The great military philosopher Sun Tzu warned his students not to let their enemies pick the time and location of battles. Sun Tzu wrote, “The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.”

When you fight on your enemies’ terms, it rarely works out well.

You’d think this would be self-evident, but time and again conservatives let liberals define the fights. It is no wonder the war for our culture and republic is in shambles!

Words matter; they shape how we view the world. For example, the Himba tribe from Namibia has no word for the color blue. When researchers showed them diagrams of 12 squares – 11 green and one blue – the tribesmen didn’t recognize the difference. As a jungle people, though, they saw huge differences in various shades of green that weren’t completely obvious to the researchers.

Language, and how we use it, not only defines our world but shapes our actions.

Conservatives have allowed themselves to be backed into a corner, often revealing themselves to be intellectually and morally insecure. That is what we proclaim when using the language of — in the battles determined by — the left.

Conservative politicians will say they adopt the other side’s language as a reasonable concession to civic dialogue. In fact, they do it often because they are insecure or lazy… Or maybe they are revealing their true beliefs.

On issue after issue, time after time, conservatives cede the selection of the rhetorical battleground to the left.

We don’t insist on using the language of life; instead, we capitulate by calling the infanticide brigade “pro-choice.” When you define your opponents’ position as “pro-choice,” you set yourself up a heartbeat away from losing.

I cringe when I hear Republicans talk about government budgets “paying for” tax cuts. When one starts, as leftists do, with the presumption that government owns everything, then – perhaps – government decides how much you keep of what they say is their money in your bank account.

But as free-market conservatives, allegedly, we believe wealth is created by individuals. Governments have only what has been taken from citizens in the form of taxation.

People who enter a country without permission have long been known legally as illegal aliens; they do not belong where they are and have broken laws to enter. But the term “illegal aliens” became “illegal immigrants,” and now that’s morphed into “undocumented migrants.” This was a purposeful transition of language.

Listen to speeches on the border crisis from your favorite conservative politicians, and notice how often they talk about the issue using words of the left. Then, think about why those politicians are having so little success in solving the issue.

They have allowed the opposition to define the issue, which determines the scope of actions available and even how to establish success. How you approach the problem of “undocumented migrants” is vastly different that how you deal with “illegal aliens” or “invaders.”

Language defines our world and shapes our actions.

If conservatives want to be competitive in the war for culture and government, they must stop letting liberals pick the battlefields and define the terms. Conservatives cannot afford any longer to be bullied into using the left’s manipulated language.

If conservatives are to be dominant in the war for our culture and government, they must be more disciplined in their language. More importantly, conservatives must impose on the national conversation the issues that matter most to them and define success as nothing less than saving our republic.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.

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