We Need to Put the Political ‘Idle Army’ to Work

Here’s Rush Limbaugh from late last month:

We’ve lost education. We’ve lost pop culture. We’ve lost books, movies, television shows, music, that kind of thing.

That’s right, Rush. So now what? In my last column on this topic I laid out the simple fact that Republicans and conservatives do not have an information distribution system for effectively disseminating proposed public policy solutions based on conservative principles.

For those readers whose eyes have glazed over after reading this, I would encourage you to go ahead and click somewhere else and read the 100th analysis of how Obama is abusing executive authority. Or the 1,000th article denouncing the U.S. House GOP leadership for its inaction.

For others who would actually like to consider some practical steps that could result in the country actually deciding not to commit suicide, stick with me.

Rush is right — we’ve lost the societal institutions that convey information on a large scale. I’d argue the remedy isn’t to wait for low information voters to tune into Limbaugh or dial up websites like BarbWire.com. The numbers that would be required to make a difference would cause us to wait a very long time.

The right of center new media, issue advocacy organizations, think tanks and countless other groups do a great job keeping conservatives informed. I’d argue we have the best informed choir in American history. Wonderful. First step accomplished. Now we need to put that choir, or army, into the fight — and the fight is about winning over more of our fellow citizens.

What’s needed is genuine outreach — and by that I mean making contact (words to eyes, sound to ears) with the uninformed and the misinformed. Actual contact. Not pretend contact. The conservative movement needs to drop the “build it and they will come” delusion. Just because you publish something doesn’t mean problem voters will be educated as a result.

The question arises, isn’t grassroots outreach the responsibility of the Republican Party and political campaigns? Yes, but they are not the only ones with a duty to win hearts and minds.

Do you really want to wait for the party and those running campaigns to get their act together? When is the last time you heard from the national or your state’s Republican Party in any meaningful or effective way? How often do you hear from well-run political campaigns with a compelling message? Most party and campaign people I’ve known through the decades could care less about the issues. Their job is to win elections — and they’ll do what it takes when it comes to packaging. Often, a good deal of that packaging involves avoiding controversy — which means avoiding the important issues.

Related questions involve think tanks, PACs, and issue advocacy organizations, etc. — shouldn’t they be in the outreach business? Of course, and most try, but few are any good at it. In recent years I’ve seen increased efforts on their part but they have a long way to go.

So what’s left? How will we ever gain political ground if the “Republican conservative industrial complex” doesn’t get the job done? My argument is that it’s time to activate what I call the idle army. What’s that? It is primarily the countless tea party and patriot type groups. It also includes local GOP organizations. Both fall far short of their potential when it comes to making an impact in the public square.

Isn’t that an insult to call tea party and patriot groups “idle”? After all, most of them have membership rolls filled with dedicated people that desire to save the country? Don’t they all have email lists, websites, and hold regular meetings?

Maybe so — but that’s not how I define activism. Genuine worthwhile political activity has to be connected to reaching those who don’t tune into Rush Limbaugh or visit conservative websites. The tea party today too often resembles a social club that competes for donations or territory or recruits from the ranks of the already converted.

This might anger some people. “Our tea party group is all about outreach,” they cry. If it is — then it’s setting a standard few others are reaching. If your tea party group is really impacting your community or region then I’d plead with you to start publicizing your activities so they can be duplicated by the tea party groups which seem content to be insular or have proven they really don’t know what to do.

Let’s drill down to practicalities next time.

First published February 18, 2014.

Image credit: patdollard.com.