One week ago, Conservatism suffered a monumental loss. Part of what makes the loss so shocking is that no one seemed to see it coming. Conservatives of every brand believed momentum was on their side – they were wrong. Pundits and talking heads will debate why Republicans lost so handily for weeks to come (and at some point I may join them), but before we begin the process of self-criticizing, it is important to step back and ask why there was no perceived need to do so before the loss.
Since the election, several writers for whom I have great respect pointed out that conservatives live in their own media bubble. Conservatives visit Drudge and Breitbart when they are online, tune into Fox on the TV, and listen to talk radio. All of these media outlets have their purpose, but that purpose is namely to bring balance, not to create a bubble of isolation. If the only website you ever read is Drudge Report, then you probably saw that a professor at the University of Colorado predicted a Mitt Romney win with 75% certainty. Although, you probably never saw Nate Silver’s prediction that President Obama would win with 85% certainty. If you only watch Fox News, you were probably bombarded with polls that showed a majority of voters saying they trusted Mitt Romney more than President Obama to fix the economy. But you probably missed the polls showing that President Obama was better liked.
I’ve always considered myself to be a well-rounded reader. As a law student, I don’t have much free time, and therefore don’t bother paying for cable, so Fox News isn’t even an option. I’ve honestly never been a big fan of talk radio, and when it comes to newspapers, I even frequent The New York Times and The Atlantic occasionally. However, the results of this election served as a wake up call.
On my Facebook homepage I have a self-created list titled “Traditionalism.” The list contains updates from all my favorite blogs and websites that post on Theology, Culture, Politics, etc. In the week since the election, I created a new list entitled “Progressivism.” No, I’m not converting, and no, I’m not looking for new ideas. What I am looking for though, is to understand the opposition and how to engage it. It is no longer enough to preach to the choir. Our reasoning and rhetoric must be restructured, without compromising our principles, to directly engage our opposition at their best and to answer their concerns.
The Republican Party has a serious messaging problem, and it’s something they have never quite been able to overcome, but this year it has taken them to new lows. The problem results in an inability to connect with people of different political persuasions. Conservatives, by their very nature, have a dangerous tendency to only play defense; but when facing a culture on the brink, Conservatives have no choice but to engage it head on.
The ever-increasing polarization of politics makes confrontation inevitable. As Chesterton said, “The modern world must somehow be made to understand that a view may be vast, broad, universal, liberal, and yet come into conflict with another view that is vast, broad, universal, and liberal also. There is never a war between two sects, but only between two universal Catholic Churches.” And so we should be prepared on every front. If Conservatism is a comprehensive, transcendent philosophy that offers solutions for a host of issues, then it is time we prepare ourselves for the inevitable clash with a comprehensive ideology that offers competing solutions.
For too long we have lived in our own media bubble and have told ourselves that America is a center-right country. The insulation blinded us from seeing how stagnant we have become, and how much ground we have actually lost. It’s time to burst the bubble.