Mickey Kaus thinks Democrats should run in 2006 and 2008 on a "Return to Normalcy" platform
. The advantages, as he sees them:
1) It covers a lot: The essential premise is that Bush has stretched the military, the Constitution and the civility of our politics to the limit in reaction to the threat of future 9/11s. All this fevered straining and leveraging may have been appropriate at the time, but there's no real need to keep running in hyperdrive. We can routinize the anti-terror struggle the way we routinized the Cold War, when just as much was at stake. We don't have to make an end run around the Constitution or a duly-passed statute (wiretapping). We don't have to torture prisoners or hold them forever without hearings. We don't have to slight disaster relief (Katrina) because the Department of Homeland Security worries only about terrorists. We don't have to unmask CIA agents in a desperate effort to build a case for war. ** We don't have to alienate our allies. We don't have to run giant deficits to finance our armed forces, as if the "Global War on Terror" were a temporary crisis that will be over in three years. It's not. It's a semi-permanent part of the landscape. Democrats can contain the terrorist threat the way, for four decades, they helped contain the Russians--while (as during the Cold War) we allow ourselves to turn our attention to domestic problems such as health care and Social Security.
2) It not only changes the focus from foreign policy (on which Dems tend to lose) to domestic policy (where Dems are poised to win)--it does this a) without minimizing the importance of the anti-terror effort but also b) without requiring the public to decide that Democrats are actually better equipped to fight Al Qaeda. All they have to decide is that the Dems are right to say, "We can handle it. " Wright wants a full-blooded campaign that tells voters the Bush approach to the terror, including the Iraq War, is "completely wrongheaded." But Iraq has already been invaded--whoever is president is going to have to deal with the reality that exists now. The abnormal--an experiment in Iraqi democracy--is now the normal. Or, rather, it needs to be the normal. Isn't it easier to simply convince the public that a Dem approach will be just as effective at making the best of that situation, at a tolerable casualty level? Democrats, after all, already have the votes of Americans who think Bush's approach is "completely wrongheaded." And the mere goal of "returning to normalcy" will by itself do a lot to decathect the terror war abroad, without suggesting a reversal or retreat.
3) It bridges over the rift within the Democratic Party without seeming to be a vague compromise. The idea that Bush has gone a bit crazy trying to remake history after 9/11 incorporates a fairly severe critique of his presidency, all the more powerful because it is accurate. At the same time, "normalcy"--or whatever synonym you prefer--rhetorically counters the idea that Dems are the wacky, fringe, cultural boundary-pushing party of drugs, gay marriage, euthanasia, etc. Mudcat Saunders will be happy. (Or else it implies that gay unions, tolerance, self-medication, etc. now are the normal American institutions--so Frank Rich will be happy too. Win-win!)
Kaus frequently writes about liberals and Democrats being in a cocoon that keeps them from hearing dissent, but I think this shows that he's stuck in it too. Let's examine this.
First, the phrase "Return to Normalcy" echoes Harding's "Back to Normalcy" of 1920. We were washing our hands of stupid European affairs. We'd be just fine, disdaining the old world. The results of that policy were Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of USAmericans died in the wars we could have stopped pretty easily if we'd acted in 1918-1920. Not a great slogan.
"The essential premise is that Bush has stretched the military, the Constitution and the civility of our politics to the limit in reaction to the threat of future 9/11s." Well, there haven't been any more 9/11s. Mickey's essential platform here is going to be that the Democrats can do just as well, but with much less effort.
Cue the news stories about the first World Trade Center bombing; the retreat from Somalia; the defiance of Clinton by Saddam; the embassy bombings in Africa; the USS Cole
; 9/11 itself, planned during the Clinton years. The last time the Democrats were in charge of stopping terrorism, they didn't do so well. Are they going to advocate a return to failed policies? If not, just what will
"We can routinize the anti-terror struggle the way we routinized the Cold War, when just as much was at stake." During the "routine" Cold War, the Democrats threatened war with the Soviet Union over Iran; supported Greece and Turkey against the USSR and it's puppets; rebuilt much of Europe, kept our first large scale peacetime standing military, and entered an "entangling alliance;" ran the soft-on-Communism crowd out of the Democratic Party; went to war in Korea (33,651 dead); built the H-bomb; went to war in Viet Nam (58,868 dead); and threatened "central war" with the Soviets in 1963. Compared to that performance, Bush doesn't look like he's straining the country. Wasn't the left decrying our lack of civilian "sacrifice" not long ago? Now the story is, we're doing too much. And the casualties in Iraq are horrible, but after the Gulf War, the problem was, our casualties were too low! This kind of 'Whatever is, is wrong' sentiment won't win elections.
"We don't have to make an end run around the Constitution or a duly-passed statute (wiretapping)." And we don't have the faintest idea of whether Bush did that or not. We don't know if the program violated any laws. There are suspicions, though, that it was leaked to the media, illegally, by a Democratic senator. Kaus proposes that Congress be told all about this, and then they will, in utter secrecy, pass a law that will allow the NSA to do something, we won't know what, and limiting the amount of surveillance currently being done, but without increasing the risks of successful terrorist attack. Good luck on accomplishing all that.
