Lecture from the Founders on Moving Public Opinion

Republicans and conservatives are supposed to be the folks who love the Founding Fathers, but I fear too often they ignore what those men said when it comes to what I call job number one: informing public opinion. Here is James Madison on the topic:

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

“A Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.” Talk about a prescient prediction of Obama’s election and reelection!

Republicans and conservatives haven’t established effective “means of acquiring” the right information. Americans have ceded unprecedented levels of power to their government because they don’t have the right knowledge.

Too many on our side seem to be waiting for something to happen that will magically transform enough independents into clear-thinking voters. That’s not going to happen. Worse news is that we’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up to the political left when it comes to mass communications.

In his famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech in 1775 Patrick Henry said this:

Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

“Through fear of giving offense.” Yep, Patrick Henry not only thinks that not wanting to upset anyone is a bogus excuse — he thinks it’s treasonous. Sorry. The stakes are too high now and they’ve gotten that way because our side holds its tongue for fear of offending.

Let’s save the country, persuade the persuadable, and leave the offended to their growing up process.

Everyone has family and friends that rank among the low information crowd. Through conversation and email and the right use of social media there are countless opportunities to bring them out of darkness and into the political light.

Alexander Hamilton had it right in Federalist #21:

The natural cure for an ill-administration, in a popular or representative constitution, is a change of men.

The voters have to be convinced that a “change of men” is needed. We all know that will require an enormous amount of work. Again, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I’m all for the intervention of Divine Providence but you are going to have to expend some energy too.

Thomas Jefferson told us what’s needed:

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.

Here are a few more quotes from Jefferson (warning – those who don’t like people being repetitive might want to stop reading now):

The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny] are to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that … they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.

The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.

No one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do, and none has greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free and good government.

Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day.

Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, Judges, and Governors, shall all become wolves.

Whenever people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.

Again, I repeat: Let’s save the country, persuade the persuadable, and leave the offended to their growing up process.