Monday, December 23, 2002
You know you're taking your blog too seriously when you wake up at 3 in the morning with ideas for an item. But you're probably still okay if you can get back to sleep within 5 minutes.
The item: 3rd party nightmares.
Most folks are assuming that President Bush is going to be re-elected without too much trouble in 2004. We're even expecting him to add to his majorities in the House and Senate. He will, by then, have presumably won a war in Iraq, the economy will be somewhat on the mend, he'll have a handful of minor but soudbite-friendly domestic accomplishments to point to (leave no child behind and all that) and maybe even something significant (Medicare reform, anyone?) on the domestic front to point to. Plus he'll be the beneficiary of a broad trend towards greater patriotism and concerns about foreign policy that generally benefit Republicans.
None of this is foregone. We should win in Iraq, but we'll still be there in 2004, and "winning" by then won't be looking so pleasant. The economy might not be on the mend; I swing back and forth between bull and bear myself. Those legislative accomplishments might turn out to be thin on the ground.
But what could really take the wind out of W.'s sails, I think, is a credible challenge from the nationalist right.
Suppose a credible figure - not necessarily a politician; could be a Perot-type self-made businessman with a sharp speaking style and, preferably, a military background - came forward and said: we are not taking the war on terrorism seriously. We are getting caught in a classic trap of a dominant power, worrying about placating allies and maneuvering among rivals while letting our enemies get away. We're tying down our military in Iraq and Afghanistan because we were too humanitarian to use our full firepower, and scare potential enemies off ever attacking us again. We do not have the head of Osama bin Laden to hang outside the White House door, and so our enemies have no respect for us. We are unwilling to offend domestic minorities or Arab allies, and so we are vulnerable to further terrorist attack.
His platform would be simple, and consist of five planks:
(1) Secure the borders. There are people in this country with no right to be here, and some of them are a danger to the security of the country. Deport 'em all. At a minimum, deport all the ones from countries or with ethnic backgrounds that give us reason to worry. Rescind the student and other visas of people who come from suspect countries - including supposed allies like Saudi Arabia. Deploy the National Guard along our southern border and, if the Canadians won't play along, our northern border as well, to keep out undesireables. Damn the economic consequences; the economic consequences of a successful nuclear or biological attack on America would dwarf any possible cost to an enforcement of immigration laws and the encumbrance of trade.
(2) Raise the body count. Make it plain to our enemies that we don't care how many civilians are killed; if killers come from their country, they are going to get fried. Saudis not being forthcoming? Seize the oilfields, seize their overseas assets, and take Mecca hostage - any more terrorism against America or Americans and we nuke the place. The Arab world resents us because of their weakness? Show them just how weak they are, how completely impotent they are to protect themselves from our wrath. The message has to be clear: you want a war, you'll get a war, and we don't care if your civilization never recovers from the damage we do. Deliver that message and we'll finally get some results.
(3) Reinstitute the draft. We're in a world war but we don't have enough men to win. We let OBL get away because we didn't have the men on the ground to take Tora Bora ourselves. We're being played for suckers by a Korean nutjob with Don King's hair because we don't have the forces to take on two nutjob dictators at once. Well, why not? What are we waiting for? All those English grad students protesting America: give 'em a rifle and ship 'em out to the Straits of Malucca. That'll teach 'em something useful.
(4) End politically-correct pussyfooting. Look, there are people out there who want to kill us. Might as well know who they are and let our kids know. Islam is not a religion of peace. Stop pretending it is. Stop telling our children this isn't a war with Islam; it is, and they started it. You want to teach kids that America brought September 11th on ourselves? Go teach in Paris, or Beijing, or Riyadh. This country was founded by Christians, and has a Christian culture, and while we are tolerant of other faiths and treat everyone equally, we do not need to apologize for our civilization to anyone and we do not need to change because y'all are offended. If you don't like the products of our civilization, don't buy 'em. If you don't like it here, leave.
(5) Take care of Americans first. Our trade policy, our foreign policy, our immigration policy - all our policies - should be designed to take care of Americans first. Our allies and our trading partners need us more than we need them. If the Koreans don't want us, we should go home and leave them to the mercy of their Northern brothers. Ditto our "allies" in the Gulf. For that matter, ditto the Europeans, Egyptians, Israelis, Canadians - everybody who relies on American protection or aid to survive and then has the gall to set conditions for us or make further demands on us. There's only one superpower around. Get used to it. And get in line.
