Would a Hillary Clinton defeat end the reign of tactics as the third political ideology in America?
Once upon a time there was conservatism and liberalism. You were either into free markets and limited government, or you bought into the idea of lots of regulation and big government. There was a scale, of course, running from roughly libertarian to communist. If you fancied yourself a “moderate” you favored a little of each. National security ping-ponged for a while between isolationist Republicans and internationalist Democrats, with the roles reversing for good after 1968 and Vietnam.
Somewhere around the Nixon defeat of George McGovern in 1972, when liberalism began calcifying itself with a reputation as the philosophy of the “three A’s” — amnesty, acid and abortion — Democrats wanting to actually win elections and be a governing majority began retreating from the image of liberals as virtual pacifists whose only political ideology revolved around legalizing drugs, committing free love and endlessly raising taxes to fund some of everything else. The very word “liberal” became so discredited that candidates for every office from the presidency to dogcatcher began shying from it.
In response (out of self-defense?) many Democrats began substituting something different as their ideology. Quietly dropping an open defense of liberalism, something else entirely began to occasionally win the day for Democrats — transforming a love of elbows-out political tactics into a stand-alone if publicly unacknowledged ideology in and of itself.
From the legendary Chinese General Sun Tzu, who wrote his famous work The Art of War some 2500 years ago, to the 19th century Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, whose On War is a similarly classic text on military strategy, tactics have heretofore been thought of as a mere tool of war. Choosing from a limitless menu of options, you pick the ones that help you win. Eisenhower, for example, decided to land allied forces at Normandy instead of Calais, choosing one tactic over another as best suited to implementing his larger strategy for defeating Hitler. In the last few decades tactics have been pushed with the idea of using the works of both Sun Tzu and Clausewitz as blueprints applied to everything from presidential campaigns to selling widgets. The bookshelves of Barnes and Noble practically groan under the weight of earnest or irritatingly peppy tomes that involve a considerable focus on the most effective tactics to implement in a winning business, sport, or even a relationship.
One suspects, though, that neither Sun nor Clausewitz would ever have imagined the transformation of tactics into a modern day political ideology.
YET THIS IS PRECISELY what has happened in slow-motion fashion to American liberalism over the last several decades, as its growing unpopularity has made it increasingly difficult for successive Democratic presidential candidates to defend. While Bill and Hillary Clinton have emerged as the foremost believers and practitioners of this new ideology. they are certainly not alone. But as Senator Clinton’s Iowa campaign implodes, with the potential of further damage ahead in New Hampshire and South Carolina leading to a once-impossible-to-perceive nomination defeat at the hands of Senator Barack Obama or even former Senator John Edwards, the peril of having tactical warfare as the core of an ideological belief is revealed for all to see. Again.
Consider the warning of Sun Tzu as he dwelt on the use of tactics: “…(H)e who is destined to defeat first fights and afterward looks for victory.” In other words, if you fight first, if you heedlessly jump into a battle with your figurative guns blazing, then look for victory well after you are in the fight — you are eventually destined for defeat.
Bearing Sun’s wisdom in mind, what do the following events have in common?
Watergate. The Iran-Contra Affair. The Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas confirmation fights. Special prosecutors. The Plame Affair.
In each and every case liberals jumped into the fight first without thinking about what the fight meant in the long term, staking out a position on the issue in question that was based on nothing more than tactics. How do they bring down Nixon? What can they say to get Reagan? What if they smear Bork and Thomas? Demand special prosecutors? Frog march Karl Rove out of the White House? In every case — and countless others — the answer was purely tactical. And in every case this increasing reliance on the ideology of tactics came round to bite them. Disregarding Sun Tzu, they jumped to fight first and looked for victory later — eventually regretting their decision.
Stake all on impeaching Nixon for lying? What then is the defense when Bill Clinton lies to a federal judge? Special prosecutors are inviolate guardians of the public trust who must not be criticized? How does one then credibly deal with Clinton’s Ken Starr? Insist that Reagan’s trust in finding Iranian moderates among the radical mullahs is, in the words of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, “stupid” and worthy of a Senate investigation? What then when George W. Bush agrees Iranians are not trustworthy — and repeatedly warns they are on their way to getting nuclear weapons? Flatly and loudly proclaim that “women tell the truth” when speaking of sexual harassment and scheme to make this an issue in a Supreme Court confirmation? How then does one handle multiple allegations of sexual harassment against a white liberal president? Insist on a “right to privacy” and demand the repeal of the Patriot Act because it invades privacy? How then to defend a woman running for president who is said by her biographers to have been involved in investigations violating the privacy of women alleged to have been her husband’s paramours?
And so on.
There is one, teensy, weensy bit of a problem here. A problem that became more and more obvious as time passed. If you live by the tactic, you can die by the tactic.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?