RE: Wingfield’s Letter
I share Justin’s concern that some of what has gone on may not be “out of deliberate strategy” and instead may be for the sake of “the sheer self-gratifying joy of subversion and recognition.” It is this line between publicity-for-its-own-sake and polemic that is sometimes hard to toe. (Ann Coulter comes to mind). So, perhaps I was a bit too hard on Wingfield, but there is certainly a place for using free speech–including tough language–to shake up the campus conventional wisdom. Keeping in mind that most College Republicans are essentially apprentices in field of polemics, some line-crossing is to be expected.
If nothing else, Wingfield’s resignation–which, by the way, is largely symbolic as he’s graduating in a couple weeks by which time his replacement will have been elected–has brought to the fore a debate that is going on in the wider world of conservative and Republican politics. It’s encapsulated well in this post from National Review’s Jonah Goldberg in which one of his emailers observes:
The vast right wing conspiracy at some point seems to have decided that we’ll command, if not dominate, the following:
– Think tanks
– Talk radio
This strategy seems to depend on persuading opinion leaders of the merits of our case, preferably using 10,000+ words to do so. The opinion leaders then hold court at family barbecues, dazzling friends and family with facts and logic and slowly converting them to our side.
That’s a perfectly legitimate approach, but it has three problems that make it less than sufficient as a marketing strategy: (1) political junkies aren’t necessarily opinion leaders; (2) the arguments are usually too complex to be easily distilled into something that could lead to opinion leadership; and, (3) it assumes that people’s views are shaped by facts and logic, when things like the aforementioned group identity are at least as important among many people.
In other words, we need counterparts to MoveOn and its ilk that can succinctly and persuasively communicate meaningful information to largely disinterested voters, and do so using the tools and tones appropriate for our target audiences.
Young and motivated College Republicans are the GOPs counterpart to the liberal foot soldiers of MoveOn. Wingfield is correct to caution them about stepping over the line. But we also have to realize that there is a difference between the language used in discussions held at a suburban, backyard barbecue and the jawing that goes on at a kegger.