The Surge of Ideas and a Surge of Action (Part 1)

From the archives…

[Five years ago in June] at the American Enterprise Institute, General David Petraeus gave a terrific speech titled “The Surge of Ideas” that’s worth watching — and/or reading. In it, he reviewed the history of the ideas that went into the troop surge in Iraq that turned the tide in favor of freedom. His speech sparked what will follow in the next few columns.

David Petraeus is now a historical figure who is still on the big stage. He’s a four-star Army General who rose up through the ranks and took on a task in Iraq that few would’ve wanted. He first accomplished what was necessary before that job began — and that was to understand what the true nature of the problem was and what it was going to require to win.

Recently I had the opportunity to spend time with a group of financially successful and politically informed Americans from around the country — and what surprised me was their level of pessimism about the future. It seems — to be informed is to be cynical — just like it was when novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald had one character say in “The Great Gatsby”:

You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow … Everybody thinks so-the most advanced people. And I KNOW. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything … Sophisticated-God, I’m sophisticated!

The Great Gatsby was published in 1925 – that’s a long time ago, and evidently some things never go out of fashion, including sophisticated pessimism. It’s my personal view that pessimism isn’t realism when critical information is missing from the mix.

The above group of people knows what’s wrong with almost every Obama Administration policy, and they also know most of what the conservative think tanks have to say about how to correct the errors. Their knowledge lacks something key, however, and that is — what needs to change politically before we can ever enact the policy reforms. Thus, they despair.

Some of us who have been on the ground politically and not flying up at 20,000 or 30,000 feet do know exactly what it’ll take in the political arena to reverse course and rebuild the kind of culture that we can confidently leave to the next generation.

In a nutshell, it’s going to require a lot of people reaching out to their family, friends, neighbors, communities, etc., etc., with the conservative message. If that isn’t profound or complicated enough for you, I’m sorry. But despite the fact that we live permanently at flood tide when it comes to news and commentary, not nearly enough of it reaches the vast majority of Americans.

That’s right. All of those informed members of the conservative choir bathe and swim in almost unlimited amounts of information daily. But untold numbers of those they share citizenship with have yet to get anything more than their feet wet.

I’m not suggesting that those people who live on the same street as we do will pick up the habit of perusing many conservative websites or taking tea while digesting a twenty-five page white paper. What I am suggesting is that many of them are in need of distilled content that will help them realize a better policy course is required if this country is to meet the economic, social, and foreign policy challenges of this century. And I am suggesting that we can win them over so they’ll stop casting the wrong vote on election day.

It’s going to require all hands on deck. Even the rich, informed, busy, and successful have a duty to participate in actual grassroots political activity. Yes — even those who hate politics (like I do) can’t escape the job we inherit as citizens.

This website alone is stuffed to the gills with good practical suggestions on what needs to be done — click through the archives. What you won’t find is how I’m going to do your job for you.

What many of those people I had the chance to spend time with last month fail to understand is that what has befallen this nation isn’t anything out of the ordinary — and its cause is as old as history itself. When the right people sit out the political fight, the wrong people win it.

Up next: Part 2.

This article first posted in June 2010.