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Tips for Effective Confrontation in Politics

ramsThe principles that are at stake in American politics sometimes require that conservatives be willing to be confrontational. If we’re always fighting with one hand tied behind our backs, we can’t very well expect to win.

But it’s one thing to point out the need to be willing to be confrontational, and another to go about it in a way that helps your cause.  So how do you go about it? Just like most other things in politics (and life), it helps if you have a plan.  The following is a list of general tips for effective political confrontation.

Know Yourself and Your Opposition

“Know thy enemy as well as thyself” is an old military truism, and it’s just as true when it comes to political activism as it is to military operations. In order to be effective at confrontations, conservatives must not only know the opposition, but also know the basis of their own beliefs and be ready to defend them.

Frame the Debate

This is a strategic way to present issues in terms that help shape debate in your favor. For conservatives, the basic method is to “get to the heart of the matter”, which is usually the opposition’s Achilles’ heel. This should be the fundamental guide whenever initiating a political offensive or responding to an attack. When going on the offensive, if you fail to get to the heart of the matter, you’re likely to get sucked into a debate that is centered on the liberal world view. In other words, you end up fighting on their terms.

Remember, framing the debate is easier when you initiate the debate. Talk about what you want to talk about, not what they opposition wants to talk about. (For more details, check out my post on “How to Frame the Debate”)

Go on Offense

Whether you like it or not, the aggressor usually shapes the debate in politics. This means that it’s best to be on offense so that you can advance your agenda on your own terms and on your own schedule. The reverse scenario is that you get blindsided and are forced to respond to your opposition. The more unprepared someone is to respond, the less effective their response will be, and the more likely that they’re constantly playing defense, (and it’s hard to fight on your heels).

In American politics, liberals (excuse me, “progressives”) are usually the aggressors. Generally speaking, they are the ones who want to change the pre-existing, more conservative norms of society and government, (you know, “hope-n-change”, etc.).

This fact has several ramifications: First, it allows liberals to set the terms of the public debate and put conservatives on the defensive, and second, it usually makes us look negative, (as liberals will generally push until the conservative opposition starts to look hysterically negative…which makes the news media happy since they love to show conservatives in a negative light).

At this point, they may take a step back from their own radical position and offer a compromise in order to appear “reasonable” and “moderate”. Of course, if the “compromise” is accepted, they have still advanced their agenda.

The solution is for conservatives to be the aggressors. We need to spend more time being the proponents of “change” – as in changing things to better align with, protect or reclaim conservative norms. Things that average people can connect with and relate to on an everyday basis. Given the current state of our country, there’s no shortage of things to be aggressive about.

Remember, the best defense is a good offense.

Never Compromise First

It’s a basic principle of negotiation in business never to be the first one to name a price. Usually, that person loses. You’ve given away valuable information and may be underselling yourself. You can apply the same thing in the political arena. Never be the first one to compromise. If you are, you’re probably losing something. They know how weak or strong you think your position is. And they know what you’ve got to give up, and then they’ll want more.

Take your time. Gather information and carefully asses your strengths and weaknesses. Then see what they’re willing to put on the table.  (For more info, see my post on “Basic Political Negotiation Techniques”)

Maintain Steady Pressure

The most effective confrontation is persistent confrontation. When you’re pushing an issue, don’t give your opposition time to breathe. Don’t let them collect their thoughts and figure out how best to derail your plans because you’re constantly ramping up the pressure…announcing new supporters…doing press releases or op-eds pointing to personal examples that show the logic of your position, or polls or petition announcements demonstrating its support. Friendly legislators can help with this through scheduling meetings, hearings, or issuing government reports as time goes on.

Be persistent. It will help you bolster your momentum and can keep the opposition off balance.

Take Your Case to the People

Public policy is all about politics…and politics is people. Don’t rely solely on the legislative process and politicians to accomplish your agenda. You have to engage the public. Specifically, you have to engage and activate those who are already predisposed to care about your issue. Turn THEM into lobbyists too.

Stay Positive

Effective confrontation requires a positive attitude. Even though you may get dismayed (rightfully so) about the condition of our nation and society, you can’t let that keep you from staying positive. Remember what you’re “selling”. You’re advocating your principles, and negativity isn’t going to help you “sell” them. People buy in to hope. Despair they can get on their own. Remember, nobody likes a “negative Nancy”.


Like it or not, confrontation of often a necessity in politics. Instead of maintaining a defensive posture, conservatives should look for issues where our opponents are vulnerable and be steady and relentless in promoting our agenda.

Tips for Running Meetings

You can’t really have much of a political organization without meetings, which means that you need to make sure that the kind of meetings that you have serve the needs and purposes of your group or campaign.

But when it comes to typical “meetings”, (whether official group meetings, or project meetings), take time to do the things to make them more useful, (and not boring or a waste of time).

