May 7, 2007
Does America Elect Defeatists?
I just received a very pessimistic e-mail from a close friend of mine (not Friend Lee) who is utterly convinced that the Democrats will win the presidency in 2008, even if the Iraq war is going much better. My correspondent is a libertarian-conservative who is obsessed with the "neo-cons," whom he hates with a passion and blames for "hijacking" the Reagan legacy and the Bush presidency (he even wrote a book about it, Post-Nationalism).
But why is he so despondent, utterly convinced that Hillary Clinton will be our next president? First, because he's not naturally an optimistic person; but more important, because my friend truly believes that the American people despise "neo-cons" as much as he does.
This is actually quite a common belief, that the entire country shares one's own burning, heart-felt principles (or obsessions). But I assured him, it's a delusion: The vast majority of Americans have no idea who or what the neo-cons are, and honestly couldn't care less. However, my friend, a politcal junky (as am I), cannot seem to understand the depths of ennui that most Americans have for the "inside baseball" of politics. As I wrote him:
I completely disagree that Americans "despise" the neocons: Believe it or not, I doubt the typical American voter even has a clue who the neocons are or why the Democrats hate them so much. They've heard the term; they don't know what it means, nor do they care.
Americans love a winner. If, a year and a half from now, it really looks as if we have pretty much won the Iraq war -- especially after expectations have been so lowered by the media's and Democrats' incessant defeat-mongering -- the Republican will cruise to victory.
Even if it's more of a mixed bag, but clearly better than now, then the Republican is likely to win... because he will have said all along that we need to win this war, whereas the Democrat, whatever he says in 2008, will be on record as having said we should throw in the towel; and for that, people have a long memory.
The only way the Democrats have a chance of winning is if, by November 2008, the situation in Iraq is worse than it is now (or appears worse).
American voters reject most intricate, overarching ideologies; they prefer the "principled reductionist" approach: Carter was the "malaise" president (yes, I know he never said that word), while Reagan believed in "we win, they lose;" George H.W. Bush lied when he said "read my lips, no new taxes," while Bill Clinton was "the man with the plan."
And the Democratic nominee in 2008, whoever he or she will be, is the candidate for "withdrawal," while the Republican, no matter who, will be the candidate for "victory."
The upcoming presidential election is unique in American history, I believe: I don't recall any other circumstance where we've held the election during a war, without the incumbent running, and with one of the two major parties demanding that we pull out of the war without victory.
We've had two previous elections held during a war where the challenger ran on a platform of ending it: In 1972, Sen. George McGovern explicitly campaigned against the Vietnam war... it's not unfair to say he was primarily the "anti-war" candidate. And in 1864, Gen. George McClellan, the former commander of all Union forces, ran against Abraham Lincoln; although McClellan personally supported continuing the fight, the Democratic Party platform was decidedly Copperhead: They demanded we end the war and let the South secede.
In both cases, the defeatist was soundly drubbed, both in the electoral and popular votes: McClellan lost by 55% - 45%, while McGovern fared even worse, losing by 62% - 38%. But in both cases, an unpopular incumbent was running for reelection, so it's not exactly parallel.
Similarly, we've had plenty of elections where a two-term incumbent was followed by a president of the opposite party: Democrat Woodrow Wilson's two terms were followed by Warren G. Harding (R) in 1920; Harry Truman (D) was followed by Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) in 1952, and Eisenhower himself was followed by John F. Kennedy (D) in 1960; Richard Nixon (R) was followed (in the election, I mean) by Jimmy Carter (D) in 1976; and of course, most recently, Democrat Bill Clinton's two terms were followed by the current Republican president in 2000.
But only one of these elections (1952) occurred during a war. In the other four cases, the most recent war previous to the election was long since over... the Great War and the Vietnam war each had ended more than two years before the respective elections.
But what about Eisenhower's election during the Korean war? Eisenhower gave a full-throated attack on Communism; he got the nomination by defeating conservative isolationist Robert Taft... and Eisenhower beat the very liberal Adlai Stevenson in the general election. The former Supreme Allied Commander was the least unwarlike of all three candidates. The political climate for 208 is exactly the reverse of 1952; today, it's the challenging party that seeks surrender in the war, while the incumbent party seeks victory.
So honestly, we have no direct precedent for the 2008 election; but the closest precedents we have show that the American people do not elect those promising defeat during a war.
For this reason among others, and "conventional wisdom" aside, the Republicans have an excellent shot at retaining the presidency next year; I'm bullish on the GOP... precisely because they're the party of victory, while the Democrats have astonishingly set themselves up -- yet again! -- as the party of surrender and defeat.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 7, 2007, at the time of 3:23 PM
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The following hissed in response by: Paul
I wonder whether you might answer a question.
Do you think it possible that the war in Iraq may have been rendered largely moot by the fall of 2008 by Republican defections in Congress? In other words, do you think it possible the Democrats may eventually turn up enough Republican votes to compel our withdrawal from Iraq?
