Stay on Message
The following is an excerpt from the book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.”
Attacks in political warfare are like parasites. They usually cannot survive merely on their own, so they need to attach themselves to a host to sustain them. Usually the one being attacked ends up being the host, thus springing the trap. The point of an attack is to distract you, so that you violate the 9th of my 10 Commandments of Political Warfare—Stay on Message.
The Left sets the trap by baiting you to respond to their silliness in a way that gives them access to your audience. They will hound you and hound you until you do. Depending on your resolve and the intensity of the attacks, it takes some longer than others to wear down. Most of their attacks are not really a story outside of the Left’s own enclaves until you respond, and then once you do you’ve given the media the excuse it’s been looking for to really crank up the jamming techniques.
You neither want to blow up your opponent’s attack nor blow it off. You want to respond in kind (just right). If someone rips you in the comment’s section of your buddy’s blog that 10 people read, don’t blow it up in front of your 500 Facebook friends with short attention spans. Respond in kind on the platform they attacked you with or don’t respond at all.
If you’re in leadership, or aspire to be, this would be a good time to note the thin line between insulation and isolation. Isolation creates a bunker mentality when we become thin-skinned and see enemies everywhere. But good leaders are insulated to a point from criticism and scrutiny. It’s not that they don’t hear it, but it’s little more than “hey batter swing” chants like they heard when playing Little League baseball back in the day. It’s just background noise. They’re aware of it enough to know what’s going on and to make sure they don’t develop a tin ear, but they focus on the big picture because they’re confident in the courage of their conviction.
Like in Star Wars during the assault on the first Death Star, when Luke Skywalker is distracted by all the cannons and explosions going on around him, and is encouraged to “stay on target.”
If you want to stay on target, there are six things you need to remember.
1. All the damage from a contrived attack is self-inflicted. If you avoid the trap, attacks become excellent opportunities. As you read earlier, the only damages that come from being attacked are self-inflicted—either because the attack was true or your response was insufficient. Otherwise an attack gives you a platform to restate your case/mission statement/objective/policy.
2. Never argue down unless you can turn it to your advantage. When someone sends me a negative note on social media, I will check to see how many friends they have on Facebook or how many Twitter followers they have before responding. If they have about as many or more than me, I will try to respond if for no other reason than to get access to their platform. If I have substantially more than them, I will ignore them unless there’s a chance to take their attack to my audience and use it as a hook (reason) to justify restating my message.
The same goes for radio shows and/or websites that attack me. If they’re bigger or on the same scale as me, I take advantage of the opportunity. If they’re not, they don’t matter and are probably just trying to instigate me giving them access to my platform. Now, if the attack from someone with a smaller platform is so over the top that it fulfills every stereotype I’m constantly warning my audience about so I can use it to my advantage, then I will bring it to their attention because it’s like a hanging curve ball just begging to be hammered over the fence.
The one exception is if the attack manages to make its way to your friends/peers/audience/constituents, and you start hearing a lot of feedback from the people that matter most to you. If that’s the case then you may need to respond in those situations because your credibility and/or team morale could be at stake.
3. Respond in kind. Our tendency in these moments is to escalate hostilities when threatened, or maybe I’m the only one that struggles with that? Regardless, unless there’s an advantage to be gained by escalating hostilities, respond to attacks in kind. Meaning, if someone attacks you on Twitter in 144 characters or less, don’t respond with a 2,000-word blog you then email out to everyone on your list.
If you’re in public office and you get a handful of nasty emails from constituents angry that you’re actually a principled conservative, don’t call up the popular local conservative radio host with a much bigger audience and ask to come on his program to respond. Just respond back to those individual constituents in an email like they sent you if you think the dialogue could be productive. Or kick the dust off your sandals and move on, because often it’s not who you think it is. The Left has mastered the art of spamming our political and business leaders with emails that read like they’re from their local constituents/customers, when they’re really all from two guys living together in Hawaii who enjoy Mai Tais and Will and Grace reruns.
4. The rule of three. There is a story in the Old Testament of a leader named Nehemiah that God charged with rebuilding the walls of his civilization. As soon as Nehemiah went about God’s work of doing exactly that, the haters and hypocrites showed up trying to get him to come down to their level and talk each other to death.
They wanted to distract Nehemiah from doing the real work he was called to do, and engage them by pondering the lint in their navel instead. The same thing still happens nowadays. Whatever walk of life you have influence in, if you start taking a stand for righteousness and liberty you can rest assured the haters and hypocrites will want to distract you from working and get you to keep talking to and/or about them instead.
In our more technologically advanced age, that looks like endless streams of back-and-forth Facebook posts or in the comments section of your favorite political website. That’s why I generally believe in the rule of three. If I can’t settle a dispute in a maximum of three exchanges, then this person either requires someone smarter than me or has ulterior motives. Either way, time to move on.
We only have so much time and energy, so we would be wise to plow the field that might actually yield a harvest. Not to mention the fact incessant engaging of haters and hypocrites makes it harder for us to be the happy warriors that rally others to our side when we let them irritate us.
5. Know your audience. I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve gotten over the years from friends of mine in politics wondering how to respond to an attack from a source their supporters would never even look at, let alone take seriously. If you can’t respond to an attack in a way that will reach an audience you want/need to reach, or allow you to perpetuate your message in a productive manner, then don’t respond at all.
6. There is power in the name. I typically don’t believe in responding to anonymous, because it makes us look foolish to get all worked up about what someone with the handle “crackpipe4ever” or “cougartroll” has to say.
If someone doesn’t have the guts to put their name on their own words, they never merit a response. And when I say never, I mean never. I believe in this so strongly that for the past several years I have not allowed anonymous authors on my website (except for a soldier blogging for us from Afghanistan, whose identity we kept a secret for obvious reasons), nor do I refer to anything written anonymously.
Furthermore, I don’t use pseudonyms for a byline on anything I say, post, or write, and whenever possible nor should you. In a culture of soft-headed metrosexuals like ours, there is real power in a willingness to take a stand and own it. It’s like saying, “That just happened – now what are you going to do about it?” Americans have always cherished such bravado, provided it doesn’t cross over into egoism.
As patriots we should be as confident in the integrity of our principles as the great Charles Spurgeon was of the integrity of the Bible when he said, “I should no more defend the Bible than I would defend a caged lion. Simply let the lion out of its cage, and it will defend itself just fine.”
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