How Outraged Is the Right, Really?

They could learn from their liberal counterparts

(Editor’s note: Jack Spencer is capitol affairs specialist for Michigan Capitol Confidential and a veteran Lansing-based journalist. His columns do not necessarily represent the views of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy or Michigan Capitol Confidential.)

Those on the “political right” in our nation aren’t nearly as aggressive as they could be.

Taken as a whole, the political right is probably underestimating its potential resources. For a movement claiming it wants to “take back America,” its focus is too narrow and should begin including opportunities beyond the voting booth. Ultimate success may require “full engagement,” not just “comfortable engagement.”

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

The “political right” in the United States has been in a nearly constant state of frustration a long time. Witnessing the most treasured principles of our constitutional republic being misrepresented and turned upside down is infuriating. Perceiving the prevailing disinterest of so many as freedom and liberty are being undermined by an overreaching government is like watching a loved one sleep-walk near the edge of a cliff.

Almost daily we hear propaganda telling us our individual rights must be sacrificed for the good of the many. Trumped up and made up threats in the form of pseudo-science, manipulated statistics, and out and out lies are ceaselessly advanced to justify the subjugation.

Those who understand the real world, know history, and know human nature see all this for what it actually is. With few exceptions these things are façades; cardboard hobgoblins painted in bright colors to mislead uninitiated and preoccupied segments of the public.

Over the past decade and a half the situation has worsened. In response, the political right has risen up in protest; its warning bark is heard, but too often it fails to bite. While one faction of our leaders sets about the work of discarding parts of the U.S. Constitution that they consider inconvenient, the alternative choices on the ballot talk tough but repeatedly balk when real action is required.

Meanwhile, the mainstream news media seems to operate under a code of self-censorship, picking and choosing which topics to focus on. Stories that deserve coverage are ignored or downplayed, while the escapades of sports stars and celebrities are treated as if they were important.

Clearly all this angers and saddens the political right but one senses that these reactions remain largely compartmentalized. Perhaps, because the political right consists of individualists, it often seems restrained by a natural aversion toward taking collective action. Too often, the sense of threatened values gets handled by reaching for the remote instead of reaching for the telephone.

Activism by the political right is currently too tame, too timid and lacks the true sense of rebellion needed to keep an organized movement vital. Those on the political right can abhor the way a certain national TV network covers politics; yet if a football game they want to watch is broadcast by the very same network, they’ll tune in. If they want the products advertised by the same companies that sponsor one-sided news coverage — no problem — they’ll purchase them anyway.

Admittedly, much of this comes from a feeling of helplessness. What can the complaints or boycotts of two or three former viewers mean to a big national network? But national networks depend on local affiliates, and those local affiliates depend on local advertisers. Two or three complaints to an advertiser about how a network covers (or doesn’t cover) “the news” probably wouldn’t have much impact — but two or three dozen well-orchestrated complaints could.

A few years ago when the outrage of the political right reached critical mass, grass roots movements began springing up across the nation. It was only natural that these movements targeted politicians, a political party and elections. Articulate candidates and the money it takes to run modern campaigns to challenge the status quo were and continue to be scarce. That approach should not be abandoned; it is still worth pursuing, but activism by the political right need not be limited to this alone.

So far the political right has failed to set its sights on areas where the liberal establishment might be more vulnerable. Organized consumerism can be a powerful tool and one that serious activists should consider. Some economists like to describe making a purchase as essentially casting a vote for a product and the business that sells it. But how many on the political right ever think in those terms?

Liberal activists seem more willing to translate their convictions to their lifestyle. They boycott businesses that support things they don’t like and they are vocal about doing so. In general the political right either fails to connect the dots and realize where it could exert influence, or it is too reluctant to make a fuss. Although this subconscious “reasonableness” may be seen as an attribute of conservatism, it bodes poorly for a movement seeking to bring about change.