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Hullabaloo


Sunday, December 12, 2004

 
On Hard and Soft

I’m ridiculously busy and I don’t have time to write much about the circular firing squad. Still, I’ll write a few words in passing on which I’ll elaborate later.

If, in order to be “hard” we must support irrationality and grievous error then we are doomed as a country. We are simply too big for that. We will not have many chances to make the kind of mistake we've made with Iraq without suffering serious consequences. It is the very definition of hard nosed, cold hearted realism to say that we should not squander our military resources during a national security crisis by fighting the wrong goddamned war. It is not “soft” to note that sexually torturing citizens whom we were ostensibly liberating and whose cooperation we needed was a lousy war plan. And it is nothing short of hawkish to point out that proving to the whole world that our vaunted intelligence services couldn’t find Baghdad on a fucking map made this country and all its allies less safe. We are the reality based community and facing up to facts is the single most important thing we can do to protect this country. Letting the faith based morons who planned this debacle of a response to 9/11 off the hook and holding their hands in solidarity not only looks weak, it is weak.

But, as usual, all of this braying about repositioning and purging obscures the fact that we aren’t dealing with a policy issue at all, are we? We are once again drowning in perceptions, in which the alleged Democratic tough guys are accusing the alleged Democratic sissies of fucking things up and losing elections because the American people won’t support a party that is “soft” on … anything. They are right in a way but they fail to see why this perception is so widely held, who is responsible and how to change it. Mainly this is because the ones making this accusation think they are hard when they are actually soft.

I agree that we need a change in strategy. But, we’ve hit a wall compromising or cooperating with this modern Republican Party on issues. They have left us no room on policy except total capitulation. Anybody who doesn’t see that is definitely soft. (In the head.) Politics is now beyond issues. For Democrats, it’s existential.

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.

The father of the modern Republican party (perhaps modern American politics) is not sunny Reagan, it’s darkling Nixon. Until we finally grasp the nature of the opposition we will continue to lose. It is the central problem we face.

One word of advice. When George Will backs your ideas you need to rethink your position. Prominent Republican mouthpieces do not have our best interests at heart. Ever.






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