In positioning themselves as champions of the underrepresented, the neglected, and the oppressed, leftists employ a version of America’s story that they have manufactured through their grip on the media and the university culture. They have transformed America’s story from an epic of freedom into a tale of racism, exploitation and domination. In their telling, U.S. history is no longer a narrative of expanding opportunity, of men and women succeeding against the odds. Instead, it is a Marxist morality play about a wealthy white patriarchy and its victims.
In staging their political dramas, progressives invariably claim to speak in the name of America’s alleged “oppressed.” Virtually every policy of the Democratic Party is presented as a program to help the victims of U.S. oppression—women, children, minorities, and the poor. By contrast, Republican policies are portrayed by Democrats as programs to serve the powerful, to injure the weak, to ignore the voiceless and the vulnerable, and to keep the victims down.
Republicans play right into the Democrats’ trap because they generally approach politics as a management problem and never mention the people whom Democratic policies themselves “oppress.” To Republicans, every issue is a policy issue -- a question of how government can be better administered; it is about the utility of a tax cut, the efficiency of a program, the optimal method for running a government enterprise. Republicans talk like businessmen who want a chance to manage the country so that it will turn a profit.
There is nothing wrong with instituting good policies and running things efficiently or turning a profit. But while Republicans are promoting these policies and lauding themselves for doing so, Democrats are engaged in a different kind of drama. They are busy attacking Republicans as servants of the rich, oppressors of the weak, defenders of the strong, and enemies of “the people.”
This is the Democrats’ language of political war. Democrats connect emotionally with people’s fears and concerns. The appeal to help the underdog and defend the victim resonates with all Americans. This is because Americans are a fair-minded people. Most successful Americans came from humble origins themselves. They want to help others. They want everyone to have the chance to succeed. So do Republicans and conservatives. But they rarely connect their policies and principles to this political romance -- or to the people whom the Democrats’ policies hurt and conservative policies might help.
There is a good reason for this. Conservatives are busy defending the United States against the left’s attacks and the anti-American caricature it has constructed. Conservatives know that America is still a land of opportunity and freedom, and that nobody in America is really “oppressed.” (This explains why poor black, Hispanic, and Asian minorities desperately seek to come to the United States.)
But politics is not just about reality. If it were, good principles and good policies would win every time. It is about images and symbols, and the emotions they evoke. This is the battle that conservatives generally lose. In the romance of the victim, as progressives stage it, Republicans and conservatives are always on the side of the "bad guys" — the powerful, the male, the white, and the wealthy. It is easy to see how patriotism plays into this trap. Defending America is readily misrepresented as an attitude that says: “I’m all right, so you should be too.” The left relishes the opportunity to smear patriots as members of the selfish party instead of as defenders of everyone's freedom.
Ann Coulter has described the motto of the left thusly: “Speak loudly and carry a small victim.” For the Democrats, victims – real and alleged – are their human shields to protect them in battle. The romance of the victim stirs the souls of their supporters and energizes their base. Equally important, it provides the nuclear warheads of their political attack. Conservatives are smeared as victimizers and oppressors, while leftists present themselves as the champions of the oppressed. Learning how to turn this around will turn around the political war as well.
For conservatives, the best way to neutralize the left's attack is to recognize that the most powerful forces obstructing opportunity for poor and minority Americans, are progressive policies, the Democratic Party, and their political creation—the welfare state.
Progressives engineered a welfare system that destroyed the inner-city black family and created a vast “underclass” so mired in the culture of dependency and poverty, that it may never escape. Progressives destroyed the bottom rungs of the ladder of economic success by corrupting a public-school system in which half the students never graduate, and half of those who do are functionally illiterate. Every major inner city in America – Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Harlem, South Central Los Angeles – every school board and school district, every city council in those inner cities is 100% controlled by the Democratic Party and progressives, and has been for 100 years. Democrats and progressives are responsible for everything that is wrong with the inner cities of America that policy can affect. And yet Republicans and conservatives are too polite to mention this.
Conservatives already oppose the programs of the left as obstacles to the production of wealth, and as barriers to opportunity for all Americans. But they do not connect these programs to the real people they will affect. If they did, the left would be exposed as the oppressors of the very people they claim to help, and the political war would be turned upside down.
Adapted from "The Art of Political War for Tea Parties," by David Horowitz (2010).