Thursday, November 15, 2012

Winning Where it’s Important

Michael Auslin wrote a National Review blog post yesterday entitled We Will Never Win Unless .... He makes some good points:

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.

But culture is more than politics.

It’s true, mainstream liberal American society – east coast and west coast varieties – have developed an unbiblical form of morality and have successfully imposed it upon their world – through their ownership of schools and universities. In entertainment, through the media, and in big-time Washington politics. And in the process, they’ve imposed it upon the rest of the world in a de facto kind of way. Christians do need to address this form of morality. There is a need for Christians to infiltrate media and politics at highly visible levels. But we also need to show the Christian underpinnings of morality in real life: what these are, and why they are a better way for people to live. There’s no doubt that will take time. At this point, it will likely take generations. That’s what Auslin says:

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.

But he also begins to explore some places where we won’t want to go:

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).

We should resist “playing dirty” with all our hearts. There’s a difference between tough and dirty. We should know what that line is, and never, ever cross it.

The news from the election was not all bad. Many Christians [and conservatives] are winning, even in the midst of the big-time losses.

Michael Barone did an extensive study of elections at lower levels:

Democrats got beaten badly in races for the U.S. House and state legislatures. That's clear when you compare the number of House Democrats after this year's election with the number of House Democrats after 2008.

Democrats came out of the 2008 election with 257 seats in the House, well above the majority of 218. That enabled a tough Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to squeeze out majorities on unpopular measures like the stimulus package, cap and trade, and Obamacare.

Two of the three were big liberal policy victories (cap and trade went nowhere in the Senate). But the Democratic Party paid a price in 2010 -- and kept paying in 2012.

Democrats have won or are currently leading in 201 seats in the House. (All these numbers could change slightly in final counts.)

Between 2008 and 2012, they gained seats in only three states: Delaware, where a popular Republican ran for the Senate in 2010; Maryland, thanks to Democratic redistricting; and California, where a supposedly nonpartisan redistricting commission was dominated by Democrats.

One reason this is good news: the party in power in the presidency almost always loses seats in congress during the off-term election years (that would be 2014 at this point). And if the Republicans can nominate a strong candidate in 2016, who can bring in even more seats, it can have ramifications that are farther reaching. The reason for this is: the gains were even bigger farther down in the state legislatures:

In state legislative races, Democrats also rebounded from 2010, but fell far short of the losses they sustained then. They went into the 2010 election with 53 percent of state senators across the country and 56 percent of state lower House members. (Nebraska elects its one legislative chamber on a nonpartisan basis.)

Democrats came out of the 2012 election with only 46 percent of state senators and 48 percent of state lower House seats.

In that time, they gained seats in both chambers in only three states: New Jersey (one seat in each body), Illinois and California.

Democrats still hold most legislative seats in the Northeast. But Republicans now have more state legislators in the Midwest, West and South.

The changes in the South have been especially striking. Democrats went into the 2010 election with 51 percent of state senators and lower House members in the South. They came out of the 2012 election with 38 percent of state senators and 40 percent of lower House members.

Of course, we know that political gains can be lost as well. But political offices aren’t the only place where Christians and conservatives need to win.

To be sure, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody”. Don’t hesitate to do this in places where you can “offer a rational and appealing view of life to counter more moderate liberalism” … In places where “middle-class economic interests” can be highlighted. “Play the very long game of changing the underlying cultural stratum of society”. Christian individuals should not hesitate to be salt and light in places that matter most: in the media. In public schools and universities. In business.

“It’s what the liberals did quietly for decades.”

Let’s redeem the time well.


  1. And, it must be noted, winning the culture over the long term necessarily implies innumerable small-scale "battles" - most of them not even needing to be portrayed as battles. Conservatives need to learn to sit down with people with whom they disagree and have calm, rational conversations about the Good rather than vehement argue-fests that only make them look like anxious, intemperate, unkind culture warriors. If "politics" is the art of living in community with one's neighbors (and it is), the real political acts that will, over long periods of time, change the culture might be as simple as stopping to help a stranger change a flat tire because you see he's got one of those dumb scissor-jacks and is having trouble getting his lugnuts loose and his car jacked up. What, politically speaking, is fussing about the outcome of a presidential election to that?

    1. What, politically speaking, is fussing about the outcome of a presidential election to that?

      I think Christians will have tremendous opportunities over the coming years to show the winsomeness of the Gospel. The Gospel is first, and then those "good works prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them".

    2. Tim, what decade are you talking about? Ever watch an episode of the Daily Show recently? Tell us again who are the culture warriors?

      You also commit a non sequitur. Seriously, have you ever come across a liberal who said, "If only a conservative would help me when I have a flat, I'd change all my views!"? Are you unaware that conservatives statistically are more generous with their own resources than liberals? What the heck are you talking about, I guess is the question.

  2. I agree, but it is hard to remain calm when the house is burning down . . .

    Douglas Wilson's lectures at Indiana University on Creation Sexuality were the best cultural engagement I have seen in a long time; maybe the best ever that I can think of. He was a lot calmer and kind and winsome that I would have been. He modeled the right way to respond when they were heckling him and attacking him.

    It is really hard to be calm when civilization is crumbling - the "gay agenda" and "same sex marriage" being accepted in the mainstream; 3 states passing "same sex marriage", etc.; is a new watershed historical event. Abortion has been around and 1973 was a water-shed event (Roe vs. Wade) - and of course homosexuality has been around since before Sodom and Ghomorrah. The difference is now, it is no longer underground and shameful and disgusting and made fun of; like it was when we were in high school 35 years ago.

    It is now approaching being accepted more and more and also, the state government seeks to get behind it, so that even our free speech to call something sin is going to be scrutinized by "hate crimes" courts, etc. - see article on Canada.

    1. Hi Ken, I hadn't seen the Wilson lectures, but I'll give them a look. I understand that things look bad at certain levels, but not everything is all bad. Not all of our problems will be solved by politics, and in the US, things seem to be set up to swing like a pendulum. If you can imagine that the Republicans will win in 2016, and if you can imagine that Roe v Wade can be set aside by a future Supreme Court, you can also imagine that lots of Republican state legislature can write lots of laws restricting and prohibiting abortion. But you also have to imagine that an enduring majority of people will want it to be prohibited. What I'm saying here is, there's lots to do. But there's also hope.

  3. Wilson's three sessions, a total of almost 3 hours, are well worth watching and listening to, IMO. All Christians in the USA should watch them; and hopefully lots of unbelievers are going to watch them and listen to them.