Zell Miller is right. The Democrats will lose this presidential election, not because they have a bad hand, but because they are being consumed by their obsessions.
The word “obsession” has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years, some of it undeserved. Whether it was Freud or some other fraud who started the attack, it has shown a remarkable persistence. Long after Sig’s transit into the glorious mundane, mere mention of that word chills spines, raises hackles and bumps geese. Yet we all know that the big accomplishments of mankind are done by obdurate single-minded fanatics who will not be dissuaded from a profound dedication to a passionately held personal vision or, er… obsession.
To take a prime American example, the great Thomas Alva Edison struck people in his early career as an unhealthily driven eccentric with daffy notions. He never wavered, worked twenty-two-hour days sometimes, and eventually became the greatest inventor ever. As the phrase goes, popularized by Julie Andrews: A spoonful of meshugeh makes the Edison go down in history. Or, for the more scholarly inclined, this quotation from Maimonides: “If not for the obsessives, the world would not continue to exist.”
We solve this contradiction by the judicious use of the euphemism. When a Bill Clinton becomes President or a Newt Gingrich becomes Speaker after pursuing those goals monomaniacally since earliest childhood, we roll out all the good words: determination, dedication, devotion, single-mindedness, commitment (oops, there’s a mental health word). Even that misshapen misbegotten Edsel of the lexicon is taken for a good spin: stick-to-itiveness. And the bouquet of flowery adjectives: unflinching, unfaltering, unwavering, undeterred, untiring, unquenchable, unrelenting.
The fact is, obsession ain’t all bad. An obsession to build, to plant, to create, to design, to nurture, to beautify, to love, to cherish, to marry, to protect, to succeed, to flourish, can be an angel on whose wings you will be lifted to paradisiacal delight and heavenly achievement.
But just as surely, an obsession to attack, to hurt, to expose, to uglify, to wound, to scar, to cripple, to defeat, to destroy, can be a demon whose fangs will deliver you into the bowels of nightmarish horror and hellish carnage. Walk down that path and it will inevitably lead straight to perdition, whether you prefer your flaw design to be Aristotelian, Shakespearean or hardwood.
JOHN KERRY AND HIS PARTY entered this election season with an unusually good shot at unseating the incumbent. The victory in Iraq had been sudden but not dramatic, then the aftermath had been too costly. Saddam Hussein had been captured, but seeming more of a loser than a monster. Osama is still at large, although smaller. The heads that have rolled have been the wrong ones. The nerve gas was never found, only the laughing gas. And to top it off, the American economy is performing below par. It may have a tiger in its tank but it is not yet out of the woods.
When you consider that the Democrats garnered more votes in the last Presidential election, they are starting from a position of power. The election strategy could be simple: get all the votes from last time, add some newly registered young people, prod a few more black people to follow Jesse Jackson’s appeal to “keep out the Bushes” (easily the most brilliant political slogan in many years; Karl Rove, call your office) and capitalize on the fact that the ongoing cosmopolitan-ization of Miami is bringing more Democrat votes to Florida than Republican.
Then run a very reasonable campaign. Use words like measured and balanced and phrases like “making the tough calls.” Criticize Bush within a framework that seems fair-minded: use phrases like “rush to judgment,” perhaps even “trigger-happy” in a more fiery moment. Also remind people often that Kerry “worked closely” with President Clinton in fashioning his economic program; most Americans recall the Clinton economy with favor. This type of approach had an excellent chance of success.
Ah, but the obsessions are too strong, too pernicious. They are not satisfied to say that George Bush exercised poor judgment in invading Iraq, a claim that would elicit a positive echo in the hearts of many independent voters. Not enough to spotlight the shoddy intelligence work and allow that to reflect badly on the Chief Executive. They insist on saying that George Bush LIED.
The bumper sticker, much treasured by the Democrat faithful, says: CLINTON LIED AND NOBODY DIED. The obsession to defend Clinton retroactively by tarring Bush currently as a worse liar, a more dangerous liar, is on track to derail the Democrats’ victory train. A whistle stop should be a call to arms, an instant of brotherhood and inspiration, not a shrill screech of blood lust.
There is nothing wrong with a one-track mind; the problems begin when it goes off-track.