The above hissed in response by: Paul at May 7, 2007 5:40 PM
The following hissed in response by: madconductor
Well Dafyyd, I'm with you on the "neo-cons" - whoever they are. I'm a staunch conservative and I don't know any either. The left seems to paint Bush-Cheney-Rove as the leaders of some unknown and undocumented "neo-con" movement/party/organization but that seems to be more of their style of conspiracy theory enhancement rather than some "neo-con" definition or identification. I'm at a loss to explain just what a "neo-con" is other than a catchy phrase to combat the "nutroots" moniker they hate to hear.
As for Paul's question - I don't think so. Some will defect anyway because of the state they represent. But those who would defect will be solidly scrambling to paint their support behind the war when the surge goes well. Particularly the ones who voted against their principles and for the polls they monitor when they registered with the defeatists. Poll politicians always get the moment but never get the duration. You may even see some democrat defections - OK, just trying to be funny.
The above hissed in response by: madconductor at May 7, 2007 7:48 PM
The following hissed in response by: Towering Barbarian
In that case your jest might be wiser than you knew. Joe Leiberman still has no reason to love the Democrats and I suspect that there are limits as to how much some of the "Blue Dog" Democrats can stomach before they decide party lines. So perhaps Nancy Pelosi isn't wrong to worry about whether the Democrats in Congress can hold together and we just might see some Democrat defections yet! :)
The above hissed in response by: Towering Barbarian at May 7, 2007 10:09 PM
The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith
The neocons are those dirty Jooze that got us into this mess, right? [/snark] Excellent post. I added an excerpt and link to my 2007.05.08 Decision '08 // Dem Stupidity Roundup.
The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith at May 7, 2007 10:09 PM
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
[D]o you think it possible the Democrats may eventually turn up enough Republican votes to compel our withdrawal from Iraq?
There are 49 Democrats in the Senate, plus 1 indie who will certainly vote to end the war (Bernie Sanders) -- and another indie who will certainly vote against it (guess). That's 50 non-Republican votes.
To override the president's veto, you need 67 senators... that means you need a defection of at least 17 Republican senators, or more than a third of the conference.
In the House, 290 votes are required to override a veto, and there are currently 232 Democrats and 201 Republicans (one member of each party died recently, so there are two vacancies). The Democrats would have to scoop up 58 defections from the Republicans (or 57, if Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald is replaced) -- which is 29% (or 28%) of the Republican conference.
The only way I can imagine such a massive defection is if the war takes such a catastrophic turn for the worse that withdrawal becomes the only possible response.
So... possible? Many things are possible. Likely? No.
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at May 8, 2007 12:17 AM
The following hissed in response by: Troll
Tertiary Comment: Why keep his name secret and then give me the info to find his name (Brad L)?
The following hissed in response by: slarrow
I like this analysis, but I'm not entirely as hopeful as Dafydd (whom I followed initially for his fine Welsh name and stuck around for his thoughts.) I think the battle over the next eighteen months will be about what the concept of "winning" actually entails.
Republicans will try to convince people that it means staying in Iraq until we have achieved our strategic goals (which will require a LOT more clarity as to what those strategic goals actually are) and that the Democrats are surrendering and wanting defeat. Democrats will charge that "winning" means getting our troops out of harm's way and being more ready to face the next al-Qaeda threat (a la Afghanistan--the "good" war.) They'll say that Republicans are warring, not winning, and are dooming us to defeat.
Now, while I think the facts on the ground support the former position, I know that Republicans have been lousy at convincing people about facts on the ground. So I think there's a chance that Democrats could forge their own "winning" narrative (however ridiculous) if (a) Iraq hasn't "gone away" (which is what most folks really seem to want to happen) and (b) there's been no terrorist attack. Indeed, Hillary's first slogan was "in it to win it", suggesting to me that somebody over there understands the importance of this language.
So what we need to do on the Republican side is spike their wheel and undermine their "winning" language approach. Don't let them get away with claiming they're not military defeatists, and use their own language against them! My first volley: "in it to win it--the presidency, not the war." (Or possibly "power, not the war.")
The following hissed in response by: BigLeeH
"Brad L?" The famous film star? That Brad L? Wow!
The famous and mysterious Brad L has been one of my closest friends for 0.37 centuries now and that, combined with my being one of the twelve or so people in the world to actually read his book, allows me to agree with your observation that there are very few people anywhere who share his opinions on Neo-Cons in all of their ramifications. To be sure, the American electorate has been carefully and successfully trained to hate Neo-Cons but that is unlikely to have a big impact on the next election for reasons I will explain after a brief story to set the stage.
When my son was three or four years old he had been carefully trained to be cautious around "strangers" but, being a very friendly young man he had never met one. That is, he had never met a stranger until we took him to a street festival in downtown Raleigh. My son took my hand and said, "Dad, you know how I am supposed to be careful around strangers? I think that is one there." He then pointed to a man sitting on the curb nearby and wearing a hat made of bright-green foam rubber folded into the shape of a frog.
