Thank you Paul Begala.
America is at war. Just in the last few months Islamic fascists tried to climb on American jetliners in London and blow them up over the Atlantic. They are killing Americans on the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan, killing Jews in Israel, bombing and murdering their way through swaths of countries separated by half the globe. They have struck New York (twice) Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Madrid, London, Bali, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, Amman, Nairobi and Beirut among other places.
And you, Mr. Begala, have now bluntly stated the core fear of the once proud Democratic Party: Fox News.
Never has a former political aide to a President of the United States so unintentionally illustrated what has gone wrong with his own political party. The New York Times quotes you directly as follows:
“I think you’re seeing the beginning of an alternative Democratic approach,” a desire to strike back hard, said Mr. Begala, a former Clinton adviser.
“Clinton tapped into something in the Democratic zeitgeist,” Mr. Begala said. “We’re really tired of being bullied by Fox.”
So amidst all of this murder and mayhem of innocents, you wish to “strike back hard.” At al Qaeda? Noooooooooo! At a TV network!!!! (This seems to be a pattern — two months ago it was ABC, home turf of that legendary conservative Republican, Disney Chairman and ex-Senate Democratic Leader George Mitchell.)
Mr. Begala, with all due respect to a former political aide to a President (I have a soft spot for ex-political aides to presidents, of which I am one of many) let me mention some issues from the past five decades.
* Cambodian genocide
* Invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets
* Communist takeover of Nicaragua
* Iranian Hostages
* Rescue of American hostages in Grenada
* Bombing of Beirut Marine Barracks
* Creation and funding of the Strategic Defense Initiative
* A Nuclear “freeze” with the Soviets
* Deployment of Pershing Missiles in Europe
*The B-1 and B-2 Bombers
* The Trident submarine
* The Patriot Missile
* Removing Saddam from Kuwait
*The Patriot Act
* NSA Eavesdropping of Terrorist calls
*Terror Detainee Bill
I have left out of this partial list the entire Clinton administration record on terror, covering only a relative handful of issues from the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II eras.
In every single instance — all of them — the Democratic Party response was some version of a “cut and run” psychology. Yet suddenly you are telling Americans that Democrats are “really tired of being bullied.” Not by terrorists — but by a television network!!
This is a laughably futile question, but I’ll ask it anyway. Does it ever — ever — occur to you or anyone else in the senior levels of your party that after five decades of some version of “cut and run” on issues like the above that it is no wonder so many people believe Democrats have a psychology — make that a pathology — of weakness and defeat? You can nominate candidates with a great military background until the cows come home, but if they propose some version of “cut and run” they will never be trusted with the presidency or any other position of operational importance in American government for very long. Your party tried this approach as long ago as 1864 when you nominated General George McClellan to oppose Abraham Lincoln, and it didn’t work then either. (McClellan campaigned on the idea that the war to save the Union and end slavery was a “failure.”)
Return for a moment to the campaign of 1960. Listen to your candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy, as he opposes the Republican hawk of the day, then Vice President Richard Nixon. In an address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Detroit, Michigan on August 26, 1960, the Democratic candidate for President says this:
“Now let me make it clear that I believe there can only be one defense policy for the United States and that is summed up in the word ‘first.’ I do not mean first, but. I do not mean first, when. I do not mean first, if. I mean first — period. I mean first in military power across the board. Only then can we stop the next war before it starts. Only then can we prevent war by preparing for it.”
The psychology behind those words is miles away from the “cut and run” psychology that dictated the responses of Democratic leaders to the issues listed above. Issues the span the late 1960s, the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and now the first decade of the 21st century!
It is precisely the abandonment of that psychology, Mr. Begala, which has already lost you the 2006 elections. Am I predicting a certain conservative victory at the polls in 2006? Far from it. I have no crystal ball.
But I certainly do know that there is one group of people who, as JFK also said in that long-ago speech, are “not going to be deterred by rhetoric…[or] moved by mere argument or debate.” In today’s world that would be Islamic fascists — the terrorists. The political translation of this fact of life that Kennedy understood so well is simple: when crunch time comes, Americans will always turn to the party that believes, as did President Kennedy, that in the face of America’s mortal enemies the key to success is a psychology that the only acceptable national security policy is to be first. Not first but, or if, or when — but first period. Or, as FDR said after Pearl Harbor: “With confidence in our armed forces — and with the unbounding determination of our people — we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.” That, Mr. Begala, is the ultimate conservative victory — and it has been in play in every election beginning with 1968. Conservatives cannot even lose elections without winning again and again the recognition that they are the party of national security.
The fact that your party now feels bullied by a television network is yet another confirmation in an endless series of confirmations for Americans that tells them everything they need to know about the psychology that runs your party. Not only has your party long since ceased to have “confidence in our armed forces,” it does not believe and has not for decades believed that America can “gain the inevitable triumph” over any enemy. And heaven knows your party leadership would rather chew glass than promise that triumph while invoking the name of God.
So thanks Mr. Begala. You and your friends have managed to so discredit your party on national security issues in the last five decades that even when you win you lose. There is not a Democratic victory in sight that won’t mean a push to cut and run somewhere, somehow. And as always, it will backfire with a certainty that even Wile E. Coyote would be able to understand.
I know. I know. Bummer, isn’t it? You must feel so bullied!
Jeffrey Lord is the author of The Borking Rebellion. A former political director in the Reagan White House, he is now a writer in Pennsylvania.