Yesterday afternoon I gave the editor the final and complete manuscript of my next book, M. Stanton Evans: Conservative Wit, Apostle of Liberty (Pre-order now!), Which means I’ll be appearing more often here on Power Line.
One of the things that he will include as an appendix is ”Stan’s Six Rules for Political Combat”, and I thought I could share them here now as well, as we are in a lot of political combat right now. Above all, he argued, the Conservatives should stop playing goalie and go on the offensive.
As a preface, he explained what he described as “the standard exercise on the left” for each topic:
In these cases, the routine is always the same: raise an alarm about a declared threat to public health or Mother Nature; cite “studies” or “science” of some kind that the average person cannot find or understand; Bring in a group of activists / politicians / official spokespeople to hammer out these so-called data, all repeated endlessly in hearings, meetings and media forums. Finally, when the public has “raised their conscience” enough (that is, they are scared), act to adopt the desired measure of regulation of big spending taxes.
Hence the rules:
1. Politics abhors a vacuum. Too often, conservatives simply wait to oppose a liberal proposal, which leaves the initiative always in the hands of the liberals. It is important to beat the liberals in the lead.
2. Write the resolved clause. One secret to winning a debate is deciding early on what it will be about. Liberals seem to know this instinctively, conservatives too often don’t, which means they end up arguing about what solutions to adopt, or not to adopt, to the problems liberals have chosen. This allows the left to maintain the rhetorical offensive, define the scope of possible action, and end up getting much of what it wants. Conservatives should avoid the trap of simply debating issues as presented by the left and instead defining the issue for themselves.
3. Nothing is “inevitable”. This is one of the graying verbal-conceptual tricks in the liberal manual. Generally, what is called “unavoidable” in Washington is something that left-wing activists or Beltway pundits embrace or want, thus encouraging their cadres and demoralizing their opponents. Conservatives must resist this grim advice wherever it is offered, remembering that with their own efforts and advocacy they can (and often have) change the dynamics of most political situations.
4. Fighting is better than not fighting. An obvious proposition, one would think, but apparently it is not. Nothing can ensure the victory of left causes with greater certainty than the failure of conservatives, republicans, businessmen, etc., to oppose them. This does not mean that all battles can be won or that all battles can be fought at once. It means that, broadly speaking, vigorous and sustained resistance well-grounded in the facts can dramatically change the feedback from widely trusted surveys and focus groups.
5. Washington is not the United States. Republicans for the most part come to DC repeating this mantra to themselves, but once again there seems to be a memory problem. The enveloping atmosphere of the city, the immensity of the government itself, the clamorous interest groups, the television speakers – all of this is hard to ignore or beat. In these precincts, many liberal ideas are considered a done deal, something that no sustained or decent person could object to. Opinion polls often reveal, however, that things look quite different outside of the Beltway, especially after the opposition finally begins to oppose it.
6. Taxes are trumps. As all of the above suggests, the issue of high and rising taxes remains what it has always been: the gold standard of Republican issues. This is the Republican Party’s great trump card, a solid, powerful, and intelligible issue that can stand up against all the standard liberal promises of a little something for nothing from the federal pantry. As long as the Republican Party has been able to use this issue credibly, especially under Ronald Reagan, it has been victorious. Whenever he departs from the anti-tax position, as under George HW Bush, he gets into trouble.
This all seems pretty obvious when you write it, but given the powerful forces deployed against it, it can withstand a lot of repetition.