The mantra since the November elections is that Republicans must do a better job of explaining their ideas to the voters. The GOP has even turned to K Street public relations specialists for help in crafting its outreach.
What if the message is perfectly stated, though? What if it’s clear, persuasive, even inspiring? How many people will hear it? How will the message get out to the public when every institution that transmits ideas and information is in the hands of the left?
Let’s face it. Republicans may have a superior product, but they have very little in the way of an advertising, promotion or distribution system. American business history includes stories of arguably better products losing out to inferior ones for these very reasons.
The notion that in the marketplace of ideas, the better ideas will prevail is nonsense. Those ideas win whose proponents have targeted and secured the organs of influence.
The left began doing that in 1905 when Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Clarence Darrow and others formed the Intercollegiate Society of Socialists with the aim of spreading socialist ideas in the nation’s universities.
As early as 1924, leading Marxist intellectuals such as Antonio Gramsci were clearly stating the long-term goals of the international left. These were to infiltrate and take over the institutions of Western society: the schools, the universities, newspapers and magazines, radio, film and even seminaries.
The intellectual Marxists thought that the West and capitalism would fall through cultural war, through undermining the family, religion, morality and the very belief in freedom. Today, according to Pew Research, almost half of college students believe that socialism is superior to capitalism.
Above all, the Republican brand has been trashed among students by decades of leftist dominance of our schools and universities. During his first term, President Obama spoke or held rallies at 159 colleges or high schools — 54 were campaign rallies held at universities. This means he had free venues, security and friendly audiences provided by colleges both public and private. No Republican could command that resource, and if one showed up on a typical campus, he would more than likely be harassed or shouted down.
Once the left controlled the campuses, they were able to produce reporters, entertainers, schoolteachers, lawyers and even businessmen who carried their ideas into the institutions. Gradually, a culture was created that was hostile to every pillar of Western society, whether it was capitalism, Christianity, the family, traditional morality or the very notion of liberty.
Republicans must navigate this hostile sea in which the left can dictate at will which issues are important, which public figures may be admired and which values are paramount. A rising conservative who threatens to become popular can be ruined in a single news cycle.
Control of the institutions not only defines the language and rules of current politics, it gives Democrats and the left the means to wage ideological war on a daily basis. The Republican Party comes to life during election campaigns; the left is in continuous operation. Leftists meet every day — in school and university faculty lounges, in the editorial suites and newsrooms of the print and broadcast media, in union offices and in countless government-funded agencies such as welfare and legal services offices. They meet, they talk, they plan, they recruit volunteers and they raise money.
The left’s campaign to dominate the culture has been going on for more than 100 years with little pushback from the right. Indeed, mention this battle for our civilization to an audience of Republican politicians, and you will witness an epidemic of slack-jaw.
Republicans in the past 20 years have usually won elections on the heels of Democrats’ policy disasters, but in 2012, they could not defeat a president who had every economic number going against him. We may be arriving at a point where even the most failed Democrat is unbeatable, where an inferior product may be in permanent ascendancy.
While Republican politicos and conservative activists have worried about policy, the left has concentrated on the culture and altered the national ethos. Is it too late for pushback? The right still has resources, dwindling though they are, but there is still hope. There are a few news outlets, talk-radio shows, segments of the business community, donors and supporters, and elective offices from which a counterattack can be launched.
The right may not be able to retake the left’s institutions, but they can discredit them in the eyes of the public. This can only be done with a relentless, sustained and well-planned attack on those institutions. The universities, the media, the entertainment industry and the unions must be described as what they truly are: fundamentally political institutions that operate in the service of the left.
Suggesting such a strategy may cause moderate Republicans to run screaming for the exits. When Spiro Agnew attacked the media as “nattering nabobs of negativism,” the American public loved it while Republican officeholders panicked. Yet what do they have to lose? It’s sensible to fear the left’s propaganda machine and the counterattack that would come, but when your back is to the wall, what choice do you have? The left is coming, and one by one, they will pick off the conservatives. Under this scenario, what future does the Republican Party have? To be the party that promises marginally smaller government and marginally fewer taxes?
Fighting to regain the culture will take courage above all else, and Republican valor has lately been shaky. It’s gut-check time. Fight or die.
James B. Taylor is director of a conservative political action committee.