Here are some good tips for running meetings:

Have the Right Leader

Without having the right person to “run” a meeting, things can get off the rails pretty quickly and stay there. You need someone who can politely (but firmly) facilitate discussion to make things productive, and yet still keep it moving along. It’s not a job for just anybody who wants to “run” things.

Start on Time

Starting on time sets a professional tone and it’s respectful of those who show up on time. Meetings that are always starting late (because you’re late, or others are late), just encourages bad habits, and everyone will get used to never starting on time. And starting late usually means “finishing late”.

Have an Agenda

An agenda is the “plan” for the meeting, and you gotta’ have a plan. Make sure that there is an agenda, and that everyone has a copy – and that you follow it! Otherwise things will probably get off track, or you’ll spend too much time on one thing and not get everything done. Know what action items need to be resolved, (who, what, when, where). Repeat them to the group for clarification. Otherwise, you’re just meeting to meet, and what’s the point of that?

Don’t Over-stuff it

Don’t be so ambitious with how much goes into an agenda that it never gets done, or the meetings always run long and frustrate people. Remember, people like to talk, and most items usually take longer to cover than you may think. Make sure that you have enough time to do the things that need to get done.

Have Ground Rules

The most useful meetings are those where everyone participates but things stay focused, which is rare. Having some general ground rules that everyone agrees on can make things more productive. Things like: how much time you’ll spend talking about any issue; what subjects should comments be limited to; what’s off limits; and is what’s said supposed to be confidential? Try to get everyone to agree to whatever ground rules work for your group. You could even print them on the top of the agenda to keep them fresh in everyone’s mind.

Facilitate, Don’t Dictate

Part of the job of running a meeting is making sure that you involve and get good feedback from the people that are there. Otherwise you’re wasting an opportunity to get everyone’s collective minds focused on the job at hand. And how else can you know if people are getting what they want from the meetings or the group? Nobody has the market cornered on good ideas. Take advantage of the chance to do some brainstorming – just don’t let it drag on too long.

Review Action-items

It’s not very productive to meet and then have the people who are there not really know what was decided or what’s expected of them after the fact. Summarize and review what was decided and note any action items, (who, what, when, where).

End on Time

Ending on time goes hand in hand with starting on time. People have other things to do and plan their lives around, so respect their plans. If you think that a meeting will need to go long, let people know ahead of time. Just remember, “long” usually means “boring”. And boring kills!

Follow Up

Be sure to follow-up with people who need to be followed up on. Don’t let things go undone between meetings, or you miss one of the main points of having a meeting to begin with.

Remember, volunteers are at a premium.  If you’re going to take the time to meet, then you should take the time to get the most out of it.  Keep these tips in mind and meetings will be more productive – and the group will appreciate it.

The Importance of Political Confrontation

political confrontationMost people hate confrontation. But given that “politics is people”, (and about people agreeing and disagreeing), effective political participation is almost certain to involve some sort of confrontation at some point.

Most people tend to want to “get along”, (or “play nice”, as your mother probably told you), and that’s admirable in pretty much every aspect of life. But if you’re the only one playing nice in politics you won’t be winning very many battles or making any progress on the things you care about.

Fighting over fundamentals

In recent years the level of acrimony in the political process has increased because we are no longer just arguing about the margins, we are increasingly fighting over many of the fundamental, core values that the vast majority of Americans took for granted not very long ago. The type of values that go to the heart of what kind of country we all want to live in.

But you can’t let acrimony make you shy away from what’s important.

In order to be successful in the political arena, we must practice “effective confrontation”. That means not being reactive, but being proactive and taking the offensive with the kind of tenacity that can endure the potentially long political or legislative process that might lie ahead.

And be very, very, very persistent.

It’s not enough just to know what’s right. If you do a bad job advocating a good principle, you probably haven’t made much progress. If you’re too timid or don’t frame your issues the way you want to begin with, expect your opposition to do it for you.

Unfortunately, conservatives tend to take a defensive posture right from the start on most issues, or we quickly allow ourselves to be put on the defensive by our opposition. As a result, we bear some of the blame for our country’s situation.

Sometimes you gotta’ fight

Democracy requires participation, and sometimes that means political confrontation.

Nobody says you have to be ugly about it. But as with most things in life, you don’t make much progress by being a shrinking violet. You must be willing to advocate what you believe with the same passion that you believe it. Just remind yourself that, as a conservative, there are more people who think like you do than your opposition.

The simple fact is that the differing needs and/or values of different people (sometimes VERY different people) are at odds with one another. Somebody wins and somebody loses, or somebody gets more of what they want than someone else.

If you decide to avoid politics and speaking out for what you believe just because you don’t like being confronted with people who disagree with you or who are mean and call you names, you can’t really be surprised by how things turn out on down the road.

And then it will be too late.