Rally 'Round Tha Family, With a Pocket Full of Shells
(Warning: This is a rather long post. Not quite into Den Beste territory but longer than usual. It also speaks to those politically inclined to the right, so if that doesn't sound like your cup of tea you might want to check back later for Atomizer's much anticipated post on making lunch, which completes his culinary trilogy. I find it quite bold that he opted for dinner in his second installment thus flaunting the conventional meal order paradigm.)
My recent trip to La Crosse demonstrated one thing quite clearly to me (other than the shoddy nature of their Oktoberfest). The 2004 election is going to be a dog fight.
Don't get me wrong. I am not as pessimistic as some who believe Bush will not be re-elected. Right now it's quite easy for the Democrats to snipe at Bush on various issues without having to offer specific alternatives. But when the rubber meets the road in the heat of the campaign, the Democratic candidate will have to answer this challenge:
Given that the leaders of your own party (Clinton, Gore, Albright, etc.) agreed that Saddam was developing WMD, that his regime was a threat to world peace, and that he was flaunting UN resolutions and...
Given that 9/11 demonstrated the horrific losses that a terrorist attack on the United States could incur and the willingness of our enemies to carry out such an attack and...
Given that France, Russia, and Germany would do all they could to obstruct us in our efforts to enforce the numerous UN resolutions on Iraq...
What would you have done?
Time after time the Democratic hopefuls spout platitudes about "involving the world community" or "working with our long time allies". Well how the hell would you have done that? Beg the Canadians to come on board? Give Jacques Chirac a diplomatic reach around so that the French would play nice with us? If our coalition wasn't broad enough for you, who else would you have included? And what would it have taken to get them on board, keeping in mind Ted Kennedy's apparent aversion to "bribes"?
While we're at it how about this one for the Dems to answer. What about Tony Blair? Is he a unilateralist cowboy as well? Did he lead his nation into war for purely political purposes? If you're so concerned about respecting the opinions of our allies, what about the British PM's view that the invasion of Iraq was necessary? Aren't the Brits our oldest and dearest allies?
The truth of the matter is that if Lieberman and possibly Gephardt were in charge they would have followed a course of action not all that different from Bush's. Of course they would have been supported by many of the same media outlets and politicians who opposed Bush from the outset (paging the Star Tribune editorial board). I'd add Clark to this group but he's already changed his position on the war so many times I can't even classify him anymore. Spinning and spinning.
The others wouldn't have acted until Saddam sent a nuke into Tel Aviv or Bin Laden turned up on Al Jazeera in Baghdad having tea with Saddam and sons. Even then Kucinich would have called for restraint and understanding (and promised bad hair pieces for all).
Until the Democrats can clearly and concretely answer the challenge of what they would have done differently I don't believe that the majority (however slim) of the American people will be willing to entrust one of them with our national security.
But that doesn't mean it isn't going to be another nail biter. The relentless attacks by Democrats and the media are starting to have their intended effect. This was personally demonstrated for me by a conversation I had with a very good friend of mine and his wife in La Crosse. They live in Green Bay and are what you could call typical Middle Americans. They have two kids, a house in the burbs, and they both work. They would consider themselves not politically active but informed. They vote in every election and follow current events. She's a social worker and tends to be a bit more liberal on issues like education and welfare while he's more conservative by nature especially on taxes and the role of government. As long as I've known him (at least seven years) he's voted Republican.
But now he's solidly anti-Bush. He believes the war in Iraq was a big mistake and we're needlessly losing lives and treasure for nothing. I tried to reason with him by explaining the justification for going into Iraq as part of the broader war while acknowledging that the Bush administration has not done a good job communicating this to the American people. I asked him who he was going to vote for if not Bush and I made some inroads here, since he couldn't really answer the question other than saying, "Maybe Clark". Hardly a ringing endorsement. At this point he's against Bush but for no one.
