The New England Patriots have been a powerhouse in the NFL for many years, and one reason, football commentators say, is because of coach Bill Belichick’s proven strategy: Find your opponent’s greatest strength and attack it.
That principle serves equally well in politics, of course (just ask Karl Rove). The Liberal Message has been advocating that Democrats must launch a concerted attack not just on specific Republicans but on conservatism itself. So how can the Belichick strategy be applied to an entire political ideology?
Here are four perceived strengths of conservatives (at least among moderate and conservative voters) and how Democrats should attack them.
PERCEIVED STRENGTH: Republicans are the party of morality and traditional American values.
- Conservatism is broken. What was once a respected party has devolved into an angry, mean-spirited, virulent ultraconservatism that is unworthy of a great nation.
- The conservative policy of giving huge tax breaks to the rich while voting to cut food stamps and social services for the poor is immoral. It is contrary to religious and humanitarian values (or Christian values, for Democrats comfortable with that language), and an affront to American ideals of equality and fairness.
- Many other conservative policies show a shocking callousness:
- Conservatives would take away health care from millions of people, while offering no real alternative.
- They not only don’t help people in poverty, they insult them as “takers” and freeloaders.
- They refuse to accept Syrian refugees in the midst of the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.
- They have blocked the expansion of Medicaid for low-income and disabled people in Republican states.
- They eagerly propose sending immigrant children who have grown up in American back to impoverished countries they may not even remember.
- They would create a humanitarian crisis by deporting millions of families back to impoverished countries where they haven’t lived for 10 or 15 years, where they have no jobs, and may not have relatives who can financially support them. America is a country that tries to prevent humanitarian crises; we don’t create them.
- That is not the American spirit. That is not who we are as a nation. That is not what we stand for.
- America must remain a nation of decency and compassion. Conservatives have lost their moral compass.
- As Americans, we can’t let our hearts be hardened by conservative rhetoric. We must hold true to our American traditions of compassion, generosity, and humanitarian values (or “Christian charity,” for candidates comfortable with that language).
PERCEIVED STRENGTH: Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility.
- The idea that Democrats are big government spenders and Republicans are fiscally responsible is factually not true. Since Eisenhower, the two presidents with the lowest growth in government spending per capita have been Obama and Clinton.
- The tax cuts conservatives are proposing would be a disaster for America. They would explode the national deficit—as they have twice before, under Reagan and Bush. They will only make the rich richer, while doing nothing for the middle class, as this chart proves.
- We’ve seen this pattern not only as a nation but in states where far-right governors and legislatures have gotten their way: In Kansas, Wisconsin, and Louisiana, Republican policies have stunted their recovery from the recession and devastated their state budgets, leading to huge cuts in education and basic services.
- Compare two states next door to each other, with similar demographics: Minnesota (with Democratic leadership) and Wisconsin (with ultraconservative leadership). Minnesota had a $2 billion surplus last year and was named the best state for business by CNBC, and ranked No. 13 by Forbes magazine. Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker had a $2 billion deficit and was No. 31 on Forbes’ list.
- Conservatives’ anti-government zealotry and indiscriminate budget whacking is irresponsible and extreme.
- Conservatives couldn’t possible meet their own proposed budgets without dramatic cuts in services and programs that make us a great and civilized nation. That means cuts to:
- Scientific research and space exploration
- Disease control
- Our national parks
- Our nation’s already deteriorating infrastructure
- Worker safety
- Agencies that protect our food, medicine, air, and water
- Arts funding
- Foreign aid
- Social services for America’s most vulnerable citizens
- That’s not a philosophy of greatness. It’s a philosophy of diminishment, shrinkage, meanness of spirit, and short-term thinking.
- Conservatives want to put American on a starvation diet. Under Republican budgets, we would be unable to meet our obligations to the world and to our own citizens.
- At a time when China and other nations are growing, conservatives want to shrink America. When other countries are vying for more responsibility, conservatives want America to have less.
- Conservative fiscal policies are not only cruel and short-sighted, they don’t work.
PERCEIVED STRENGTH: Conservatives are defenders of personal freedom.
- Whenever you hear conservatives talk about “freedom,” run the other way. Very often, it means freedom for some people but not others.
- Conservatives want “religious freedom” to discriminate against gay people. But where is the freedom of gay people to be treated as equal human beings?
- Conservatives say tax cuts are about “freedom.” But freedom is not just defined by how little you pay in taxes. One of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Basic Freedoms” was “freedom from want.” When tax cuts lead to cuts in food stamps and social services for people in poverty, where is their freedom?
- Conservatives want to dismantle health care. They say “freedom” means people shouldn’t be required to buy health insurance. But what about the freedom of people to live without fear that they’ll be bankrupted if they get sick? What about the freedom to change jobs, or to start your own business, without losing your health insurance?
- Conservatives say “freedom” means no restrictions whatsoever on guns. But where is the freedom of the rest of us to live in peace? Where is our freedom to go to the movies, or school, or even to church without being massacred by a killer with an assault rifle? Every year, guns deny thousands of Americans the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
PERCEIVED STRENGTH: Conservatives are better at keeping America safe.
- Anyone who has watched the Republican debates should be appalled and even frightened by their inflammatory rhetoric on the Middle East. It is reckless, irresponsible, and dangerous.
- Judging by the incendiary language of the leading Republican candidates, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t lead American into another war within a year of taking office.
- At least some of the proposals by leading Republican candidates—like killing the families of terrorists and indiscriminate carpet-bombing—could be considered war crimes.
- We have only to look at the last Republican administration to know what a disaster a thoughtless rush to war can create.
- Conservatives confuse warmongering with strength.