Now, there's stuff in that platform that is counterproductive, stupid or just wrong. My point was not to outline my dream candidate's platform by any means. My point was: a plain-spoken, tough-talking, angry but credible candidate like the above could take a bite out of Bush's hide. He would hammer away at the Bush family connection to the Saudis, the fact that OBL is still at large, the fact that the FBI and CIA haven't been revamped, the fact that illegal immigration is still massive. He would put the Bush Administration on the defensive in a way that a Democrat could not.
How well do you think such a candidate could do? 2% of the vote? 5% of the vote? How about if the economy was in a double-dip recession, and this candidate had an economically nationalist platform as well?
How well do you think he'd do if there were another, major successful attack on America, with thousands of casualties?
Of course, the Democrats have a third-party nightmare of their own. 2004 is going to present them with the same problems as 2002: the Democrats will have to somehow answer the Bush fiscal policy and the Bush foreign policy in a way that is credible to their base and credible to the country as a whole. In 2002, that meant attacking the Bush tax cut but not calling for its repeal and criticizing the plans for war in Iraq while voting for that war. Turned out to be a pretty poor strategy. So what will they do in 2004?
Whether they reprise the same strategy or turn right or left, the Democrats cannot credibly run in 2004 full-on against the war on terror. This country was attacked, and most of the country understands we won't become safe by running away and hiding our heads in the sand. The country wants a successful war and a successful homeland security strategy. The can run from it or embrace it or even try to one-up Bush on it, but they can't run against it without embracing a loss of McGovernite proportions. And that leaves an opening for the McGovernite left.
What do the Democrats do if a third-party candidate runs on the following four-plank platform?
(1) End the war. Yes, we were attacked by al Qaeda, and yes, that terrorism was indefensible. But we have removed the government of Afghanistan, and now we are occupying Iraq, and the war shows no sign of ending. Bush says the war will continue for a generation. The Democrats don't really argue with him about that, but are debating around the edges - how much attention we should pay to this target vs. that, how much we should defer to this ally vs. that. We are reviving the Cold War National Security State in a new and more dangerous form, and this will not end terrorism but will increase it, as every country we attack seethes with anger and resentment at us. The only solution is to end the war. We should continue to pursue specific targets of criminal investigation, under the auspices of international bodies such as the International Criminal Court. But we should immediately end the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, pull our troops home from Asia, stop undermining governments in the region and committing assassinations and other war crimes, and get out of places where we don't belong and are not wanted. The Democrats are afraid to say it, but we're not: war is not the answer; only justice is the answer.
(2) End fossil-fuel dependency. Whoever runs on the Democrat ticket will embrace some kinds of restrictions on fossil fuels. But nothing really serious. Nothing like raising gas taxes to European levels, or initiating a massive carbon tax, or committing to California-style restrictions on auto-emissions. Democrats, after all, do have to win some votes in the middle of the country. But third-party candidates don't. The argument is clear: the reason we were attacked on September 11th is that we are involved in a heavy-handed way in the politics of the Middle East. And the reason we are in the Middle East is our dependence on fossil fuels. If we care about saving American lives - and the environment, of course - the first thing we must do is dramatically reduce fossil-fuels use, and damn the economic consequences.
(3) End the alliance with Israel. Look, it's a simple fact that American support for Israel is not appreciated in the Arab and Muslim world. Israel is an ethnic nationalist, exclusivist state that is oppressing an Arab people by denying them equal citizenship in Israel or a viable state of their own alongside Israel. America should not be party to supporting such a country. Jews have suffered a great deal in history, but so have many other peoples, including the Palestinians. America should, at a minimum, end all aid to Israel until unconditional peace negotiations are resumed. We'll end terrorism a lot quicker by ending injustice than by dropping bombs.
(4) End economic racism at home. I have no idea what that means, but it is definitely part of the platform. The Democrats are afraid to reverse the Bush tax cut terrorism. They are afraid to challenge the corporate conspiracy state that gave us Enron and Worldcom and so forth. The Democrats are dependent on corporate money just like the Republicans; the only thing that changes is which corporations, and in some cases not even that. Etc. etc. - you know the drill.
This is pretty much the usual laundry list of lefty posturing. It isn't particularly popular in the country. But it is very popular on the fringes, and it will be more popular against a 2004 Democrat who refuses to attack Bush frontally on the war. And even if the war is bogged down and ineffective, the Democrats are not going to run on a platform of surrender; they are going to run on a platform of more competant foreign policy. That means the dogmatic anti-war types will be tempted to vote for their own candidate. In 2000, the Nader vote almost tipped Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington and Oregon to the GOP. A vigorous McGovernite campaign in 2004 should push all these states over the edge into Bush territory.