Culture War 3.0 and the Charge of the Light Brigade

 

So, today I had the dubious pleasure of having Rush Limbaugh take a shot at me over a quote I gave Politico’s Alex Burns. And yes, if you’re in the GOP consulting world, you’ll get phone calls and emails when you get dissed by the Big Man.

Here’s where the accusations of apostasy to the cause come from: I’m one of a non-trivial number of members of the hated consultant class who think digging in for Culture War 3.0 on gay marriage is politically foolish, culturally stupid and boneheaded electorally.

It has nothing to do with my beliefs on the matter in the slightest. I’m not even going to discuss how I feel about it, because it simply isn’t relevant. It’s not an argument about religion, or Federalism, or equal protection, or Western Civilization. Nor am I dismissing the enormous complexities, social uncertainties, and religious liberty issues of integrating gay marriage into society.

This is about political counsel, based on experience and reality. I’ve worked in 38 states, not in a radio studio. I’ve helped candidates win races in deep blue states like Vermont and New York and Washington, where the GOP fears to tread. We didn’t win by living in the world we wanted, but in the world as it is.

You go to an oncologist and hear, “You’ve got cancer. Want to keep it, or we can try something else?” You know the answer.

You go to people like us…people who read and understand surveys, who study electoral data, who swim in a sea of demographic and sociological data, who test and retest and tweak the tools and messages of politics and the honest actors are going to tell you that this issue is a stinker, and it’s not going to get any easier. Cultures change, and ours has. Ignoring reality isn’t principled: it’s pigheaded.

Here’s what Limbaugh obsessed about:

“It removes the issue from the Democratic playbook of fundraising scare tactics and political demagoguery and breaks their usual messaging dynamic of, ‘You’re a beleaguered minority; let us protect you from the evil GOP — oh, and here’s your absentee ballot,’” said Florida-based Republican consultant Rick Wilson.

I don’t want Democrats to turn gay Americans into a part of their permanent dependency-class vote plantation. I don’t want gay Americans to feel like my party is relentlessly hostile and unwelcoming. Barack Obama kicked our ass down the street twice by growing the Democrat coalition. It’s a zero-sum game, and every gain for them is a loss for us. It’s a cliché, but you grow by addition, always and only.

As importantly, signifiers matter. Voters we need – Republican leaners in affluent suburbs, for instance – are with us on a range of issues, but against us on tone and presentation. Younger voters who are suffering from 25% unemployment and are about to reap the whirlwind of the Obama economy are ripe for the picking…if we understand their social reality (whether you like it, or not) is overwhelmingly opposed to our position on this matter. Bill Clinton dragged the Democratic Party out of the ditch by walking back party policies that had been bypassed by time.

Before my evangelical friends get too far into the “we’ll take a walk” political blackmail, here’s a bit of tough love: you took a walk last time, and Mitt Romney was 100% right on abortion and gay marriage and damn near everything else. You might want to spend some time changing hearts and minds in society at large before you bolt. You might want to keep this fight where you can win it, rather than trusting in the Federal government to deliver your desired endstates…that’s the other team’s strategy.

What was a bit dishonest of Limbaugh was that he falsely mangled the second, and frankly more important quote in the story:

“Democrats won’t be as happy explaining to gay business owners why Obamacare is crushing them; why the regulatory behemoth in D.C. is burying them in red tape; and why the American economy is still faltering. Republicans take an issue out of the federal domain and let states, churches and society handle it, and let’s stick to a message of growth and opportunity for every American.”

I want to fight for every vote. I want to win in places we shouldn’t be able to, and to disrupt their coalition, break their certitudes and wreck their preconceptions. I want to crush the Democratic party and make it politically radioactive. There are lots of ways to get there, but this isn’t one.

It’s not “giving up an issue” to put this fight in the rear view mirror…it’s picking advantageous battlefields, dictating the tempo of the debate, and focusing on the issues that move voters to us, rather than against us.

The Charge of the Light Brigade was romantic and dashing, but most everyone in it died.  They deployed based on bad intelligence, stuck to a stubborn approach, and were slaughtered wholesale. 

 Let’s keep that in mind before fighting Culture War 3.0.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @NickStuart
    James Delingpole: I think you’re right. I’m personally against Gay Marriage – because I think the state has no business involving itself in the affairs of institutions like the church. But it’s not an issue I would go to the wall on.

