The Democratic National Party should trade its symbol — the donkey — for Opus the comic-strip penguin. His anxiety closet is populated by every boogey man the minds of the Dems conjure when their nightmares come. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, even Condi Rice pop out regularly to scare poor Opus half to death. To Opus, and the Democratic Party, Dubya, Dick and Don are much more frightening than bin Laden, Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez. Which brings us to the Dems’ campaign strategy for the 2006 campaign. They’re working hard to make their anxieties ours, and it might work.
Whenever the Democrats lose an election, they believe the result has only one cause: the voters didn’t get the message. The fact that the message may be the problem never occurs to them. In 2004, John Kerry stood up to accept their presidential nomination, saluted and announced he was reporting for duty. Which didn’t make much sense to those who heard the facts from John O’Neill and his “Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth.” The Dems campaigned on the Iraq war and lost. Now they’re standing up to fight against being “Swift boated” again. In the typical media inversion, being “Swift boated” is understood to mean to be smeared falsely when, instead, it should be defined as being buried by the facts. Two years later, they think they can win by selling the same anti-war snake oil. And they may be right, but only if Iraq goes terribly wrong.
James Carville’s “Democracy Corps” (the campaign advisory group he runs with all-time-loser Bob Shrum) published a strategy memo last week that says Republicans are completely vulnerable on the war. Carville’s memo said, “The President’s attempt to nationalize the election around the war on terrorism is backfiring, with Iraq rising in importance and more people believing the war makes us less secure.” It goes on to say that public sentiment is turning more negative on Iraq. Carville’s strategy counts on things getting worse in Iraq before the election. The Dems’ greatest fear is that something good will happen in Iraq before November 7th.
They are probably safe from any big success in Iraq this year. No matter how well our forces are doing, the Iraqis are not taking advantage of what we have done. The fact that Ambassador Khalilzad has threatened to cut off funding of Iraqi police forces — because the Maliki government hasn’t rid them of death squads — says too much. But the lack of good news may be overshadowed by bad news. Terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere may have learned from 2004 as well. The famously leaked National Intelligence Estimate of last week says, in part, “United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaeda and disrupted its operations…” Two years ago, bin Laden’s pre-election videotape had no noticeable effect on the election. This time, al-Qaeda or others may try something different. What if there were a massive terrorist attack in Iraq or Afghanistan just before the election? How would voters react to an attack that caused massive American casualties? Probably not in the way that Carville and Kerry think. When the president said last week that the party of Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt had become the party of “cut and run,” it resonated. It’s a pity that Republican candidates don’t get it.
In the past week we’ve heard Al Gore declare that cigarette smoking is a big reason for global warming, Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio say that he doesn’t know what the president means when he says Dems are the “cut and run” party, and Bob Woodward’s 576-page campaign script for Howard Dean’s 2008 run tell us the shocking news that Don Rumsfeld doesn’t always get along with Condi Rice. If voters aren’t confused, it’s no fault of either national party. Or of Mortuary Bob Woodward, best remembered for his patently fictional deathbed interview of former CIA Director William Casey.
Woodward’s latest, the third volume in his “State of Denial” series, is so chock full of fibs, it’s a wonder the 527 Media — those that have gone beyond bias and into political activism — can even keep up. Woodward writes that Rumsfeld and Rice are so at odds that he won’t take her phone calls. Not true, quoth Condi, who adds that she told Woodward that before he wrote the contrary. Woodward writes that then White House chief of staff Andy Card tried to get President Bush to dump Rumsfeld before the 2004 election. Not so says Card. Is there a lick of truth in Woodward’s book? Who cares? Only those unfortunates who bought Lil’ Billy’s My Life will buy this doorstop. And most of those who do won’t have time to read it. They’ll be too busy standing backs braced against the door of the Dem anxiety closet desperately trying to hold it closed. If only the Republicans would open it.
I have, in the past, recommended you buy stock in the makers of Prozac and Wellbutrin, usually prescribed to relieve the symptoms (but not cure) what ails the Dems. If you haven’t yet, do so now because I’ve had a peek inside the anxiety closet and I’m about to open the door.
Back already? Okay, here they are. Lined up, waiting to escape, is a host of Democrat nightmares. The first is the economy. Will the Dow top 12,000 this week or next? The Bush economic boom roars on. Second is the media itself. If the 527 Media — the N.Y. Times, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS and AP are outed as the liberal political activists so many of them have become, the Dems’ best campaign mechanism will collapse. Third is the fact that if the Dems take the Senate, their committee chairmen will be a major disaster. Carl Levin will kill ballistic missile defense, Leaky Pat Leahy will block confirmation of every judge who isn’t a card-carrying member of the ACLU, and Jay Rockefeller will do his damnedest to stop NSA from listening to any terrorist telephone calls. And the fourth, the worst, is glowering at the Dems from the darkest corner of the closet.
Howard Dean is traveling the nation, building his own base for another run in 2008. If I were a Dem, I’d not get a wink of sleep until Dean was sent back to Vermont.
The Dems probably don’t have that much to fear. The Republicans know what’s in the anxiety closet but won’t have the gumption to open the door. Too many of them are already thinking about 2008, just like the Dems.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, May 2006 — click here).