From the archives — five years ago this month:
With all due respect to Thomas Sowell (who continues to be one of my favorite commentators), politics is not “often like war.” It is war — an information war. Sowell has been on tear in recent columns berating U.S. Senator Ted Cruz for his lack of “realism” and “discipline.” Sowell’s misunderstanding might be similar to that of many others on the political right when it comes to the nature of the challenge in front of us.
That challenge is summed up with the existence of so many low information voters. These people exist because Republicans and conservatives have failed to successfully bring them information. I could work on wording so it sounds more complicated but it is a simple reality nevertheless.
During my adult lifetime (over three decades) Republicans and conservatives have never been in the national information war in any serious manner. The fact that this reality is mostly ignored — even by smart guys like Sowell — has been very frustrating for those of us who don’t fly at 30,000 feet when it comes to politics.
Those of us who work at ground level and on the political front lines know that the Republican and conservative message isn’t getting through to the segment of the population that needs to hear it the most. No matter how much emanates from the ‘political industrial complex’ on the right, little changes. Why? Because our side is not in the mass communications business.
If Republicans and conservatives want support for policy reforms — they will have to go out and fight for that support. Public opinion isn’t on auto-pilot. The political left has their hands on the controls. The only way to wrest away that control (to use Sowell’s terms) is through realism and discipline — the kind being shown by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. What Cruz understands is that you have to actually reach people if you want them to agree with you. Again, it isn’t any more complicated than that.
Thomas Sowell thinks that Ted Cruz is indulging his “emotions” and basing his decisions on “wishful thinking.” On the contrary, Cruz understands that Americans cannot support something they are not presented with.
Sowell writes of the amazing battle of Dunkirk in World War II, where the allies had to beat a hasty retreat from the shores of Belgium north over the channel back to England. That example, for Sowell, is what should guide Ted Cruz because “the Republicans had no more chance of winning [the recent fight over the debt ceiling] than the stranded British troops had of winning a battle against Hitler’s army.”
Holding the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is for Thomas Sowell the equivalent of an outnumbered and outgunned allied army in 1940. The U.S. Constitution calls for federal spending bills to originate in the House. For too many people, though, that power means nothing because Republican leadership in Washington, D.C. hasn’t the first clue how to use it.
Their power is not just legislative in nature; the potential of their unused bully pulpit is enormous. A list of excellent quotations about the importance of shaping public opinion has been posted here and rather than listing them all I’ll let readers check them on out at their leisure. What Ted Cruz understands (just like the men quoted here) is that sooner or later Republicans will have to get serious about trying to impact the public mind.
If the power situation today was reversed and the Democrats held the U.S. House while the GOP had the senate and White House, I’m guessing that Thomas Sowell wouldn’t be writing about Dunkirk if a liberal Democratic senator was determined to force a compromise out of Republicans.
The reason for that is obvious — especially to readers of this column. The k-college school system, the old but still dominate liberal press, and Hollywood pump so much propaganda into the air that we all breathe the pollution of liberalism. A liberal is never alone when they step up to fight a policy battle. A Nancy Pelosi led House would not hesitate to stand with the Dem senator — and the Republican in the White House would have to come to the table. Or else. Always at the ready is the wrath of political lefties whose voices would be amplified through the media and all the other societal institutions run by liberals.
Unlike Thomas Sowell and most Republicans, the radical political left understands that it’s all about public opinion.
Sowell writes, “There would not be a United States of America today if George Washington had followed the tactics being urged by people like Senator Ted Cruz and his supporters.”
What Mr. Sowell doesn’t seem to remember, though, is that George Washington didn’t just retreat; he actually used his army to fight battles. When has the GOP establishment in D.C. fought on anything?
Sowell writes that George Washington “had to wait for situations where he had the enemy at a disadvantage, and then strike.” When will that time come for today’s Republicans? When exactly will the French arrive and help the colonials win the Battle of Yorktown?
Sowell writes, “Wars are about winning, not futile symbolic gestures that leave you worse off. Politics must be the same, if you are serious about the issues.” On the contrary, Republicans continue to lose ground because they are silent, not because of men like Ted Cruz.
Thomas Sowell is so smart I am confident he will figure out the nature of the information war sooner or later, even despite his lifetime spent in academia at 30,000 feet. I wish I could be as hopeful for the rest of Ted Cruz’s critics.
Up next: more about the realities of the information war.
First published February 24, 2015.
Image credit: Commons.wikimedia.org — the British Army in the UK- Evacuation From Dunkirk, May-June 1940.