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September 19, 2004: What is being said about why the Democrats can't seem to get it together ...

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If you go to The American Prospect you will find this -

The Pathetic Truth
A unified theory of everything that explains why Democrats always get outfoxed.
By Michael Tomasky - Web Exclusive: 09.13.04

The argument is that, as he explains, Democrats fight campaigns on issues while Republicans fight them on character. Republican positions on most issues are basically unpopular, so their only hope of winning is a relentless assault on the character of their Democratic opponent.

The key paragraph -


The problem begins with the fact that majorities of the public tend to agree with Democrats on the issues. This isn't universally true, of course, but it's true with regard to more issues (perhaps many more issues) than not. On health care, the environment, investment, education, just about everything except national defense, majorities lean toward the Democratic position.


Maybe so.  But if so, then what’s the problem?

Kevin Drum explains the problem here -


… Now, I happen to agree with Tomasky that Republicans generally go for the jugular more effectively than Democrats, but it's a big mistake for us liberals to kid ourselves into thinking that Republicans win elections solely because they fool people into voting for them. It's not just that this is a debilitating mental attitude — although it is — but it's also not true. Our main problem isn't that this year's campaign has ignored the issues, our main problem is that the #1 issue in this campaign is national defense, and on that issue — like it or not — the majority of Americans favor the Republican position. If John Kerry wants to win, he should focus on the issues, but he has to focus on the issues that matter most in this campaign cycle.

It's all about 9/11, Iraq, terrorism, and national security, baby. This election is going to be won on that issue, and Kerry needs to convince the country that he can handle it better than Bush. And really, considering the botch Bush has made of national security, that shouldn't be all that hard.

Bottom line: Republicans aren't avoiding the issues. It's just that their signature issue happens to be the one people care most about this year. Democrats had better figure that out pronto.


Yes, but there are so many diversions.

Kerry, Edwards and Daschle May Face Vote on Flag
Helen Dewar, The Washington Post, Monday, September 13, 2004; Page A19

It opens thusly –


For some Republicans it is the perfect political storm: a Senate vote on a constitutional amendment to protect the U.S. flag that would put Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, running mate John Edwards and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle on the spot just a few weeks before the Nov. 2 elections.

The Senate GOP leadership has not scheduled a vote on the proposed amendment, but Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) noted last week that it is a high priority for veterans groups. ...


It is?  Their dwindling benefits is not an issue of the veteran’s groups?  Frist knows better?

No, everyone sees this has one purpose – to make the Democrats uncomfortable with all this business about free speech being important, and force at least some of them say it really isn’t, or else say the scruffy fools who oppose the president and his policies have the right to this symbolic gesture that makes so many “right thinking” Americans so angry they could spit nails.  Force them to say one can do this in protest.  Geez.  These guys could work a little harder on passing a budget.  But they do have a way of tapping the fear and anger of the masses.

Atrios says this -


This stuff just makes me embarrassed. I could point out that there are more important things to be worrying about. I could point out that in a free society individual political speech should be afforded the highest protection possible. I could point out that the proper way to retire a flag is, yes, to burn it. I could wonder out loud what will become of all the "flag clothing" and how a Supreme Court would have to waste time dealing with all the ridiculous cases that would result.


Well, it’s all theater, isn’t it?

It wins the votes.

Josh Marshall has some observations on this all, and why Bush is ahead.  And his take on things is that Iraq is not a factor at all -


There are many reasons President Bush has taken a narrow but perceptible lead in the polls. Some are tied to tactical decisions on both sides; others are products of accidental developments; still others emerge from more deeply-rooted trends that won't be clear for months or years.

But all of them amount to the same thing: the president's campaign has managed to take Iraq out of the election debate.

Iraq remains ever-present, but as a rhetorical fixture, not a reality. Who's tougher; who's been consistent; who likes Saddam Hussein more, and so forth -- that's all there. The increasingly tenuous claim that Saddam Hussein had any relationship to Islamic terrorism -- that's there too.


But the actual Iraq war is nowhere to be found. Sunday was a disastrous day in Iraq, both for the Iraqis and for the American enterprise in Iraq.

But it garnered little attention here. The American death rate has creeped up as the occupation has continued. And to anyone who has eyes to see it, the entire American venture in Iraq has become a disaster of truly monumental proportions.


So?  So it doesn’t matter to most folks.  It’s just background noise, which is what I suppose he means by saying it has become a rhetorical fixture.



