Narratives of Government
Last week I attended a panel discussion subtitled A Libertarian and Conservative Plan for the Future that I had much to take issue with — most notably the idea that any of the proposals had much if anything to do with libertarianism — but nonetheless included several interesting takeaways for consideration.
I’ll only comment briefly on just one item. One of the panelists asserted that leftists tend to win when they create a successful narrative about the benefits of government, while conservatives tend to win when they create a successful narrative about the costs of government. He went on to claim that GOP activists have been losing the narrative battle because they are way behind the Democrats in developing new ways to harness the power of technology, and in particular the internet, which is extremely conducive to building a shared sense of community around a compelling story.
I certainly understand the power of narrative, but I have two major problems with this theory. First, narrative is useful but it is not sufficient to withstand the power of results. Republicans are out of favorability because of their actions, not because of their spin. Second, this analysis is inherently pessimistic toward the limited-government cause, essentially suggesting that conservatives have to be on permanent attack and that narratives about the benefits of choice and individual freedom are never winning strategies. I’m not convinced.
If the main lesson the GOP draws from 2008 is that it needs to create more compelling narratives to highlight the costs of government, I would expect it to continue to hemorrhage libertarians and to spend quite a bit more time in the wilderness.