Guest blog by David French
I’ve been working with student activists a long time. A very long time. In fact, when I first started representing student activists, Bill Clinton was president, 9/11 was nothing but an emergency number, and the Red Sox were still cursed. As the director of the Alliance Defense Fund’s Center for Academic Freedom and the former president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, I’ve worked directly with hundreds of students and spoken to thousands.
Even before I was a lawyer representing student activists, I was a student activist myself during the Reagan Administration, a member of the Federalist Society in the first Bush Administration, and then a pro-life activist in Clinton’s first term.
In short, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. From the lefty radicals taking over administration buildings to demanding peace in the Middle East (as if a university dean of students has any control over Israel or Hamas, much less the Taliban), to students who can change the entire national debate with one bold idea.
Just as there can be a fine line between clever and stupid, so can there be a fine line between leader and laughingstock. Young America’s Foundation has generously given me some space on their blog, and I’m going to use the next few days to introduce you to the “Four D’s,” my shorthand method of guiding conservative activists to effective advocacy. Today, I’ll introduce the concepts, and then from Tuesday through Friday discuss them in detail. Without further ado, here they are:
1. Decide. This is the courage step. Here you decide that you’re going to confront the campus establishment or confront the larger culture. Here is where you decide that you won’t be deterred, and that the principles you support matter more to you than the regard of your peers.
2. Discern. But undefined, undirected courage isn’t worth much in the real world. You have to exercise calm, rational judgment to determine the best object of your advocacy. What policy do you want overturned? How – exactly – do you want your campus or community to change?
3. Defeat. Let’s be realistic, to change the campus you have to defeat the leftist establishment, and you have to do it decisively. Sometimes you can do that in the court of public opinion. Sometimes you actually have to go to court to do it. The current university establishment not only has decided it knows all the answers to the great questions of our time, but they don’t even want to hear your opinion. That mindset has to be defeated.
4. Discredit. Capitalize on your victory by shrewdly and publicly broadcasting your triumph. Much of the leftist argument depends upon a presumption of moral superiority and authority. Public defeats that demonstrate corruption or illegality deprive the left of that presumption, bring them back down to earth, and enable future challenges.
Thank you, Young America’s Foundation, for the opportunity to blog, and tune in Tuesday for a discussion of exactly how young conservatives can “cowboy up” to confront the Left.