William Hull RepublicansBy Timothy Birdnow
The GOP establishment has failed to learn the lessons of history when it comes to winning elections. To get up to speed, they should study the career of Revolutionary War hero William Hull.
During the War of 1812, the Governor of the Michigan Territory, William Hull, was appointed to lead an invasion of Canada. Hull had been a hero of the Revolutionary War, and it was thought that the 59-year-old governor would be the man to spearhead the invasion
As it turned out, Hull was not the man.
On July 12, 1812, he marched his forces from Detroit to Sandwich, Canada, but he pulled back across the border after the capture of Fort Mackinac by the British. Hull was petrified that hordes of British and allied Indian forces would swarm his position, and his fears of Tecumseh leading tens of thousands of native war parties to scalp and kill his women and children led the once-heroic Hull to surrender Fort Detroit without consulting his officers. The Americans had 2,500 soldiers; the British had just 100 regulars, 350 militia, and 150 native allies.
Hull was defeated by his own imaginary fear.
Had Hull remained steadfast, he would have prevailed -- and the outcome of the war could have been very different.
Hull violated some fundamental rules of warfare. Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military philosopher, admonished his students:
And finally, he said, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized."
In politics, as in warfare, the timid and the slow rarely fare well.
In recent weeks, there has been a spate of news stories about GOP insiders convinced that the presidency is lost to Barack Obama and who want to concentrate on taking the Senate instead. Consider George Will's recent defeatist rhetoric on GOP prospects.
This hearkens back to the election of Mr. Obama and the general media perception of him. James Carville wrote giddily about the Obama election ushering in a forty-year era of dominance for the Democrats, for instance, and a demoralized GOP had little to say in rebuttal. Carville's argument was numbers-based; he looked at changing demographics and the percentages in recent elections and concluded that the GOP was toast because, as MSNBC red-diaper pundit Lawrence O'Donnell so eloquently put it, "we are all socialists now."
But Carville was wrong. The very next election could easily have seen the slogan changed to "we are all Adam Smith now" as the electorate turned from the path followed by congressional Democrats and Barack Obama. Political allegiance is not genetic; it is a matter of persuasion. The fabled "moderates," those unwilling to make a firm choice (in his Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri places these sorts of people in the vestibule of Hell, where they long for a position in Hell proper for eternity, by the way), have to be convinced in which direction they should go.
There is the key to much of the GOP electoral failure: the party consultants and aristocracy believe that the moderates occupy an actual philosophical position and that a message must be tailored to coax them on board. This isn't the case; the moderates hold no philosophical position. They are in the middle because they can't make a choice.
Political success comes not from watering down your message, but from elucidating it in the most appealing and logical terms. This is the same technique used by advertising to coax indifferent consumers to purchase such items as the George Foreman grill or the Pocket Fisherman or the Topsy-Tail; the people don't really know why they may need such things, but a great marketer can make people believe that they do. It's always easier to convince people if what you are selling happens to be a very useful product, too; nobody has to bother marketing light bulbs, for instance. So selling the moderates on the wisdom of market principles, traditional morality, fiscal prudence, responsible military defense, and other conservative principles should be easy.
Should be, but not always is -- the Democrats use the power of the media (which is invariably friendly) to promote those Topsy-Tails, Pocket Fishermen, and Foreman grills. Democrats use powerful psychological and marketing techniques, and the media is with them every step of the way. So GOP messaging is difficult, and getting the arguments to the general public requires disciplined effort.
That is the exact opposite of what the consulting classes tell the GOP establishment; they say the need is to make the message fuzzier, softer, weaker. What the GOP ends up with is a light version of what the Democrats are peddling, and nobody sees any reason to buy a cheap knock-off if they can have the real thing. It's as if the Democrats offer red meat (and I do mean red) while the GOP offers Spam. Nobody turns down filet mignon for a can of Spam.
But it needn't be that way; the GOP is philosophically distinct from the socialists. Give the public a clear distinction! And don't be ashamed of who you are, because ultimately, that is what will rally people to your side. The Tea Party should have proven the wisdom of this strategy to the GOP insiders -- but it didn't. The Republican Revolution in the off-year elections of 1994 should have taught this lesson -- but it didn't. Two terms of Ronald Reagan should have taught this lesson -- but they didn't.
The voting habits of the public are not static, but dynamic. They must be taken like territory in a hot war, but through persuasion -- through explanation, argument, and rhetoric. You have to fight for ground; you have to be bold; you have to penetrate into hostile territory, awe the opposition, and seize what he holds dear. The one thing you cannot do is fight a holding action. That is and has been the strategy of the GOP insiders for decades.
As Sun Tzu put it, "[i]f the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in."
Our side is too busy trying to find ways to surrender.
Perhaps it's time to coin a new term -- "William Hull Republicans"? We seem to have a party full of them.
Timothy Birdnow is a St. Louis-based writer. His website is www.tbirdnow.mee.nu.
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