Then, having pulled off this legal tour de force
, the Democrats will run as the people who will protect the U.S. from terror while obeying the law. Well, if the Democrats want to run on a platform of 'If a known terrorist abroad calls someone in the U.S., we promise we won't listen in till a judge says we have probable cause to believe the person in the U.S. is going to commit a crime, and if that means we miss another 9/11, well, that price is worth paying,' than as a Republican I say "YIPPEE!" As a patriot, though, I think it's awful for the country for the Democrats to do that to themselves. If, on the other hand, they aren't going to restrict the present surveillance activities, then they'll be running on the platform of 'We were against wiretapping before we were for it.' That will be fun.
"We don't have to torture prisoners or hold them forever without hearings." Cue stories of released prisoners who took part in later terrorist attacks. I await the campaign speeches about how letting terrorists go free improves U.S. security with eagerness.
"We don't have to slight disaster relief (Katrina) because the Department of Homeland Security worries only about terrorists." Cue stories about incompetence of Louisiana Democrats, and the exaggerations of the media concerning Katrina.
"We don't have to unmask CIA agents in a desperate effort to build a case for war." You going to try that one?!?!?!?! We still don't know who in the MSM knew Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA employee, we don't know that she was "unmasked," we don't know who said what to whom, but we do know that the MSM is desperate to avoid answering questions on these issues — AND that the Democratic-leaning media has exposed covert CIA air operations; done stories about secret prisons; and exposed an anti-terrorist intelligence operation that most people approve of. And the Donks are going to run as the non-leakers? ROTFLMAO!
"We don't have to alienate our allies." 'We'll let the French have a veto power over our foreign policy' — yeah, that's a real electoral winner. And if you say that they won't have a veto, then some nasty GOP person is going to ask 'What will you do when you disagree with our so-called allies, and how can you guarantee that you'll never have to make a choice between alienating them and protecting the U.S.? Explain to us how you'll decide when to do what the "allies" approve of, and when you'll just act unilaterally.' Kerry couldn't give a straight answer to that question, because it would alienate a large part of the electorate if he did. Now Kaus wants to do a replay. Unbelievable.
Kaus wants to convince the voters that the Democrats can handle national security competently. To do that, the Dems have to say, 'These are the actions Bush took that we will stop . . ., and these are the actions he isn't taking that we will do . . .' And they're going to have to be specific, as well as convince the voters their plan would work. Yet Kaus has no idea what that plan would be. In fact, he thinks the lack of specifics is a virtue, because it won't alienate any Democrats.
More vagueness: "We don't have to run giant deficits to finance our armed forces, as if the "Global War on Terror" were a temporary crisis that will be over in three years. It's not. It's a semi-permanent part of the landscape. Democrats can contain the terrorist threat the way, for four decades, they helped contain the Russians--while (as during the Cold War) we allow ourselves to turn our attention to domestic problems such as health care and Social Security." And during the Cold War, I don't think the Democrats ran a single balanced budget. This is the old 'Gut the armed forces and spend 150% of the savings on domestic programs' strategy. As soon as Democrats start yelling about deficits, Republicans will ask them to propose cuts in spending to balance the budget. The Donks won't comply. This will appeal only to the anti-military crowd, who are already on board.
Kaus's whole strategy can be summed up as 'Pretend 9/11 never happened, and go back to 1993. Hope that nothing bad happens as a result.' I can see why a Democrat would want to run on that (it's something that might allow Clinton or Bayh or Biden to get the nomination without moving so far left a loss is guaranteed in the general election), but again, it didn't work for Big John, so why assume it will work for anyone else? The Republicans will brand the Dems as flip-floppers, and it will work because they will be flip-flopping.
But for really insane wishful thinking, you can't beat paragraph 3). A plan with no specifics won't be seen as vague. Refusing to tell anyone what you will do will satisfy the hate-America left, the liberal hawks, and enough swing voters to get elected. Saying 'We're normal' is going to make all those cultural and religious issues that cost the Democrats victories in the last five elections go away. This is totally detached from reality.
What we have here is denial. Kaus knows what's wrong with the Democratic Party: it's in thrall to special interests and single issue groups that damage the country. He knows that this has to end. And he doesn't believe it will end. But his sentimental attachment to the Democrats is so strong, he can't bear to say that they have no reasonable prospects for a national victory in the foreseeable future.
Once upon a time, the Democratic Party faced a similar challenge. It was 1946, and the Cold War was heating up. Henry A. Wallace, former Vice-President, current Secretary of Commerce, was apologizing for the Soviets. Truman fired him, and the liberals of the day created the Americans for Democratic Action and forced the Wallace Democrats right out of the party
(that story is also here
), and Truman went on to win the election, and cement the Democrats as the majority party of the U.S. Today's Democrats need to repeat the performance of the old ADA. But they won't. Sad.
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