social and community groups to rebuild much of what has been lost over the last two generations. A healthy community whose members support each other, under religious or community groups, is less uncertain and dependent on the government.
If we seriously want to end the welfare state, we will first have to end the conditions of social insecurity that make it necessary. There are various paths to doing that, but tackling the symptom in isolation will just lead to another neurotic effort by the Julias to protect their economic structure.
This isn’t a moral question, it’s a practical question. And the exit data makes it very clear that there is a sizable gap between how married and unmarried people approach the Republican Party. That’s the social element and socially liberal leads to fiscally liberal. We can either deal with this, and there are various creative solutions, most of which will allow us to also organize voters, or we can pretend it doesn’t exist and that we just need to yell at people about being parasites addicted to entitlements.
The Minority Vote
Let me be blunt here. This doesn’t come down to race. It comes down to money. Clinton beat Obama among blacks in South Carolina. Running our own minority candidates does not mean we will win the minority vote.
Sure race has a powerful appeal in politics, but the big ticket item is money. Democrats have the minority vote because they have connections down to community groups. The Democrats send money down the pipeline, the community groups hand out the benefits and guide their communities through life, while telling them how to vote.
It’s Community Organizing 101.
Do we want a chunk of that vote? It will cost us. We will not only have to provide money, which is meaningless because Republican presidents, senators and governors have pumped untold billions into that well, but we’ll have to build the community infrastructure, recruit and empower locals who will then run local organizations that will take the money, provide benefits and route voters our way.
Hypothetically speaking, if the Republicans weren’t completely clueless, their first act after getting their hands on the till, would have been to cut off every single minority organization that’s actually a front for Democratic politics, no grants, no benefits routed through them, no contracts of any kind, while pushing that money through to conservative minority groups.
It’s not a surefire plan and playing catch-up in this area would be exhausting, but Asians are a fast growing population, their immigration boom is somewhat new, and building that infrastructure among them would be doable. In some cases it has been done.
Of course we’re opposed to this kind of thing on principle. But controlling the process would also allow us to control the outcome. Democratic community groups train dependency. We could actually steward business associations that would be far healthier.
And here’s one big thing about the minority vote. There is no minority vote. When I talk about Asians, there are actually dozens of communities, from Koreans to Vietnamese, also in various flavors, two waves of Chinese immigrants from Mainland China, not counting Taiwan, and lots more. These groups have things in common, but they also have significant differences, and their internal relations are often frayed and they compete for resources, for access and power.
The same is true for the Latino vote. Guess how well Mexican and Puerto Rican community groups get along? And look into some of the tensions between Afro-Latinos and Latinos. There are endless subdivisions and that means endless possibilities for splintering Democratic alliances and breaking off strategic pieces of demographic groups in strategic districts.
Again. Community Organizing 101.
Sure the Democratic Party in District ZZ has an Asian wing and feeds money and benefits to three community centers. All of whom happen to be run by members of the Chang family who are old school and out of touch with the new immigrants. And the Hmong feel like they’re being entirely ignored and routed to the old Chinese leadership because to the Democratic Party, every Asian is the same.
You want to play the game of tribes? Play it to win. It’s not as hard as it looks when you stop thinking in terms of “THEM” and “US” and start thinking of a lot of subgroups full of grievances and needs whose leaders want power and whose followers want help. They don’t care all that much about big issues. Mostly their needs are tribal and communal. Deal with that, find the chiefs, give them the power to be leaders by taking care of the Indians, and you have a foothold.
The whole section above is a snapshot of why fiscal conservatism and immigration don’t mix. Immigration means insecure populations, social fractures as the old world adjusts to the new, and the accompanying need for a social safety net.
Getting the Latino vote will require opening up the doors to Mexico. And if we do that, we might get Bush’s 40 percent while the other guys get the 60 percent. To go from 27 to 40, we have to increase the percent of the population that goes 60/40 for the other guys.
And that’s just not sustainable. In the short run it might help us win elections, but every election we win by bending on immigration makes future elections all but unwinnable. The numbers do not add up.
Could we get 60 percent of the Latino vote? Probably not. Social conservatism seems like a natural appeal, but doesn’t really pay the rent. Could we break even? Maybe. So long as we’re willing to spend as much as it takes and compete for the Latino vote, as laid out in the above section.
