An age-old practice in politics is to draw a caricature of one’s opponent, and then go to town criticizing it.
Here’s a political cartoon that appeared in British newspapers in 1778, during the American Revolution, with George Washington on the right holding a zebra’s tail:
Distortions in the court of public opinion are called a “kangaroo court,” where the public discourse is so egregiously slanted that common sense is fundamentally denied, and the public “leaps” to a false conclusion:
The verbal version of this tactic is called the straw-man argument, where the debater constructs a distorted version of an opponent’s position, which cleverly resembles the opponent’s actual position closely enough to fool naïve spectators, but is also designed to be flawed in exploitable ways. The perpetrator then proceeds to beat the straw-man to a pulp, without ever actually refuting the opponent’s original position.
Check out this haystack full of straw men I spotted whizzing through the blogosphere recently:
If you follow the link at the bottom of the chart, you will find each of these comparisons described with paragraphs of classic straw man arguments. It’s like a free seminar in the dark art of shadow debate, where they’re not boxing against a real opponent – they’re instead shadow boxing against an opponent they’ve manufactured to be so inept that it never lays a glove on them.
Stare at that chart. Look it up and down. What’s your first instinct for action when you see this tactic used against you and your ideological mates in the blogosphere?
Do you put on your war paint, and ride your warhorse into crazed battle, with name-calling, finger-pointing, and expletives deleted (or not)?
Do you grab your collection of political books and the internet bookmarks to your favorite pundit sites, and settle into an extended tennis match of back & forth comments – hoping to win them over?
If you’ve tried the warrior strategy or the bookworm strategy, how’s that workin’ out for ya? Seen any slain liberal dragons strewn about recently?
One alternative, to not waste your energy, is to dismiss / ignore these shadow-boxing liberal activists as sophomoric, and move along elsewhere for something with at least some thoughtful foundation underneath it.
But I have another suggestion for my fellow active conservative bloggers:
Make an objective effort to put yourself in the minds of all the impressionable, non-entrenched voters out there who are being targeted by the liberal shadow-boxing activists. What are the lives of these unaffiliated or loosely-affiliated voters like? What are they unsure about? What are they insecure about? What do they seek for themselves and their families? Why are they open to listening to liberal ideology for the answers they seek?
Draw inspiration, not vitriol, from looking at that chart I showed you above. Study what the committed leftists say, but don’t envision them as your audience. Instead, do you see that crowd of folks standing between you and the far left? That’s 20-25% of American voters. They are your audience.
What can you write that simply states your vision – our vision – in a straight-on, affirmative way? Not shrouded in euphemisms that attempt to hide (or not) your disdain for hardcore progressives, but instead articulated in your principles of reward for individual achievement, freedom to choose, and responsibility for self.
Something about conservatism appeals to you, right? What is it? Describe it in a positive manner. Make it personal. Reach down and pull it out in words that offer the idea — without arrogantly preaching it — to people who don’t grasp it. Make it graspable.
You say you can write. Maybe you even brag about it. You started a blog to “put yourself out there” and/or to “make a difference.” But can you express yourself and persuade impressionable people without pressing the FLAME key?
If you agree with me, pass the idea along to your fellow bloggers.