Granting an interview to Rolling Stone magazine may have been the dumbest thing Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal did in his storied military career, which ended when the rollicking article appeared last week. McChrystal's media blunder notwithstanding, conservative culture warriors at home should learn from his counterinsurgency strategy and leverage their demographic advantage by investing in the nation's Christian education infrastructure now.
Counterinsurgency, known as COIN, is a kinder, gentler way of fighting a war with hopes of winning the hearts and minds of native peoples. "COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation's government---a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades to achieve," wrote Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings. "Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps."
COIN is a controversial military strategy but it can be applied to the U.S. culture war, which is winnable for conservatives because they own the silver bullet: demography.
Conservatives procreate at a higher rate than liberals. "Today there is a strong correlation between religious conviction and high fertility," wrote Phillip Longman in Foreign Affairs. "In the United States, for example, fully 47 percent of people who attend church weekly say that the ideal family size is three or more children, as compared to 27 percent of those who seldom attend church." Longman also notes that Utah, thanks to the Mormon population, reproduces at nearly twice the rate of the people of Vermont, "the only state to send a socialist to Congress." As further evidence of the conservative demographic advantage, Richard Land told the Pew Forum, "Liberal Protestants tend to have much lower birth rates than conservative Protestants, and this tends to show up 25 years down the road in a rather dramatic fashion. One calculation is there is a 41 percent procreation gap between people who identify themselves as conservatives and people who identify themselves as liberals in the United States."
Longman asked, "Does this mean that the future belongs to those who believe they are (or who are in fact) commanded by a higher power to procreate? Based on current trends, the answer appears to be yes."
Currently, conservatives outnumber liberals 42 percent to 20 percent, with moderates at about 36 percent of the population. By mid-century, conservatives may widen their lead significantly. But who will win the hearts and minds of conservative children? Does it make sense for conservatives to place their progeny in public schools and universities?
Conservative culture warriors need to think short-term and long-term. Think COIN. Engage in elections in the short-term and invest in quality Christian education for the long-term. The nation has a growing Christian schooling infrastructure and parents are increasingly choosing non-public forms of education. Personally, I am encouraged by the work of organizations like the Society for Classical Learning, the Association of Classical Christian Schools, and the newly formed Institute for Classical Schools. Other organizations like the Association for Christian Schools International and homeschooling cooperatives are doing excellent work as well. These groups are positioned well to serve growing demand but they will require investment now.
Time may be on the side of conservatives. Conservatives should engage in short-term political battles. Yet, effective counterinsurgency is a long-term effort requiring investment in infrastructure that will win hearts and minds. A COIN victory may be attainable for conservatives if they invest in the nation's Christian education infrastructure today.