Some social conservatives see a potential victory strategy in abandoning fiscal conservatism and hoping that the weight of the Latino vote kills social liberalism. But that’s not really how it works out. If the Latino vote were really socially conservative, Latin America would be a very different place.
Latinos and Blacks are not fans of abortion and homosexuality. That doesn’t make them principled social conservatives. It’s a common attitude outside the West.
Forget the 47 Percent
No, I don’t think Romney’s comment did much damage, but the attitude behind it does. Forget the latest batch of numbers from Heritage or the National Review for the moment and start thinking in human terms.
Talking about the 47 percent sets up a massive bloc and it’s not helpful because it tells people that we want to cut a wide swathe of destruction through the country. That is the opposite of the approach we should be taking.
It’s easier to focus on wedge issues. Immigrant benefits are unpopular. Take a group that is closely associated with Obama that eats up a lot of benefits. Focus in on what a drain they are. And then you get support for making cuts that target the “other” people.
The Democrats are forced to fight unpopular battles to protect unpopular constituencies and working class voters are won over because we aren’t out to make life hard for them, we’re making it hard for people who never worked a day in their life and expect everything.
Republicans used to understand tactics like these, but a politically correct tone deafness has taken over. Instead there are big technocratic plans that affect everyone and that is not the place to start.
The key principle is that you cut not based on size, but based on unpopularity, you work from outside in, instead of announcing that you brought a chainsaw and want to chop down a forest. Even if you can make the case for it, it will be unpopular and you won’t get to cut anything at all.
Reagan understood this kind of tactic. Romney and that whole crowd do not. And that is why they lost out on much of the working class, which felt personally threatened and did not feel committed to any reforms.
People naturally feel that there are groups which abuse their benefits. Focusing on these groups sets the principle and grants moral legitimacy to the task.
The Democrats understand that you don’t sell austerity. You sell class warfare. Republicans need to learn the same lesson. Don’t sell austerity, go after the ObamaPhoniacs.
The Dems can promise to reward the poor and middle class at the expense of the rich. The Republican can promise to reward the productive at the expense of the parasites. We don’t need a 47 percent. We need a 1 percent of the lowest dregs, the ones who abuse and game the system, who every non-bleeding heart would think deserve a boot in the #. They are our 1 percent and everyone are part of our 99 percent.
Talking About Social Issues
Above, I said that financial reforms were impossible without social reforms. But that doesn’t mean that we need to talk about them.
The Democrats always supported gay rights, but they were careful about talking about that in front of audiences and populations where that would be a minus. Obama was against gay marriage until the numbers told that the negatives would no longer hurt him.
The Republicans do the opposite. Republicans insist on candidates officially denouncing abortion, even though they have no intention of ever doing anything about it, just to score points with social conservatives. And all this accomplishes nothing.
Instead of having candidates who have no intention of doing anything about social issues talk about them to prove their sincerity, it would be far better to have sincere candidates who don’t talk about the issues except in very closed forums, but do have plans for taking action on them.
That would require a strategic reevaluation on the part of social conservatives and candidates. It would mean playing the long game, rather than making these empty professions that mean nothing.
If a social issue is a high negative, then don’t talk about it until you can do something about it. Work behind the scenes to tilt the balance. Do what the left does, be outwardly moderate and inwardly committed.
Losing is Part of the Process of Winning
The long game on winning an argument is by losing elections. The short game to winning elections is by losing the argument, seizing the center and abandoning your beliefs.
Sometimes elections have to be lost in a good cause. Sometimes they have to be done as part of the process of making an argument that the public is still not ready for.
The public wasn’t ready for Goldwater, but it was ready for Reagan. Goldwater didn’t lose. He prepared the ground for Reagan.
The left understands this process quite well. It fights battles and takes strategic losses to advance its arguments and accustom the voters to them. These sacrifice plays help it advance further.
The great thing that we must remember about defeat is that there are two kinds of defeats. Defeats with a purpose and defeats without a purpose. Defeats with a purpose accomplish something, even if it is only to air an argument. Defeats without a purpose do not.
Only time will tell which of these the election of 2012 was.