… In the last two months, all of this has been pushed to the side of the election debate -- either by rhetorical tangles over 9/11 and terrorism, or attack politics centered on the two men's war records or lack thereof. That is the reason for the president's resurgence in the polls. It's really that simple.

There's another point that worth noting here too. And it's at least played a role in pushing Iraq out of the political debate. That is, that President Bush has been able to mobilize his manifest failure as a political asset, and the Kerry campaign has allowed him to do so.


Yep, the screw-up in now an asset.

And there’s this.  Gregg Easterbrook in The New Republic argues that the whole Iraq business was just an honest mistake -


The White House, Rumsfeld, and the National Security Council thought: Afghanistan is unconquerable, it overcame the British and the Soviets, we want to have limited involvement in Afghanistan and set expectations low. Iraq, on the other hand, will be a cakewalk like in 1991, and they'll cheer us in the streets as we arrive. The administration believed that all-out commitment to Afghanistan would lead to embarrassing mess, while invading Iraq would be a big success, bringing praise and perhaps stabilizing the Middle East - maybe even changing the psychology of the terror war if Al-Jazeera showed throngs of Muslims cheering U.S. soldiers in the streets of Baghdad. What happened turned out to be the reverse of the plan on both counts; Afghanistan went surprisingly well (in part because the Afghans wanted us, whereas they despised the Soviets) and Iraq couldn't have gone much worse. But it's hardly irrational to avoid the place where you think you will fare poorly and act in the place where you expect victory, which is essentially what Bush decided.


So they were only doing the logical and rational thing, given their view of the facts.

Shouldn’t you be held accountable for getting the facts wrong?

Andrew Sullivan responds -


Of course, what we do now is another matter. Gregg thinks we're killing hundreds of mujahideen on Iraq, which can only be a good thing. Yes it is - as long as the conflict doesn't create many replacements. And the poor people of Iraq surely deserve more than being in the middle of an open-ended exercise in urban warfare in which their country is slowly destroyed. My early hope was that, having stabilized the country, U.S. forces could indeed have attracted professional terrorists to Iraq and killed them. But the Bush administration never sent enough troops to pacify the country, and so provoked the terrorism without being able to suppress it effectively. That's the worst of all possible worlds. Look, we have to tough it out. But how much confidence can anyone still have in the president who engineered this in the first place, and who still refuses to recognize that anything is fundamentally awry?


Good question.  But folks want Bush to remain in office, or so it seems now.

The most harrowing comments from Sullivan are these -


HOW TO LOSE A WAR: Here's a quote [from The Observer (UK)] that unnerves me. It's from a Sunni insurgent who was once, he says, pro-American. What turned him into an enemy? The incompetence of the occupation, in part, beginning with the post-liberation looting: "When I saw the American soldiers watching and doing nothing as people took everything, I began to suspect the US was not here to help us but to destroy us ... I thought it might be just the chaos of war but it got worse, not better." My own hope a year ago was that the sheer amount of reconstruction money that would be spent in Iraq would surely win over the population. But I was dumb enough to believe that the Bush administration was competent enough to spend it.

Barely five percent of reconstruction funds have been disbursed. I wish the blogosphere would focus more on this particular scandal than on the provenance of type-writers in the 1970s. And what's worrying about this particular ramshackle terrorist is that it appears he has taught himself. He isn't sponsored by Iran or the Baathists or al Qaeda. I guess the Observer could be peddling propaganda, but the story reads persuasively to me (the terrorist reveals his own racism, for example, hardly an interpolation by his p.c. British interpreters). We have to face facts, I'm afraid: we have helped create a classic guerrilla insurgency in Iraq in which the U.S. is struggling not to be defeated politically. The consequences of failure are exponential. And yet I see no awareness in the administration - or even among many of their supporters - that they even have a problem.

BUSH'S WAR STRATEGY: His brilliance as a war-leader, so heralded at the New York convention, bears new fruit. The Iraqi government is beginning to lose control of Baghdad now. I think the Rove political strategy must now be simply to hope that no one notices anything that is happening in Iraq before they vote in November. Just say after me: 9/11, 9/11, 9/11. If anyone brings up Iraq today, just put your fingers in your ears and start singing loudly. Thank God the campaign is more focused on what Bush did in the National Guard thirty years ago and what Kerry's votes were in the 1980s. Otherwise we might have to debate reality.


No, we’ll debate the proposed amendment to the constitution to ban burning the flag in any protest demonstration.  Iraq will fall apart, and Bush will win.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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