“Just win, baby. Just win.”
For years, that was the famous mantra of Oakland Raider football team owner Al Davis, and he backed it up by running one of the most successful NFL franchises of all time. Critics may not have liked how Davis’s renegades played the game, but even the fiercest critics had to acknowledge that the Raiders’ success itself created a national following for the team. Even more than Americans love an underdog, a broad swath of the American public loves to rally around a winner.
President George W. Bush needs to do more to follow Al Davis’s old adage.
Beset by challenges abroad and by weak poll numbers at home, the president no longer seems to be able to impose his will in any arena. But the only way for his Republican Party to keep its congressional majorities is for its leader again to create the image of a winner. Voters no less than sports fans like to be on the winning team.
For instance, the reality is that Americans are upset about Iraq not because they don’t think we had reason to go there in the first place, but because we seem not to be winning. Why we let Muqtadr al-Sadr keep his power rather than taking him out (as a targeted terrorist) from the very beginning will forever be a mystery, but it is incontrovertible that al-Sadr’s private militia — even more than the Sunni terrorists — is responsible for the bulk of the violence that afflicts Iraq today.
Unless and until the Bush administration does something to bring al-Sadr in line or to marginalize or demonize him so that he no longer commands so much popular allegiance in Baghdad, there will be no way for the administration to credibly claim that victory in Iraq is achievable, much less imminent. The American people will be roused, not angered, by a major offensive aimed at the emasculation of the Sadr brigades and of the violent Sunni agitators against whom they fight. As Rich Lowry argued yesterday on National Review Online, and as Frederick Kagan has argued for AEI and at the Weekly Standard, the Bush administration has not gone all-out for military triumphs. Instead (in Lowry’s words), the president “seemed content to do the bare minimum in Iraq, hoping to hold things together just enough to allow troop drawdowns that justify the administration’s assurances of progress. This hasn’t worked, since the violence in Iraq has belied the rhetoric of progress and prevented any reduction in troops. Bush would be much better served by forthrightly acknowledging Iraq’s distressing circumstances and backing an all-out push to secure Baghdad even if it takes thousands more American troops in the country.”
An all-out drive for victory is necessary not just for short-term politics, but for the long-term security of this nation. But because the American people instinctively understand that so much rides on victory, they also will reward politically an administration that actually ramps up the fight in order to finish the job.
Similarly, the Bush administration needs to find some issue, indeed just about any issue of public interest, on which to win a domestic political battle. It shouldn’t be all that hard. The power of the White House, when used intelligently, is enormous. Granted, the ability of the Democrats to filibuster in the Senate means that the administration needs to attract at least five of that chamber’s Democrats. Fine. Pick an issue that puts moderate Democrats on the spot. In effect, give those Dems a proverbial offer they can’t refuse.
For example, find a judicial nominee who will drive Ted Kennedy crazy, but on an issue on which “moderates” such as Arkansas’ Mark Pryor can’t afford to toe the Kennedy line. Find a nominee with a record of cracking down hard on criminals, perhaps. Or of pushing for parental consent for abortions. Plan ahead, enlist friendly senators in strategizing, frame the issue…and pull the darn trigger. Go all out for confirmation. Win the fight.
Or get involved in the death-tax battle. Re-energize Sen. Jon Kyl’s compromise that so many Democrats already are on record supporting. Prepare in advance all the quotes from black Democrat U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop and other black leaders who have eloquently explained why the death tax is so bad for black Americans. Insist on a vote; twist arms; follow the Reagan model of honest legislative horse-trading. And win the fight.
Winning the fight is important, not just for political advantage but for the good of the country. The sad reality is that the Democrats have left behind the notion of a loyal opposition and instead become, at least in terms of their national leadership, an outright enemy of all things Bush. They offer obstruction, but no solutions. How would they solve the looming entitlement crisis? How would they have us leave Iraq without it looking like a huge American defeat? How would they deal with Hezbollah? How would they bring down energy costs?
Nobody knows, because the Deaniac Dems aren’t saying. But until they are confronted with a carefully chosen political battle, the Deaniacs won’t need to outline any plans. Unless Bush finds a way to gin up a legislative or military victory, the Democrats will be handed political victory by default. And it won’t be Howard Dean, but the American public, who will soon be letting loose a full-throated, screaming “AARRRGGHHH!!”
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