Amid the smoldering wreckage of the government shutdown and the failed effort to defund Obamacare, it is time for conservatives to figure out why they lost — and how they can win the next time.
Since the tea party takes its inspiration from the American Revolution, it might want look to that period for answers. It can learn a lot from the contrasting strategies of two revolutionary war generals: Horatio Gates and George Washington. One led the patriots into disaster, while the other led them to victory.
Marc A. Thiessen
A fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, Thiessen writes a weekly column for The Post.
Gates commanded American forces at the Battle of Camden, the British victory depicted in Mel Gibson’s classic movie ‘The Patriot.’ Gates thought he had the British cornered but played right into their hands, positioning inexperienced militia fighters opposite the best troops the crown had. When the more capable redcoat forces advanced with bayonets, Gates’s forces (who did not have bayonets) were compelled to flee. The continentals were routed. It is considered to this day one of the most catastrophic defeats in U.S. military history.
By contrast, George Washington knew better than to go muzzle-to-muzzle with superior British forces in an open field. He followed what was known as the “Fabian Strategy” (named for the Roman leader Quintus Fabius Maximus), avoiding large, unwinnable battles in favor of smaller strategic engagements. As historian James Scythes explains it, “unless his army enjoyed a distinct advantage, Washington believed he must avoid direct battle” and “instead resorted to swift raids against detachments of the enemy’s army.” In the Battle of Princeton, for example, Washington knew he could not defeat Cornwallis’s 8,000-man force in direct combat. So he left his campfires burning as a diversionary tactic, snuck around the British camp, and took on the British in a series of smaller rear-guard engagements.
For taking this cautious approach, Washington was accused by some at the time of being a RINO (“Revolutionary in Name Only”). Scythes writes, “Critics of his strategy would grow impatient with Washington’s lack of victories, which would lead to frustration amongst patriots.” They wanted him to fight! But despite his aggressive nature, Washington refused to send his troops on suicide missions. His Fabian Strategy worked because he picked smaller, winnable fights and defeated the British in a war of attrition.
This is precisely the approach today’s patriots should have taken in the fight against Obamacare. Shutting down the government had zero chance of succeeding, and it played right into Democratic hands.
Today, some on the right are rationalizing defeat, claiming they won in a lot of ways. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) boasted: “Oh my gosh, we’ve lit up Obamacare for the whole nation.” No, you didn’t. You
the nation from Obamacare’s disastrous rollout, pushing the Obamacare implosion off the front pages and giving the media an excuse to focus on the disarray in the Republican Party instead of the disarray in the Obama administration. You
the chance to delay implementation of at least parts of Obamacare. And you
independent voters who agree that Obamacare is a disaster but opposed a government shutdown.