All the discussion here and elsewhere dominating GOP/conservative issues is playing small-ball, I fear. Forget elections, the only thing that matters from now on is reclaiming as much of the culture as we can. Immigration, taxes, demographics are important, but in terms of electoral success, they are symptoms, not causes of GOP decline. Without getting too bogged down in esoterica, it seems uncontroversial to say that, at the end of the day, politics is culture (and of course, political systems reflect the cultures from which they grow). If that’s the case, then we will be in ever greater danger at the national level unless we start winning on the cultural battlefield. Losing five of the last six popular votes for the presidency should be a wake-up call.
As Irving Kristol noted, the culture war is over, and we lost. We were driven out of the universities, surrendered popular culture, and hunted from the mainstream media (from which most Americans continue to get their news). But we better start opening up some new fronts, conducting guerilla warfare, and investing in long-term strategy to have just the hope of keeping even. We need to fully accept the fact that nearly two generations have grown up in a dominantly liberal culture outside the home. It’s not simply that many don’t agree with conservative positions, it’s that they reflexively think in mainstream liberal terms. Moreover, conservatives, and the GOP in particular, have been vilified for so long that large swaths of the country see us as no less than dangerous to American society.
The campus conservative movement was an important, but small, push back, along with its campus media focus. Groups such as ISI continue to fight on, but we are holding small bridgeheads, at best. The majority of the time we are on the defensive, outside of churches and some synagogues. We start from a position of weakness and have to expend most of our energy just getting to even. The ratings success of Fox doesn’t translate into broader cultural appeal; instead we are increasingly in our own echo chamber.
We have to break out, and undermine the fallacious, unrealistic, idealistic, offensive nostrums of far-left liberalism. And, we have to offer a rational and appealing view of life to counter more moderate liberalism. That, I think, will even answer Ramesh’s keen insight: The GOP has lost ground because it did not become the party of middle-class economic interests. But that’s in part because a generation was getting educated that free enterprise was evil, and that it was easier to get government handouts than spend decades working patiently.
We have to forget about elections and play the very long game of changing the underlying cultural stratum of society. It’s what the liberals did quietly for decades, securing each triumph so that they did not have to worry about counterattacks (when was the last time a university academic department suddenly became filled with conservatives?). Andrew Breitbart was on to this with Big Hollywood, just as Fox was on to it in the media. But we either need to redouble our efforts or we need to think outside the box.
There’s also a huge temptation to play dirty, the way Ted Kennedy and his ilk did against Robert Bork; I’m not so sure that’s wrong. They play dirty against us in academia, and mock us on television. We hold ourselves to higher standards, but that’s not much help in an increasingly liberal, dependent society. Maybe we shouldn’t flinch from playing dirty (or dirtier). It certainly hasn’t delegitimized liberals among their supporters. But we have to attack their ideals, their dangerous utopianism, and not the individuals. We shouldn’t pull any punches in highlighting their hypocrisy or their radicalism, the way that McCain pulled every punch in 2008.
The bottom line is (with apologies to Victor), even the greatness of the Spartans failed against the numbers of the Persian. We are outnumbered and outplayed, and no matter how brilliant we are at the tactical level, we are losing the war.