Though we may be tempted to laugh at the silliness of the Democrats’ recent accusation that the Republican Party is waging a “war on women,” mainstream Americans need to brace themselves: This is but a mild example of the kind of tactic we can expect from the Obama forces during the 2012 campaign, and the left uses tactics like that because they work. As skyrocketing gas prices combined with unemployment and underemployment to trap American workers in an economic vice-grip, this administration cannot afford to campaign on its record, so out comes the community organizer playbook. For voters who think political campaigns should actually discuss issues, things are going to get even more bizarre in a hurry.
The particular tactic in play here is simple: Convince one group that the liberal politician will make things right by defending that poor, helpless group. Think “transfer payments with a little vengeance thrown in,” and you will have the essence of the tactic. This tactic is political gamesmanship at its worst, and it works.
For years, the radical left has pitted old against young, black against white, employees against employers, customers against banks, women against men, and illegal aliens against the rest of us. The tactic benefits the left in the short-term by creating voting blocs that are easy to mobilize, and in the long-term by eroding the cultural norms of personal responsibility and respect for the rights of others, as those norms impede the growth of government.
The tactic comes out of classical Marxist theory in which workers are seen as victims of the owners of the means of production. Leftist revolutionaries pitted workers against owners to bring about ? at least in theory ? a classless society. But now that Marxist reality has overshadowed Marxist rhetoric with mass murder and economic chaos under leftist regimes, the tactic has degenerated these days into little more than a campaign gimmick that keeps liberal politicians in positions of power and wealth. But it does that very well, and so it remains at the top of the liberal playbook.
A related tactic that we can expect from the left is using language, not to communicate ideas, but to create a kind of rhetorical fog that obscures real issues. The ridiculous “war on women” is just the most recent example. Hillary Clinton speaks of extremists who want to control women, and mainstream Americans interpret that as referring to countries in which women cannot show their faces in public, not to countries having a woman as Secretary of State. But then she hints, with a straight face, that these extremists might live right here at home. “Extremists” include Republicans who question the Obama Administration’s unconstitutional intrusion into the business of religious institutions. The rhetorical fog of the “war on women” keeps the focus away from the real issue, which is the administration’s strategy of wearing away every remaining limit on the power of the state over private citizens and institutions.
The left’s self-serving use of language, like their tactic of pitting one group against another, could easily backfire if voters actually see the tactic for what it is. Liberals demand the “right to privacy” even as they take over private healthcare, work to undermine the secret ballot in union votes, and snoop into school lunchboxes. They demand “tolerance” unless they hear something they don’t like. They want “diversity” on campus unless Ann Coulter comes to speak. When we peel away sweet liberal rhetoric and behold liberal reality, we see a bold, calculated effort to use language to deceive, and that is a political turn-off. For these tactics to work, the left relies heavily on their allies in the news media to keep the focus on the rhetoric and away from the reality. And that brings us to the hard reality facing Republican candidates this fall. If we treat media bias as in-kind contributions to the Obama campaign, and if we add that to Obama’s billion-dollar war chest, the Republicans are at a huge disadvantage. It will be very hard for Republican candidates to focus voter attention on reality instead of rhetoric. The only way around that kind of media power is an engaged and passionate grassroots campaign, one that cuts through the media’s rhetorical fog at the neighborhood level. Republicans might want to reconsider their arms-length approach to the tea party.