In 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army insurgents rose up against the American and South Vietnamese forces in the Tet Offensive. They were wiped out, yet seven years later they were in control of the country. There are lessons there for us conservatives.
Conservatives, as opposed to the Republicans who partially overlap them on the Venn diagram of American politics, need a strategy. Strategy differs from mere tactics – it is a synchronization of potential ways (think courses of action) and available means (think resources) to achieve a long term end. Tactics are the techniques supporting the strategy. The Tea Party/conservative revolt had effective tactics – rallies, town halls – but the movement’s decentralized nature, with groups springing up around the country, kept it from developing an effective, coherent strategy this year.
Obama certainly had a strategy, to make the election a choice of him versus Romney. In contrast, Romney’s strategy seemed to be not to be Obama, which was not really a strategy at all, and the conservative strategy was merely to back the GOP nominee.
Right now, there is one strategy that offers us hope of turning the leftward tide. Insurgency is the classic fallback strategy for groups that cannot prevail in a stand-up fight, and right now we can’t. It’s clear that while we represent a significant minority of voters, we are facing highly organized ideological opponents who occupy the high ground in the government and who can rely on the unwavering support of the mainstream media. Like the allies in Vietnam, they have the cities and they have the firepower.
Insurgents survive and win by avoiding decisive engagements until a time and place of their choosing. Tet was not the Communists’ time, and right now, we are not in a position for a decisive battle either. So what do we do?
We start thinking like guerillas – political and cultural guerillas.
The first thing we need to do is get out of our head the notion that this fight will be over if we just pull off a victory in 2014 or 2016. This is not just a single political battle but a political and cultural campaign. America did not go from a nation of stalwart, self-reliant achievers to a country full of couch-dwelling EBT moochers in just four years, and we won’t change it back in the next election, or the one after that, or even the one after that. Our role models, the patriots of 1776, didn’t drive the redcoats out until 1783. Our strategic end is long-term – an America where free market values prevail, where all of our liberties are respected, and where a limited government spends within its means and only within the bounds set forth in the Constitution. We need to remember that a good many Republicans are just as opposed to that vision as the Democrats.
Initially, we should work to avoid a decisive battle. The liberals are already pushing the notion that the Tea Party is dead, but they know better and they want to finish us. After all, we are the only real threat to their progress.
We can already see where they are shaping the battlefield to defeat us: the Fiscal Cliff fight. Clearly, Obama will seek to maneuver us into an unpopular position and finish us off. You can almost hear the mainstream media’s cries of “Obstructionist Tea Party/GOP House!” We are nearly guaranteed to lose with this correlation of forces. We need to avoid the ambush.
That may require cutting our losses to retire from the battlefield – a winning guerilla movement spends most of its time retreating. We may not be able to stop them from letting taxes rise on those horrible, horrible wealthy folks, but there’s no reason we should help them. Let the Democrats buy the tax hikes. Let the affluent gentry that supported him see how they like them.
This is key. Insurgents maneuver their opponents into acting to alienate their own supporters. The GOP House can stop some of the left’s more disastrous programs, but it can’t stop them all – and it shouldn’t let itself be drawn into losing fights trying to do so. Sometimes guerillas have to let the populace feel the pain. Look at how Obamacare is already in the process of making 29 hour work weeks the new normal, and not one GOP member voted for it. Voters wanted Obama, so let them have him good and hard. And be ready to exploit the reaction.
In the short term, the fights we choose should be ones we win whether the legislation passes or not. Why not push a bill designed to ensure military ballots are both delivered timely and counted? We win by getting more votes if it passes, and if it doesn’t the Democrats are revealed as shafting the troops. Win or win – take your pick.
Guerillas take advantage of safe havens. We have them, our own flyover country Cambodias. We own a lot of statehouses and governorships, and we can grow out there in the states quietly, unobserved, building strength and putting conservative policies in place. Of course, that can be a double-edged sword. Governor Kasich’s success with Ohio’s economy helped voters feel confident enough to give their vote to Obama. But, overall, building a track record of conservative successes in the states – especially as blue strongholds like California and Illinois spiral down the drain – creates powerful evidence of our potential at the national level.
The states also, critically, allow us to start building a farm team of candidates for federal offices up to and including the presidency. At age four, the Tea Party revolt is not yet a fully matured movement. We still pick candidates on the basis of pure ideology and fail to understand the importance of presentation. It’s not that we don’t have people of astonishing accomplishment to choose from – Ted Cruz comes to mind. We just need to stop settling for candidates who don’t get that that whenever someone asks about rape, you answer “I am against it” and stop talking.
As Andrew Breitbart observed, politics is downstream from culture. We can luck out and grab the presidency, but if society does not share conservative values we will simply end up with another disastrous Bush administration. That means we need to do what guerillas do and infiltrate into the enemy’s turf, slipping conservatives into the mainstream media, academia, and the entertainment world.
Springsteen may be a windy hack, but he beats Kid Rock on the Cool-O-Meter. There are a great number of talented conservatives out there – perhaps if some of the money wasted in the last election went to making conservative popular entertainment (as long as the “entertainment” part precedes the “conservative”) we might be further along. Once we get folks laughing at the left, we’re on our way.
We are in a tough spot. The other side, and even significant elements of “our side,” want us conservatives out of the picture. As insurgents, we can win by operating in the shadows, securing ground, undermining their enemy, and biding our time. An insurgent campaign is a series of big losses and small victories that builds up, over the long run, to a final victory. It’s time conservatives thought strategically, and for now that means we must become political and cultural guerillas.