The 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.
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.