"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)
Monday, December 13, 2004
Do we want the public to understand that we’re “hard?” Do we need for people to take us seriously as tough guys who will keep the country safe from the “ism” of the moment? Of course. But does anyone believe that we can demonstrate our powerful rigid tumescence to the public with academic papers or scholarly op-ed’s or earnest senate speeches? This argument always implies that we are campaigning in a vacuum and fails to take into consideration the nature of the opposition. We could be Beinartian Hawks or Kucinichian doves or George Patton or Ulysses S. Grant and it would mean nothing as long as the opposition comes up with simple marketing slogans to position our candidates and our ideas as soft and we do not respond in kind.
Let’s talk about flipping and flopping for a moment. That phrase didn’t come out of nowhere, you know. “Flip-flop” was not some complicated concept in which people were persuaded by examples in his record that Kerry was unprincipled or indecisive. “Flip-flop” was an uncomplicated, symbolic slogan that stood for flaccid penis. Yes, it’s really that simple, folks. People may not have been consciously aware that the term flip-flop was meant to unman our war hero candidate, but it did so just the same. And it played off of 35 years of exactly the same kind of imagery from “with hair that long, hippie, you can’t tell if you’re a man or a woman,” to “he’s been botoxed.” This image doesn’t come from Michael Moore or indeed from any Democrat. It comes directly from the propaganda shop of the Republican party and it plays right into the lizard brains of certain white males and the women who inexplicably love them. It wouldn’t matter if Michael Moore joined the marines and MoveOn decided to merge with Club For Growth. The right has a tremendous investment in framing the left as too “soft” to keep the nation safe and they will continue to play that card no matter how tough we sound on terrorism. It is how they win.
But there is one surefire way to convince the American people that Democrats are “hard” enough to take on the enemies of the United States. And that would be for us to take on the goddamned Republicans. As long as we do not respond in kind to their in your face bully boy style of politics we will continue to look weak in the face of an existential threat --- because we ARE weak. We can look to history for Scoop Jackson lessons or Arthur Schlessinger lessons, but they are not relevant to the problem at hand. Our problem is that since 1968 the Republicans have waged a take-no-prisoner war against the Democratic party and they use that proxy war to prove to the American people that they are tough enough to protect the American people from threats, both internal and external, and the Democrats are not. (Indeed, to listen to their most skilled polemicists, Democrats are the threat.) And despite the fact that they are completely full of shit, it works quite well because they practice what they preach by fighting every last Democrat to a standstill and when they lose they get right back up and start fighting again with everything they have. People can see exactly what they are about. They demonstrate it. We, on the other hand, talk a lot.
But here's the thing - what Digby is proposing here is never going to happen, at least, not so long as the Democratic party remains in its present form. There is entirely too much power in the hands of those who profit by making the Democratic party the party of process - in the service of which too many people draw handsome salaries for "services" such as polling and punditry - for the party to embrace anything so prosaic as good, old-fashioned ass kicking.
But what really strikes me about Digby's analysis is its frankly sexual imagery. Again, I think this is spot on. I think the Republicans have tapped into a nearly bottomless reservoir of repressed sexual aggression that permeates our Puritan culture, and discovered that the same instinct which leads Bible belt preachers and their flocks to cower in impotent fear before the very idea of gay men living among them also leads suburban professionals to blow their bonuses on Porsche Cayennes and big ass plasma screen TVs. In both cases, the voter in question is attracted to the candidate who acts like he (or, in some cases, she) has an enormous, throbbing dick. We hear certain spoiled Texans talk like they're planning on fucking terrorists in the ass - metaphorically, of course - and then we see them do it to their political opponents (think of the Swift Boat Liars, or the South Carolina push polls employed against John McCain). There's your "values" for you - it's not about morality, it's about swagger.
And that's why Clinton was able to beat them at their own game. He was as wonky as any Adlai Stevenson wannabe, but no one cared about that except for a handful of Beltway hacks. What the public liked about him was something very different - he just looked, acted like, and carried himself like the kind of guy who might just give a chubby intern a long, low moan job some time. Which, of course, he did. And the voters loved him. Like I said - swagger.
John Kerry had a lot of things going for him, but swagger was not one of them. Hell, most of us probably figured that, in their family, Teresa was the top and John was the bottom. Few other Democrats this cycle had any swagger, either - I mean, really, Joe Lieberman? There's a guy whose interns are safe as milk! Dick Gephardt? Puhleeze! Dennis Kucinich? About as much swagger as Carol Mosely-Braun.
No, only two Democrats this year acted like they had ever gotten fully erect: Al Sharpton, and Howard Dean. Sharpton has a lot of baggage - not least of which is being black in a nation that fairly recently embraced lynching - so that leaves Dean. Dean had a lot going for him, including an absolutely consistent, crystal clear - and, of course, correct - policy on the Iraq war. But, for my money, the very best thing about him is the obvious glee with which he attacks pudgy Republican ward-heelers at any and every opportunity. He likes kicking ass, and his satisfaction shows. You half expect him to smoke a cigarette afterwards.
And who did all the Democratic party "process" types, the pollsters and the pundits and the consultants, sharpen their long knives for? Who else?