What Must Conservatives Do to Win? – Part 3

[Editor’s note: In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, Featured Contributor Paula Bolyard offers four suggestions for furthering causes that conservatives care so deeply about. She writes,

“… it’s by no means an exhaustive list and I offer it with the hope we can have a healthy (but civil) debate in the conservative community about the advisability of the various strategies.”]

Here are my final two suggestions for this series:

5. Use an Incremental Approach

While it’s tempting to always swing for the fence on issues we care deeply about and to accept no compromise, we must recognize that sometimes an incremental approach is desirable and use it to our advantage. Marrying ourselves to one strategy —  or one bill — can sometimes stall our cause and suck up valuable resources, manpower, and time.

[Related: OCR DOUBLE-TAKE: “The Wisdom of Compromise” & “The Fallacy of Compromise”]

If you’re not a gun rights enthusiast, you may not know the extent to which Second Amendment rights have been expanded in the state in the last two years with the incremental approach. Most of these bills have been small and obscurely technical, so they have flown under the media’s radar. The 129th General Assembly passed at least four bills expanding gun rights, including one that allows restaurant carry, one that removed training requirements for second and subsequent renewals, and a bill that revised the definition of “loaded” and removed a ban on guns in vehicles in the statehouse parking garage. Last week the House passed H.B. 203, and while the “Stand Your Ground’ provision received some media attention, the bill actually contains dozens of small adjustments to the current firearms laws that will expand the freedom to bear arms in the state. There are nearly a dozen other bills pending in the legislature that are supported by gun rights advocates.  Instead of making a lot of noise and launching grenades to further their cause, Second Amendment groups like Buckeye Firearms and Ohioans for Concealed Carry have quietly worked behind the scenes — sometimes with Democrats — to accomplish their goals. There is a lot we can learn from their methods and tactics.

[Related on OCR: Conservatives and liberals share interests on immigration, ObamaCare repeal]

6. Learn to Frame the Issues

“Attacking our opponents’ frame reinforces their message … our job is to frame our own values, vision, and mission and to avoid attacking theirs because if we do, it only keeps their ideas in the forefront.” Don Hazen, AlterNet.org

Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. In 2003 Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff warned that Democrats were doing a poor job of framing their messages. He said that conservatives were pouring millions into think tanks like Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute to learn how communicate their values and said it was going to pay off at the ballot box. His warnings turned out to be prescient as Democrats lost the 2004 election.

Hazen explained,

“We now understood [sic] how terms like tax relief, partial birth abortion, and death tax by the right wing invoke frames and dominate debates. Even our allies were using language invented by the conservatives, shooting themselves in the foot every time.”

Lakoff wrote the book Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate in the wake of that election to teach progressives how to rebrand themselves through the use of language and to counter “right-wing demagoguery” in the wake of “neo-Orwellian age of Bush speak,” as Robert Reich described it.

The elephant in Lakoff’s book refers to an exercise in which he asks his students not to think about elephants. Of course, after being asked to refrain from thinking about elephants, it’s nearly impossible to stop thinking about them. The same thing happens in political debates with the use of suggestive, evocative language.

[Related OC Book Review: The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), by Witwer & Schrager”]

While I don’t agree with the premise that conservatives developed these techniques — far-left propagandists have been using them for more than a century — somewhere along the way our side lost ground in the war of words and in framing our ideas. The progressive left has used framing to change the way Americans see the world, encouraging them to vote against their economic and social interests by using language that gives them the moral high ground.

An example Lakoff gives in the book is George W. Bush’s use of the term tax relief instead of tax cuts when he took office. When framed as offering relief from something (oppressive taxes in this case), the case can be made far more populist than the notion of cutting something, which has a negative connotation. The same can be said about the War on Terror. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, terrorism was on everyone’s mind and the nation was very fearful of another attack. Neither War on al Qaeda nor War on Afghanistan would have evoked the sense of urgency that War on Terror was able to capture. Those strong feelings enabled the administration to gain the support of a large percentage of Americans for the war.

In the same way, today’s conservatives should consider our use of language and the ways in which we frame our arguments. We should not accept the frames presented by the left. When they say pro-choice, we must counter with pro-life. When they say anti-discrimination, we say pro-family and pro-traditional marriage. When they demand fairness, we demand liberty. We can do this in conversations, in blog posts, in Facebook updates and anywhere else we talk about the important issues of our day. We should never consent to the left framing issues that are important to us.

What are your ideas on what conservatives must do to win?  How do we advance our goals of promoting our values, electing candidates who advocate for our beliefs,  and seeing them enact legislation that does the same?

Chime in by commenting below, tagging or posting on OCR’s Facebook page, tweeting @theOCreview, or emailing editor@OhioConservativeReview.com.


Paula Bolyard describes herself as a Christian first, conservative second, and Republican third. She is a member of the Wayne County Executive Committee and is owner and moderator of the Ohio Homeschool Yahoo! Group. She is a contributor at PJ Media Lifestyle, PJ Media, and RedState.

All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.

Related on OCR: “What Must Conservatives Do To Win? – Part 2”

Related on OCR: “What Must Conservatives Do To Win? – Part 1”

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