Those of us on the right-hand side of the political spectrum seem to be spending a lot of time arguing with ourselves before we negotiate with our adversaries.
Arguing is OK, and even a good thing, if we do it in a way that moves ideas forward and identifies common paths in the right direction. But in an environment where those who disagree with us, including much of the mainstream media, are looking for ways to make us look either incompetent or evil, indecisiveness just serves up on a silver platter the opportunity for them to label us instead of us defining ourselves and our shared beliefs.
This simply can’t go on. It sends a mixed message of a disunited front that undermines any reasonable chance of winning debates or representing our true numbers. It arms and aims the arrows they use against the weak points in our coalitions. And it takes away our ability to define our own messages and let people see that those messages are neither radical nor dangerous. In fact, our beliefs are what has made this country great to this point.
It’s ironic that as advocates of liberty and students of freedom, we’re not much good at dealing with even slightly different opinions and priorities.
And I say “slightly” because we agree on almost all of what we want in terms of overall outcomes:
- Free people making free decisions in a reasonably regulated free market environment.
- A limited government that protects rights rather than trying to grant them.
- A government that protects us from each other, not ourselves, and respects our right to live our lives as we please so long as we harm no one else.
- A nation of laws, where all are equal under those laws and nobody is above them.
What I see in my travels around the state are primarily differences in tactics and priorities. Not only is our team not advancing the ball, we can’t quit arguing in the huddle long enough to call the plays.
No, scratch that. We’re not even in the huddle. We’re standing at the line of scrimmage screaming at each other and then calling the play just before the clock runs out.
No, scratch that. They’re calling the plays while we’re arguing about whether to defend against the run or the pass. How about we pick up the ball and run with it instead?
I don’t care if you’re on the right or the left, the tactic of insulting people and questioning their commitment or intelligence won’t win any converts among adversaries or undecideds and just unnecessarily causes division on your own side. It’s at best a waste of time, however cathartic, and more likely destructive to your goals.
So Rule Number 1 is to know your audience. If you are trying to influence people or convince them, know who they are. As for me, I’m trying to convince or confirm for people the value of our founding principles of freedom and free enterprise. But I also have to recognize that, unless I’m preaching to the choir, the majority of people out there simply don’t understand the history of the Constitution and aren’t easily persuadable by a parchment document written in ancient times under circumstances that are often difficult to apply to today’s circumstances.
I’ll put my knowledge of the Constitution, its history and meaning, and my respect for it up against just about anyone; but while the Constitution is always my guide in matters of freedom and government, it’s not always my argument. It’s simply not always the argument that will win these people over because they have no common frame of reference. We have to find the messages that relate to people’s knowledge, values and life experiences, and then show how our founding principles apply to and can further those things that are important to them. That’s not deceptive. It doesn’t ignore basic principles. It simply uses language and messages that apply to people’s lives.
The same could be said about any number of issues out there that haven’t reached a mainstream audience or understanding. They can be your guide, but it’s not always effective for them to be your first argument.
The beauty of our founding was that the people who put together the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution harnessed human nature rather than suppressed it. They recognized the constancy of human nature:
- that there is good and evil,
- that people will work harder if they’re allowed to keep what their labor provides, benefiting society as a whole,
- that incentives and disincentives matter in public policy,
- that equality means that no one is above the law, not that we punish success or subsidize failure,
- that desire for power among some is one of the few constants in history,
- and that channeling that desire can actually strengthen our society rather than tearing it apart.
Those should be our guides. Most everything else is tactics and priorities. We need to hammer those out, but we should unify behind consistent messages that bring people together rather than separate them.