The world of political blogs is a world where people often zing each other and make small rhetorical points for the simple reason that this is how the game is played. If you read Barataria often, you’ll know that I have little time for this. I was called to task by a friend in e-mail recently, who stated the case for standard blog MO blankly:
We have to answer the right. This is what they’ve been doing to us for a long time, and we’re just giving it back. You can’t be asking us to leave their hate machine unanswered, are you?
The short answer is “No, I’m not”. But I still think that using the tactics of the right is ultimately very counter-productive for the left. This is why.
Think of politics, the operating system of government, as something like a war. If you’re in it deeply, you have to be in it for the long haul because we’ve seen that one election can undo a tremendous amount of work, one way or the other. For this reason, the standard rules of war apply. To win a war, you need to have clear Objectives, Strategy, and Tactics. I’ll explain each of these individually.
Objectives: In order to “win”, you have to know what a “win” looks like. You also have to keep your eyes on the prize, understanding just why it is that you are fighting. This not only gives you direction, but it keeps you going when the fight starts to become a long slog.
What’s a clear objective? How about this: “I have a dream that all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
If that’s not your speed, try this one from Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
These are visionary statements that tell people exactly what they are fighting for. They don’t come from a committee, they come from a leader who sets the agenda. Obama doesn’t have such clear and compelling visions right now, but he does have clear objectives: health coverage for all Americans, a stable economy, restoration of our moral leadership in the world, and energy independence. If you’re not willing to fight for these, you’re not really on his team.
Strategy: A strategy is how you will achieve the Objectives over a sustained fight. There are many ways to achieve health insurance for all everyone, so it pains some people to see that Single Payer plans are just one strategy for doing so. But that’s all they are. In campaign terms, strategy often includes electoral goals such as winning so many seats or diverting attention to areas the other side thought were safe.
The Strategies employed to achieve the goals are important because they are the roadmap that the footsoldiers need to follow in order to advance to the Objectives. The right has always been good at defining clear strategies that someone like Rush can communicate quickly.
Tactics: This is the level of day by day activity that anyone can relate to, the part that includes the snipes and bombs in blogs. While an Objective might reasonably have several Strategies, each Strategy can have many tactics that advance it day by day, little bits at a time. The march to universal coverage could include a stunt with someone denied coverage looking terribly sick at a news conference while someone else uses a graph showing the increasing number of people without coverage. Both are single events, both can be effective, but they are very different. What they share is a Strategy that advances to an Objective.
Why are these distinctions important? First of all, the left generally wants to have a larger role for government in the economy and people’s lives out of a sense of fairness. That means that they have something to defend and territory to gain. The right, on the other hand, can fight a guerilla war because disruption turns people off the whole idea of “politics” – if nothing else, low turnout on election day is generally more conservative.
Tactics that work well for the right are not going to work well for the left because the Objectives are different and the overall Strategies that get us to them are usually like oil and water. Simply “doing what the right does” often goes a long way towards advancing the right’s strategy of turning people completely off to any sense of common solutions found through government.
You can never have tactics in a vacuum. If you do gain a temporary advantage with a killer tactic, you have to press the advantage when your opponent is in retreat – without a Strategy, you can’t do that. It appears that the Tactic of yelling at town halls has backfired on the right, making them look like wackos. In order to press that advantage, the left has to appeal to people who are on the verge of being completely turned off by offering compelling arguments with solid common sense. That’s what Obama was offering on Letterman because he knows what the Strategies are.
Why is the noise of the blog world sniping and throwing bombs such a bad thing? It isn’t, if the tactics make sense to advance the Strategy towards the Objective. Doing it because “the other guys do it” is stupid and often plays into their Strategies. Let’s not.