The media have carefully trained the public to know only two things about Neo-Cons: 1) they are evil, and 2) they are advisers to the Bush administration. Since Bush can't run again all the Republican candidates need to do is maintain just a bit of distance and they will be OK. Neo-Cons? they can say, We've got no Neo-Cons here. Bush may have had Neo-Cons but I don't.
As long as none of the candidate's advisers makes the mistake of putting a green, foam-rubber frog hat on his head to frighten the voters they'll be fine.
The above hissed in response by: BigLeeH at May 8, 2007 12:08 PM
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
The point wasn't to keep anything secret; it was to send a few people to his book listing on Amazon! While I wildly disagree with everything in the book (I'm the other guy who read it, Big Lee), I still hope he manages to sell a copy to everybody in the country who is open to his conspiracy theory.
(His thesis is that George W. Bush is a kind, decent, honest president, but he was misled and ill-served by the wicked neocons. Did I get that more or less right, Big Lee?)
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at May 8, 2007 1:06 PM
The following hissed in response by: BigLeeH
His thesis is that George W. Bush is a kind, decent, honest president, but he was misled and ill-served by the wicked neocons. Did I get that more or less right, Big Lee?
Right as far as it goes, Dafydd, but it doesn't reach your point about Brad's unusual take on Neo-Cons. A slightly longer abstract that does reach it would be George W. Bush is a kind, decent, honest president, but he was misled and ill-served by the wicked neo-"cons", who are not any sort of conservative at all but are instead members of the internationalist, interventionist, largely-liberal "permanent government" bureaucracy, who are posing as conservative converts so they can influence the current, conservative, administration.
Brad does have a point there. His argument moved me a full three inches to the right but I can't emulate -- or even entirely explain -- his feat of using that slight force to escape the conservative orbit altogether. But oh well, he's happier out there in deep space.
The above hissed in response by: BigLeeH at May 8, 2007 3:23 PM
The following hissed in response by: Ymarsakar
I don't know why the strategy is so hard to communicate.
They just got to say this.
"We're in Iraq to make it the Blackhole for the Islamic Jihad. THeir roach motel, which they so richly deserve, in which they come in but don't get out. We're in Iraq to use it as a beachead, as Normandy was used, in order to continue our campaign against our enemies. Through Iraq we achieve vengeance and payback for the Marines that were crushed by the Islamic Jihad in Beirut. Through Iraq, we will finally have the ability to crush our enemies and make them regret ever looking at America with the evil eye. Iraq and Afghanistan is the training ground, the US has so richly needed. It is our school from which we will come out with either a dropout failure or with a degree.
A success in Iraq means Iran's ultimate defeat. It will bring about a resolution to the Palestinian problem. It will finally stop the pouring of hate from the Middle East, for our enemies will finally have to face us man on man, no more can they insult us and threaten our children while hiding in the dark corners of the Earth. They will say it to our faces, to the boots of our Marines, or they will be silent.
We will not send the IRS to the Arabs, to make them stop bad mouthing AMerica. We will not send Paris Hilton or the Democrats to the Arabs, to make the Arabs like us and stop hating us. No, we will send the US Marine Corps to the Middle East, and there they will stay, for our soldiers are our best ambassadors. Just as it was in Katrina, so it is elsewhere in our world, our soldiers produce good will, but take my word for it that if you send politicians and diplomats to disaster zones... they will not get a hero's greeting, I promise you that. I will get out of Iraq, for high school is not an eternity, we shall graduate to other foes and other theaters of conflict, for I will spread the power of America across the entire globe. With soldiers as our ambassadors, the world will come to appreciate, respect, and like us. But even if they do not, I promise that that there can be no better attempt than that. Getting out of Iraq will be as easy as getting out of New Orleans. Everybody said it was easy. But easy does not mean right, easy does not mean just. For all the anti-women, anti-justice, anti-prosperity, and anti-Americans folks in this world, they would love to see us stumble our way out of our chosen places. They would love to see us run, as the cowards and decadent fools they believe we are. I will not make them like us, I may not even make them respect, but I will use our military power to make them leave us alone. But in order to do that, I cannot be bogged down in Iraq, we must win there and leave, for greater destinies await America than the challenge of Iraq. Our enemies are building their strength unseen by our loyal and competent media and press corps. But so are we. With the experience of Iraq, our military can now crush countries that otherwise would have seemed a quagmire to attack. House to house fighting in Fallujah did not spell the end of the United States, as was feared. Nor will Iraq and Afghanistan."
One of the ways communication works is by relating values and concepts that people alraedy understand, and tying what folks alraedy undersatnd to what you wish to tell them of. Such in this way, it is beneficial to say that Iraq would obviously descend into chaos, for certainly we would expect the same of New Orleans after katrina, or any other town with a gang problem once you remove the police.
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