Today, Tim Howard is perhaps the most famous and beloved man in America.
The U.S. goalkeeper was extraordinary in Tuesday's heartbreaking World Cup loss to Belgium. Before it was all over, Howard would justly earn the sobriquet "secretary of defense," relentlessly guarding the American goal and making an astounding 16 saves. But let's not forget, the U.S. team lost, 2-1. Which is why making 16 saves — having to make 16 saves — is a rather dubious distinction. The fact that a goalkeeper would have to deliver such a heroic performance is indicative of an American team that was constantly playing defense, while Belgium was taking all the shots.
And that's why Tuesday's USA-Belgium game reminded me of American politics. Conservatives are the Americans in this analogy — and no, it's not because I think conservatives are any "more American" than liberals. It's because the very nature of conservatism involves playing defense and trying to preserve the status quo. This is an inherent problem for conservatives, who are generally attempting to conserve the things we like about traditional America. Progressives, on the other hand, are on offense. They want to expand government, make new laws, offer new benefits, and overhaul the status quo. They are attacking our net.
For conservative activists, this was all explained many years ago in an important if little-known pamphlet called Confrontational Politics, written by former California state senator and Gun Owner's of America founder H.L. Richardson. An excerpt:
It's important to know how each side views the confrontation — as a positive or a negative? Who gains, who loses? Traditional Americans dislike conflict and withdraw from it as a matter of habit and training. On the other hand, the humanist looks upon confrontation as a necessity, a positive ingredient in advancing humanistic programs. They expect confrontation, plan for it and anticipate the predictable, negative reaction from their opposition, often using the reaction to further promote their cause. Conflict, therefore, is expected, welcomed, analyzed and then used to advance their goals.
Momentum is obviously on the side of the aggressors since they have the tactical advantage of initiating the attack. [Confrontational Politics]
Whether the issue is gay marriage, immigration, abortion, the welfare state — you name it — conservatives find themselves playing defense, attempting to defend our traditional values, while the left fights a perpetual battle to invent new government benefits and programs and overhaul long-held social norms and traditions.
Agitators never really give up, which is why — eventually — they almost always win.
Realizing that politics is a state of perpetual #war, many conservatives have begun aping the left. You see this when we play the victim card or engage in identity politics — or simply when conservatives overreach so that we "clear the ball," so to speak, and can go on offense ourselves. And maybe that's what it takes to fend off a relentless assault on your values.
But in the end, conservatives should not be agitators and offensive-minded political players. We are defenders and goalies. And sadly for us, even if we were to have an effort as heroic as Howard's, if the other side takes enough shots on goal, some are bound to go in.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The dangers of our passionless American life
- 4 strategies for organizing your money, based on your personality
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- The essential techniques that every home cook should know
- Even critics of the euro didn't see this coming
- The amazing resurrection of Mitt Romney
- The real reason conservatives should be outraged that police killed a white youth
Subscribe to the Week