Political Hay

Authentic Heels

Democrat anger and hate isn’t calculated, but an honest display of sheer madness.

By 3.21.04

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In a thoughtful article in the Wall Street Journal titled "Anger Mismanagement," Stephen Miller takes the temperature of the feverish political season in which charges of lying and even criminal behavior by both sides but especially by Democrats against the Bush administration have become almost commonplace -- most notably when John Kerry let slip that he thought the Republicans "the most crooked, you know, lying group I've ever seen" into an open mike and then refused to apologize. It was widely supposed that, in this election year, he would look better to his admirers by not apologizing for the remark than by apologizing for it. "Righteous anger is for many Americans a good thing: a sign of one's commitment and integrity," writes Mr. Miller, and he quotes Senator Clinton, our former first lady, as saying approvingly of Kerry's defiance of good manners and civility that it is "a signal that John Kerry is sending, that 'if you dish it out I'm going to dish it right back.'"

Somewhat oddly, both she and William Safire, who calls Kerry's refusal to apologize an example of his "phony toughness," seem to assume that his anger is calculated. This sign of "commitment and integrity," this signal of toughness, phony or otherwise, must have been cooked up by the sagest of Kerry's campaign strategists, or perhaps by Kerry himself, as more likely than modesty, forbearance, humility, civility or good humor to win the votes of key electors. It all reminds me of Leo Rosten's joke about how sincerity is the most important thing to learn -- "and if you can fake that you'll have the world at your feet."

But the way the political game is played now is determined by our media and celebrity culture, which has changed faking sincerity from a paradox into a high art. The successful candidate is always going to be the one who can demonstrate his authenticity in terms the media understand by a judicious display of emotion. Remember what happened to poor Michael Dukakis when he couldn't do this! Remember what happened to poor Howard Dean when he went overboard doing it!

Yet no one appears to have thought very much about it when Dean blamed George W. Bush for the terrorist murders in Madrid. "The President was the one who dragged our troops to Iraq, which apparently has been a factor in the death of 200 Spaniards." Now there's anger for you! Not only did he not blame the terrorists for terrorism, it didn't even occur to him, any more than it did to Richard Cohen in the Washington Post the other week to blame the chaps who actually planted the bombs. Not even in a half-hearted disclaimer: "Of course we all deplore these appalling acts of terrorism, but the President … etc." No, sir. It was all Bush's fault -- presumably because, by making war on Iraq, he made the terrorists as angry as he made Howard Dean. Or John Kerry. If they are to be applauded for authentic feeling in giving vent to their righteous wrath -- and who in the media doubts that they are? -- why shouldn't the terrorists be granted the same indulgence? At any rate, the anti-war Democrats seem to accept it as axiomatic that if you're nice to terrorists they won't attack you, since Bush is blamed for provoking them to blow up Spaniards by having "dragged" the Spaniards into the war against them.

I would say that Dean's remarks were an indication of the extent to which the Democrats are going all out to dragnet the Yuppie vote -- anyone who knows what "conflict avoidance" or "peace studies" are is surely already a goner -- but that his thinking and that of the Spanish voters seem exactly to coincide. There is this difference, however: the Spanish position, though deplorable, is at least rational. By dissociating themselves from the war on terrorism, the Spanish may reasonably hope that the terrorists will leave them alone, at least in the short term, and turn their murderous energies against the remaining members of the coalition. Their success with Spain means that Rome or London or Warsaw are likely to be very bad places to be a few days before the next elections in Italy, Britain or Poland. The same may be true of Washington next Halloween if Bush is ahead in the polls then -- though I'd like to think that Americans wouldn't react like the faint-hearted Spanish.

Anyway, dropping out of the fight isn't really an option for us the way it is for them. That's why what is rational, if not sensible, in the mouth of the egregious Señor Zapatero is sheer madness in the mouth of Kerry or Dean. The great prize and the ultimate goal for the terrorists is to see the U.S. -- not Spain, Italy, Britain or Poland -- helpless and frightened into forswearing the exercise of its power and influence in the rest of the world. By offering them the prospect of just such a victory as early as next January, the Democrats only encourage them to redouble their efforts to kill Americans everywhere in the world. And when President Kerry brings our boys home, they can start concentrating on killing Americans in America again -- though they might well, at that point and without any further fear of American intervention, decide to finish off the Spanish first. I look forward to our new president's expressing his highly authentic anger when they do.

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About the Author

James Bowman, our movie and culture critic, is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is the author of Honor: A History and Media Madness: The Corruption of Our Political Culture, both published by Encounter Books.