One Weird Trick To Destroy Conservatives (It's Not That Weird)
A Very Simple Approach To Seemingly Complex Issues
In 1987, Ronald Reagan suffered one of the biggest political defeats of his eight-year presidency. The failed nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court left such a bad taste in the mouths of the right that now, nearly 40 years after Bork’s rejection, the right still waves this failure as a bloody shirt example of the purported perniciousness of liberalism.
The blocking of Bork was good for America, as it prevented a radical from obtaining one of the most important jobs in American government. One key element in “Borking,” as it came to be known, is instructive going forward on how conservative ideas and leaders can effectively be defeated.
Oliver Willis Explains is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
On July 1, 1987, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy made a speech on the Senate floor about Bork’s then-pending nomination. Here is the key passage:
Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.
America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks. Yet in the current delicate balance of the Supreme Court, his rigid ideology will tip the scales of justice against the kind of country America is and ought to be.
Kennedy’s speech and other related rhetoric and activism did what even now seems impossible: It translated the arcane legal language of constitutional law into something the average person on the street could understand. The Bork nomination was not about “stare decisis,” “precedent,” “settled law” or other terminology. It was about the every day America that people faced with Bork on the court. And they didn’t want it.
Most conservative ideas are extremely unpopular, and its a testament to conservative message discipline in the party and in conservative media (especially Fox News) that they have been so politically successful despite their ideas being more often than not rejected by a plurality or outright majority of Americans.
Yet too often liberals address bad conservative ideas with piles of charts and figures and policy papers, and even in short form communications like a tweet, they load them up with so much data it is overwhelming.
I think this comes out of a group mindset that mistakenly believes the path to success in American politics is to be taken “seriously,” and in too many cases the “seriousness” is determined by complexity.
What really works, as exemplified by Kennedy’s speech, is simple: Tell people what will happen if conservative ideas are enacted. Not the macro level societal impact of conservative ideas, showing large trends over a number of years, but what happens to the individual person in their daily life when right-wing policies become law?
For example, abortion.
If Republican abortion bans are enacted, both at the state and federal levels, women will die. They will die because there are no doctors around to provide the care they need. They will die because they will be driven into back alleys to seek banned medical procedures. They will die.
Women will also be arrested for seeking their own health care if these bans are enacted. Their doctors will face time in prison for providing health care, and so will nurses, medical technicians, aides and the like.
Men who rape women — including their own daughters — will be given a significant boost by Republican abortion bans. The law will be on their side when it comes to issues like terminating a pregnancy.
Young girls, like eleven-year-olds, will be forced to carry pregnancies from rape if Republican abortion bans are enacted.
Too often we have seen liberals shy away from such blunt and direct language, preferring to seek refuge with milder statements with dry facts and figures. This ineffective approach is cheered on by both the mainstream press, who have wildly different standards of discourse for liberals and Democrats — they believe the left has to always watch it’s “tone.”
Conservatives are the people who love bloodless language the most when it is employed by liberals. They love it because this cedes almost the entire argument to their side of the aisle. It is a green light for right-wing hyperbole, about how the left is morally depraved and in favor of a “far left,” “socialist,” “communist,” “un-American” agenda. Every time.
One of the most effective rhetorical weapons that liberals have in their arsenal is the simple and clear statement of “what happens next.” Conservatives have a hard time explaining, for instance, why their abortion ban will kill women, and that’s why they’d much rather spend everyone’s time talking about how a document was leaked rather than the core of the issue.
Just say what they’re going to do. It works. And they hate it.
Follow me, Oliver Willis, on Twitter @owillis
Please Check Out
I’ve moved a couple of my older posts over to Substack that I’d like you to check out and share, thanks:
Exclusive Kal-El Photo
I think most of the time that Kal-El’s default mood is “sleepy and unimpressed.” Which we should all aspire to.