How to crush Karl Rove and the Republicans in Five Easy Steps
As the strategy for the Democrats plays itself out this fall, it seems to be a variation of the old Napoleonic adage: never interfere with a man who is in the process of hanging himself. The idea is that the Republicans are doing such a bad job right now with the war and with the economy, it is better to let them self-destruct. This, it is thought, is safer than attacking them in an aggressive manner, or having to set forth a strong agenda that gives the Republicans something to attack.
I believe this is a disastrous concept that will lead to all kinds of problems down the road, but it is typical of a party that finds itself in what I call tactical hell. Tactical hell is a way of thinking that you sink into when you lose a sense of the broader perspective. This is usually caused by the stress of immediate battles: in this case winning each election as it pops up. In tactical hell, you are constantly reacting to what your opponents give you, to each one of their aggressive attacks. You are continually fixing problems as they happen. You think you are being strategic in your actions, but you are merely responding to events, never guiding them.
The Democrats have been in this mode for quite some time. It is the source of their misery. Once you enter tactical hell, you cannot get out because it requires taking a step back, suffering some short-term defeats in order to set up long-term gains. This is nearly impossible in the hell mode because you think everything is at stake in the immediate battle, when in fact there is a larger campaign to wage. Because the Democrats have lost their soul and any sense of vision, they cannot take the big step of crafting a campaign. They exist as a kind of negative field force, held momentarily together by the sheer implosion power of the Republicans.
To turn this state of affairs around, two things are required: first, the crafting of an overall vision, of something strong and definitive that can separate them in form and content from the Republicans; second, a thorough understanding of the Rovian electoral strategies and how to do combat them. Here’s how it would work:
Begin with a Grand Strategy: Everything stems from this. Certain basic principles are elucidated from within a reasonably unified party. A strategy for getting out of the Iraq mess is devised, one that fits an overall philosophy and policy towards the region. This strategy sets out a time frame for withdrawal and a way to deal with the inevitable problems that spring up after we get out of this morass. Key to this: some clear ideas about national security and how the Democrats would deal with terrorism. The case is made to the public, in strong terms, that the military is the worst option with terrorism. The Democrats will put their resources into intelligence, into infiltration, into breaking up their money and lines of communication, and with politics and diplomacy, effectively isolating the enemy.
This way of waging war will be aggressive and relentless, as well as intelligent. This does not mean the military is never an option. Democrats supported going in to Afghanistan. But it is the weapon of choice only when appropriate. When it comes to national defense and terrorism a sharp distinction is made in philosophy between the Democrats and the Republicans.
Setting a deadline for getting out of Iraq will open the Democrats up to the charge of cutting and running, etc. So be it. Better to stand for something clear and definable. The cut-and-run accusation can always be turned around by asking what it means to stay, and constantly forcing this question. What is important here is differentiating oneself from the opposition. Muddiness on this issue only feeds the Republicans and gives Rove endless targets to play with.
The centerpiece of this grand strategy, to me, should be the environment and a solid energy policy. The Democrats stand for getting us completely off of our dependence on MIDDLE EASTERN oil. This is an issue that can be broadened beyond the ghetto of the blue states. A very clear picture is painted about what our dependence on oil means. How we fund the very corrupt governments we end up fighting. Like Kennedy’s New Frontier policy, this can be a great spur to the American economy. We, instead of Brazil or other countries, are at the forefront of developing new technologies for alternate forms of energy. This becomes a crusade for American independence, and for the environment. This has so much potential for opening up targets on the Republicans, but it must be prosecuted with aggression and enthusiasm.
This would be the core of my grand strategy, but what is more important is that there is a grand strategy. This is in sharp contrast to the laundry list, the six-point plan for putting America together, or whatever the crap piece of strategy the Democrats have whipped up for the next six weeks. This laundry list approach has got to stop. You know: we will do this on education, and this for the working man and woman, and that for a woman’s right to choose, on and on. Splitting your own constituency into special interests which you appeal to on these separate lines is so monstrously stupid, I can’t even find the words to express my disgust. I have been listening to the Democratic laundry list since Mondale. Dear God, when will it end?