He also cited Newsweek as a source for many of the his feelings about Bush and Iraq and I couldn't help but sigh. Most people who read blogs are very media savvy and we tend to get our information from a variety of sources including the internet , newspapers, talk radio, television news, magazines, etc. But we should be aware that we're still the exception to the rule. Although the monopoly of network news, daily newspapers, and weekly news magazines has been broken those outlets are still the primary (and sometimes only) source of information for many, many Americans. A couple of years ago a woman who worked with my wife clipped the election endorsements made by the Star Tribune editorial board and brought it with her on election day so she would "know who to vote for". We can laugh at her naivetÃ© all we want to but the reality is that the "mainstream" media still holds considerable sway over the opinions of many of our fellow Americans.
That is why we cannot "yield the field" when it comes to the media. I'm often asked why I bother to write letters to the editor or submit commentary pieces to the Star Tribune (or even subscribe to it). Because whether we like it or not, papers like the Strib influence opinion. There is a ongoing struggle for the media and we must engage the left on all the battlefields. If we just limit ourselves to talk radio, magazines like National Review, the Weekly Standard, etc., and the blogs and political web sites we agree with, we're going to lose because most people are receiving their information elsewhere. We might not be able to "win" on many of these battlefields (especially major newspapers and network news) but we've got to keep the pressure on each of them.
Which brings me to the 2004 election. The time for conservative triumphalism and celebration is over. 2002 was a great victory but it's now almost a year later. Just like those people driving around with their green Wellstone bumper stickers we need to get over it. The next challenge is here and it's going to be much more daunting than the last. If the last few days demonstrate nothing else, it should be clear that the left will do anything and everything to win in 2004. We need to be prepared for this and make a commitment now to stop that from happening.
What does that entail?
The whining about Bush from the right has to stop. Yes, he's hardly a dream conservative especially when it comes to domestic issues. And I don't have a problem with holding his feet to the fire from time to time to prod him rightward. But while we're busy throwing pebbles at the President from the right, the Democrats are launching cannon shot after cannon shot into him from the left. And they're starting to find their mark. It's time to put the pebbles down, pull out the heavy artillery, and direct our fire at the real targets.
Those on the right who like to think themselves clever by voting
Libertarian need to pull their heads out and face the new reality. This isn't 1992. I was pretty bummed that year when Bush lost to Clinton and was mildly annoyed that a few people I knew voted for Perot (yes, I know he wasn't a Libertarian). But life went on and the country didn't fall apart under Clinton. In 1996 I again was disappointed when Clinton was reelected but the fact that friends voted for the Libertarian candidate didn't bother me too much because Dole wasn't that close and I believed that nothing too terrible would come of four more years of Clinton. 2000 was a much more important election in my opinion (at the time and even more so in hindsight) and the idea of voting Libertarian rather than Bush seemed silly. But the Dems had their own issues with the Greens that year and so those from the right who went Libertarian didn't do too much damage (By the way that's what Libertarians are; the Greens of the right). And besides did it really matter that much who was president?
Fast forward three years and we all know we're living in a very different world. I am optimistic and have enough faith in America to believe that, in the long run, we will win the war no matter who is president. But the length of the war, the decisiveness of its resolution, and most importantly the losses that we will sustain from it will be dramatically influenced by who wins the White House in 2004. As I mentioned earlier, I would expect that of all the Democratic hopefuls Lieberman would be the best choice to successfully prosecute the war. But he ain't gonna be the nominee. And if you purist Libertarians out there decide that you must "vote your conscience" and someone like Howard Dean becomes president we're all going to be paying a very heavy price for your desire to feel good about your choice. And no this doesn't mean I'm questioning Dean's patriotism. I don't believe he wants bad things to happen to America. I simply believe that following his approach will lead to them occurring. The times are too serious and the stakes are too high to be playing games anymore. This isn't 1992.
The right needs to rally together. President Bush isn't just a good choice. He's your only choice.
The 2004 campaign is already underway. It's going to a long, grueling, nasty slugfest. We're not going to win just by showing up next November. It's time to join the fight, get in the trenches, strap on the gear, put on the foil, whatever analogy works for you go with it. Get serious, get involved, and get George W. Bush reelected in 2004.