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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Why the Left Is Winning


America is in an ideological battle for her life, and she is not winning. Her ideological enemies, the socialists, are making strides like never before, and we on the right have only ourselves to blame.

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It is almost a certainty that Trump is going be re-elected. Republicans may take back the House, and if they do it is going to be in good part thanks to Liz Cheney and her tireless work to recruit candidates and build strength around the ideological battle against socialism.

Cheney, Trump and other leading Republicans will be able to slow down the march of socialism, but without a solid ground game they won't be able to stop it.

Which, sad to say, compared to the left our side is not very good at. And I am not talking about grassroots activism. I am not talking about dispensing fliers, registering voters or even recruiting candidates.

I am talking about the intellectual, ideological battle. The conversation that sets the course for the country. The battle of ideas that trickles down into politics with a few years' lag.

We are losing that battle, and we don't have much time to turn it around.

Why did Trump propose more tax money to child care in his SOTU Address? Why did he pledge to give every parent in the country tax-paid family leave? Some would say "tactics" to win over the left in budget negotiations, but we all know that negotiations never end where they started. If you give the "democratic" socialists two new entitlements even before you sit down at the table, you will end up giving them three or four.

Instead, Trump could have decided to give the Democrats nothing and wait to see their demands and their offers. As things are now, we are certain to take another step into the shadow realm of the socialist welfare state - even if Republicans win back the House.

They don't see it that way. They don't see another couple of entitlement programs as advancing socialism. Single-payer health care is socialism, but not single-payer child care or income security. They are wrong, of course, but more than that, the relevant question is: why do they believe this? What is the reason for their discord between socialism as they see it and socialism in practice?

An essential reason for this is that the intellectual resources on the right are poorly organized, fragmented, short-sighted and bureaucratic. There are exceptions, but far too many think tanks and other organizations in the free-market, liberty movement spend their time fighting issues of only tangential relevance to the real ideological fight in America today. In the aggregate, only about ten percent of the manpower - and thereby the financial resources - at conservative or libertarian think tanks have any relevance for the battle over Ground Zero in the advancement of socialism.

The welfare state.

This is a monumental miscalculation by benefactors, managers and board members. There is no more powerful tool in the hands of the socialist than the welfare state.

A Watergate investigator once explained his strategy in these crude but blunt words: "When you got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow". Democratic socialists use a similar tactic with the welfare state. When you have socialized people's needs, their hearts and minds will follow wherever you lead them.

The right understands the theory behind this. They can have intriguing conversations at the principled level. Conservatives can argue philosophy, libertarians can quote Murray Rothbard. Yet there is a long bridge missing from the theoretical conversation down to policy solutions. That bridge demands resources, investment, fortitude and endurance. It spans through a vast continuum of public policy where you cannot win unless you invest for the long term.

It takes a holistic approach to win. Above all, it takes endurance and trust in the organic process of the long game.

The left has understood this. A look at how they organize their public policy work tells us a great deal of how they play their ground game. As a case in point, below is the description of a position with a leftist think tank that someone sent me. The sender attached a comment: "We are trying to win by spending as little as possible on narrowly defined projects. The left goes all out and we think we can win?" This is an exaggerated picture, but there is truth to it.

Consider the approach - it ties academic research through broad-based outreach all the way down to the details of policy making. It spans the entire continuum that is quintessential to winning the battle for America's ideological future:

  • Gather and analyze academic and policy research; statistical data; and federal, state, and local policy or implementation information.
  • Identify, collect and organize economic data from various sources including government databases.
  • Develop written and graphical presentation of research.
  • Compile, read, and provide analytical reviews and summaries of existing literature pertinent to economic policy.
  • Draft policy memos, with a focus on summarizing research and policy information so it is understandable to a broad audience.
  • Create substantive talking points for internal and external use on complex economic topics.
  • Keep up to date on relevant news, literature, and legislative and regulatory processes related to economic policy.
The work that this position produces goes straight to the ground level of today's fight for America's future. 

Inspired by this email I glanced at a few leftist think tanks and other organizations. It is clear that they devote far more of their resources to the most consequential segment of public policy. Their output, of course, lands in the absolutely wrong conclusions, but that goes without saying. The problem is, again, that they understand where the centerfield is in the battle for America's ideological future.

By trusting the organic intellectual process; by focusing on the long term; by celebrating small steps forward; the left keeps advancing its position.

Conservatives and libertarians are caught in a dissonance between the necessary battle and the battle they try to fight. It is as though they keep bringing the weaponry needed to fight the Cold War to take on an enemy that considers the Soviet Union - even North Korea - entirely irrelevant.

Today's ideological fight is not a fight over Communism; the totalitarian state is only the end stage of socialism. Today's ideological fight is the fight over a government we already have: the government that spends two thirds of its resources on economic redistribution.

That is where the fight is taking place. The left knows this, because they span the whole spectrum of ideas, theories, methodologies and analytical consequences. As Rand Paul inadvertently confirmed in his new book The Case Against Socialism, the right has not yet even realized that they are playing catch-up.

Conservatives and libertarians must re-learn how to fight this ideological war. They need to get back to the theoretical textbooks. They need to re-learn what socialism is; they need to allow their resources to be in the game for the long term; and they need to trust the process, just like the left does.

For those of us who grew up under "democratic" socialism, this America's biggest enemy is not unfamiliar. We know him, and we know his victory-by-a-thousand-steps approach. We know that "democratic" socialists in Europe actually fought Communism back in the day, and that they firmly believe that they are not part of the same continuum. This, among so many other points, makes them so dangerous: no matter how deservedly the communist label is for a socialist, criticizing him for being communist in his practice, or end goal, is like pouring water on a goose. He just shrugs it off and moves on.

The process of retraining and reorganizing the right will be painful for many. Yet there is nothing more important the American right can do. To spend six minutes of every hour worked fighting an enemy that devotes much more of his time to the same battle, is futile at best. To bring erstwhile weapons to that battlefield is a rapidly losing proposition.

I have hopes for elected Republicans under the stewardship of Liz Cheney. She "gets it". I have some hope for a sliver of the organized free-market, liberty movement, where resources are aptly appropriated. But in view of the potential that this movement has, there is a formidable assignment yet to be picked up.

The consequences from leaving it idle are catastrophic. If the hard work of the likes of Liz Cheney leads to victory in the fall; if Republicans retake the House and Trump is re-elected; the right has no more than two years to show that they can chart a new course for America. If, in that time span, they can lead the nation away from "democratic" socialism, they will have made a historic difference. But you cannot lead the nation away from something you don't understand.

So long as the right in America believes that "democratic" socialism is not even socialism with a smiley face, they will not see their own defeat coming. They can still open their eyes and make that badly needed course change. However, that can only happen if the free-market, liberty movement makes itself ready to provide the intellectual resources needed to explain the entire spectrum of reforms, from high theory, academic research and literature reviews all the way down to actionable policy reform.

The left asks the three pertinent questions:

What is needed?
Why is it needed?
How do we get it done?

They answer each question thoroughly, in a continuum where they invest time, patience and endurance. 

We need to do the same. We need a complete overhaul of how we use our resources. Without it, a positive outcome of the 2020 election will be squandered. That will greatly increase the risk of a socialist president in 2024. 

Donald Trump may prove to be America's Rafael Correa. But even if he is not, the left will still have advanced their agenda. At the end of the day, it does not matter if reforms from the "democratic" socialist agenda are implemented by Republicans or Democrats. What matters is whether or not they are implemented, period. 

The stakes are enormous. Is the commitment up to par?

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