From a central position about the environment, about oil and energy, core principles about a different vision of America can be brought forth. This will allow the Democrats to counter the usual Republican fear mongering with hope. A nice contrast, and a turnaround from the Reagan years. We can then call the Republicans out for their constant appealing to fear. This should be done in any event, separate from the grand strategy. Quote FDR back at them–the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. How effeminate their whipping up of panic at the slightest threat. Invoke the spirits of Churchill and de Gaulle who faced terrorist threats of their own by uniting the public and reminding them that giving in to fear is giving in to the enemy.
Control the dynamic: This is the favorite, the supreme strategy of choice for Karl Rove. Everything the Republicans do stems from this basic and critical principle. It has been in evidence for decades. To not see this and combat it is the height of stupidity. The anger on the left should be directed against the leaders of the party who are so timid and so afraid of attempting anything that is designed to put the Republicans on the defensive. Ask yourself a simple question: can you think of one instance in the Gore, Kerry, or smaller races in which the Democrats set the tone, pushed the Republicans into react mode and kept them there? Came up with some surprise maneuver to turn the tables, to swift boat the other side for a change?
Rove and the Republicans love to force votes that make the Democrats choose between two bad alternatives. Such as support the war on Iraq or be in favor of early withdrawal. But these tactics only work because the Democrats do not have in place a clear strategy that differentiates them. In addition, ways must be found to put the Republicans on the defensive, to force them on to the horns of a dilemma. This must be done with aggression and much publicity.
Rove ends a speech with the alluring question–if we leave Iraq, don’t you think they will follow us here? This can be countered by turning the tables. What does it mean to stay in Iraq? Paint a picture of the nightmares that can follow by simply staying there. Make this the central talking point in the news. The money wasted. The more lives that are lost. The more hated we become. The greater instability in the region. A regionalized war breaking out. This should be a far greater fear in the public’s mind than the rather silly idea of them following us to America if we leave.
Another way Rove and the Republicans like to control the dynamic is by controlling the public’s perception of the Democrats. Because the Democrats do not make it clear what they stand for, in a way that is understandable to the public, this opens them up to being defined: as out-of-touch liberals, as cut and runners, as the party of special interests. The Napoleonic strategy of letting the enemy hang itself only plays into the Republican hands here.
Deny them targets: Rove and the Republicans are masters at this. They go after the enemy’s strengths and focus on their own weaknesses. Their greatest weakness, their greatest target would seemingly be Iraq right now. But Rove is brilliant at turning this around. He makes Iraq the Democrat weakness, by deflecting attention from how the war has been conducted to what will happen if we leave. The Democrats should turn this around, by not providing the Republicans with so many juicy targets. Elucidating a clear policy on Iraq and terrorism would help. Taxes are always an Achilles heel for Democrats. Preempt this attack by talking about actual programs you would be in favor of eliminating, of how taxes could be lowered for the majority of Americans, how this would be accomplished.
Set ambushes: Rove and company start with something rather ugly or negative that is generally planted into the media by their operatives. The Democrats get angry and fight back. The Republicans return fire by accusing the Democrats of going negative. All of this is done to muddy the picture, deliberately create confusion on policies for which the Republicans are vulnerable. This will often be done around hot-button wedge issues. The Democrats must be prepared for this and should return some of the fire by doing some baiting and ambushing of their own.
Stop preaching to the converted: Howard Dean happens to be right here. The party has to expand beyond the blue states, has to find inroads to the South. Messages must be crafted for a wider audience, and money poured into races in areas in which the Republicans have felt themselves safe. Make the south competitive again has to be our mantra. Somehow the party has to rid itself of all of the snobs that have infiltrated it. Will the Democrats be the party of Hollywood, of New York, of Talk America, and progressive ghettos throughout the country, thereby ensuring permanent minority status? Or will it return to the vision of FDR, to a party that the average American could and wanted to identify with?
Remember: it is not winning or losing that matters here, but how you win or lose. Winning the house in 2006 with the Napoleonic-suicide strategy will prove a Pyrrhic victory–the Democrats will become more smug, more blue state than ever. They will remain locked in tactical hell. They will go down in flames in 2008, or serve as a mere waiting post for 2012, as Jimmy Carter did for Reagan. Only strategy will save the Democrats from tactical hell. But who will be the Moses to lead us out of this wilderness?