    Not when our economy’s burning and we’re on the precipice of Armageddon. · March 29, 2013 at 3:03pm

    Richard Epstein pretty well sums up why, like it or not, the state will have to remain involved in marriage, however it’s defined: 

    http://ricochet.com/main-feed/Is-It-Possible-to-Get-the-State-Out-of-Marriage

    • #91
  2. Profile Photo Inactive
    @KCMulville
    Fricosis Guy: I’m not sure that most people pick consultants they way they pick lawyers, but more often because:

    Strikes me the same way – it’s like having a rich businessman buy a football team, and then he goes to hire a coach. The pickings come from ex-coaches, college coaches who want to move up, former assistants of other successful teams, and so on. Like a coach, the new guy has to handle his own staff, the media, the front office, not to mention come up with strategies to defeat the other side.

    I’m not sure the head coach/consultant guru thing is really working out for our side. We keep picking Steve Spurrier; they do great in college, and stink in the pros.

    Maybe the model of the super-hero consultant is just wrong. The consultant is oriented to particular candidates, but for the foreseeable future, politics is going to be a national, full-time operation. The Democrats, under Obama, never stop campaigning (they do it instead of governing). 

    If so, instead of having isolated operations, why can’t the GOP move to a national operation? 

    • #92
  3. Profile Photo Listener
    @FricosisGuy

    Yes, the candidate is one who needs to be the real brain. It is not enough to be the “Decider” … one needs to be the “Strategerist” as well.

    That’s what Reagan was and what we miss today. I am heartened with the Ryan, Paul, and Cruz cohort — not so sure about Rubio — because they look like they bring this to the table.

    And I love any metaphor with a dig at the Ol’ Ball Coach!

    KC Mulville

    Fricosis Guy: I’m not sure that most people pick consultants they way they pick lawyers, but more often because:

    I’m not sure the head coach/consultant guru thing is really working out for our side. We keep picking Steve Spurrier; they do great in college, and stink in the pros.

    • #93
  4. Profile Photo Member
    @JosephEagar
    Dave Carter

    Joseph Eagar   … On it’s face, DOMA is definitely expansionist.  If it were passed to prevent SCOTUS from forcibly legalizing gay marriage in the 90s, then perhaps the net effect would be zero.  I don’t know if that’s true, though. · 15 hours ago

    I too lament federal expansion, and I regularly inveigh against it.   But a law that maintains, for federal purposes only, the definition of marriage as it has been known for thousands of years, doesn’t strike me as heresy or even novelty.   · March 29, 2013 at 11:56pm

    Again, the federal government isn’t an institution independent from the states.  The purpose of DOMA was to discourage state governments (especially, I suspect, state Supreme Courts) from experimenting with marriage law.  Whether or not that’s good public policy is a separate debate, but that was the purpose of the law.

    I’m not sure why this even matters. 

    • #94
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    @TonguetiedFred

    “Before my evangelical friends get too far into the “we’ll take a walk” political blackmail, here’s a bit of tough love: you took a walk last time, and Mitt Romney was 100% right on abortion and gay marriage and damn near everything else.”

    I don’t believe this to be true….  My understanding is that evangelicals turned out and voted for Mitt Romney at the same levels as they voted for the Bush and McCain.

    • #95
  6. Profile Photo Inactive
    @JimBoyd

    Sure, there would be no story of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ if those soldiers had just given up and surrendered.  At least, if they are still in the fight, there’s a CHANCE of winning.  Surrender drops the chances of winning to zero.

    Give up on this issue?  Nope.  I won’t do it.  It’s too easy to settle for convenience over convictions. 

    Nope, I won’t do it. 

    P.S. I’m cutting my Starbucks Gold Card in half today.  Take that, Howard Shultz!!

    • #96
  7. Profile Photo Member
    @TimH

    I find consultants often maddening but often useful to have around to play devil’s advocate.But I don’t want them in charge of policy.

    • #97
  8. Profile Photo Member
    @

    There seems to be somewhat of a consensus that the majority of people are for SSM.  It’s been voted down over and over and most people wish it would just go away. It is a media generated subject and when people are asked they may say they are for it to avoid name calling but when they have a chance to vote, vote against.

    Also it seems to one area where a few lines can fight the topic and I wish politicians and our side would take this line. The fact that it won’t stop there and the next topics are polygamy, marriage to animals and children, etc. because the arguments ‘for’ are the same. People do not like this (except strict Libertarians). A politician can say something like, I am for civil unions and in fact they are already present. Why make churches, synagogues, mosques do it too? In fact, why do we even have to know you are homosexual?

    • #98
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