This video commentary and column was produced by Jack Hunter exclusively for YAL’s Year of Youth project. To receive the Winning on Principle Newsletter and more in the future, please sign up today at www.YearOfYouth.org.
POLITALKING: PITCHING FREEDOM POLITICALLY
TAILORING YOUR MESSAGE TO WIN by Jack Hunter
As I write this column, neoconservatives and many in the Republican establishment are criticizing 2012 GOP presidential candidates Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney for opposing the American intervention in Libya and for suggesting that America needs to get out of Afghanistan.
Recognizing that such non-interventionism is relatively new for each of these candidates, many constitutional conservatives automatically dismiss them as being Johnny-come-latelies.
They are wrong to dismiss them.
It’s not that the pro-PATRIOT Act Bachmann is now antiwar. It’s not that the Iraq War-championing Cain has become a non-interventionist. And it’s certainly not that Romney—who can be anything to any audience on any given day—has a shred of credibility.
It’s that what they represent—a GOP swiftly moving toward the positions of a former outsider’s direction (Ron Paul’s direction)—is of far more political worth to liberty-oriented goals than merely enjoying a “see, I told you so!” moment.
By the time this column is published any one of these candidates may have totally changed their foreign policy positions based on a number of variables (not the least of which might be big money donors who don’t like what they’re hearing). Such establishment types, with their deep pockets and destructive ideologies, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But their grassroots foot soldiers might—making it critical for Paul supporters and his message to resonate as favorably as possible with the GOP base in 2012.
Ron Paul’s passionate following understands why he is right about the most important issues of our day.
The trick is getting the masses to agree.
Bachmann, Cain and Romney each have their constituencies, and how those audiences define conservatism and the GOP is in large part due to how their respective preferred candidates define themselves.
That the average politician has to reinvent him or herself every four years is nothing new—that they now try to talk like Dr. Paul most certainly is.
REMEMBER THE GOAL
If they want to be effective, Paul supporters need to remember that their candidate is running to be the leader of the Republican Party.
He is not running to be the Lord of the Libertarians, the Archduke of Anarchism or the Messiah of Minarchism. This is not to make fun of or belittle the philosophical debates we all enjoy, or even to diminish the degree to which Dr. Paul is far more philosophical than the average Republican candidate.
But it is to say that liberty minded conservatives, like you and me, should speak in a political language that the average GOP primary voter understands.
For example, if you’re talking about encroachment upon civil liberties—start with the TSA. Virtually every conservative loathes the TSA.
If you’re talking about foreign policy—point out first that you agree with Bachmann, Cain, and Romney on Libya (assuming their positions stay the same).
If you’re talking about the national debt—point out that you agree with Senators Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, and Mike Lee that both entitlements and Pentagon spending must be part of the equation.
If you begin conversations with Republican voters first by letting them know you’re both starting on the same page, they’ll be more likely to listen to your overall ideas.
It is important that we all stand up for the principles of liberty—but it is equally important that we do so in a spirit of cooperation, not unnecessary combativeness.
Look how far these ideas have come: Unlike the last go round, Paul is now a mainstream GOP candidate. The party has changed, or is changing, however slowly or substantive this transformation may be.
Paul hasn’t changed one bit. The mainstream came to him.
IF YOU DON’T WIN RESPECT, YOU WON’T WIN
Of course, there will be times when Republican critics are looking for a fight, specifically to undermine an honest constitutional agenda. Here are a few suggestions I’ve found effective to combat their usual methods:
When accused of supporting a candidate who wants to “legalize heroin,” as so many like to wrongly portray a rational position on drug legalization, try this answer: “I agree with the late William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman that the federal War on Drugs has done more harm than good.”
The position of legalization advocates on this issue differs little from these two well respected conservative giants. You might not change their mind but you will catch them off guard and give them something to ponder.
On the issue of torture or “enhanced interrogation tactics”—something which supporting, sadly, has become a standard Republican position—demonstrate that you are a “Reagan Republican” on this issue.
The last time anyone was prosecuted for waterboarding in the United States (police officers in Texas, to be exact) was through Reagan’s Department of Justice—which explicitly defined the act as “torture.” You can say, “With all due respect to the Bush administration’s definition, I think Reagan got it right.”
You might not win them over, but once again, you will have won the upper hand in a polite, thoughtful, and genial fashion.
In this vein, I’ve recently noticed Paul’s efforts to make his speeches more audience-specific – a well played strategic move. In June, Newsmax.com ran the headline “Ron Paul Steals the Show at Faith and Freedom Conference.” Reported NewsMax:
“While some of the speakers stumbled uncomfortably over Christian buzzwords, likely supplied by their handlers, and other speakers ignored the special character of their audience altogether, Ron Paul launched into a scriptural defense of his views. Paul reminded his audience of the Biblical story of 1 Samuel chapter 8 when the Israelites demanded a king and God warned them what would happen. They would be burdened with taxation and the king would take their sons away to die in distant wars. ‘I don’t think we need a king,’ Paul told the audience, “and we don’t need Washington to act as if they’re the king of this country.”
The story noted: “His speech evoked the largest applause and cheers of the day.”
There’s an important lesson to be learned here:
Understanding one’s audience means tailoring your message accordingly. Doing so will prove effective in winning the ongoing battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party—in 2012 and beyond.
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