Good People of Texas & Ohio:
So! You will soon be in the voting booth! It is time to make a decision, to make your voice heard, to seal the deal (probably) on the Democratic nominee for President1. Except you hesitate, because you know how important this choice is. This is the man or woman who will go up against the entrenched Republican machine that's been in the driver's seat in one way or another since 1980, with only a little hiccup in 1993-94. Who will then embark on the difficult mission of repairing all that George Bush et al. have ruined. Who to choose?
Calm down. It's all right. I'm here to help. There is a very simple way of organizing all your thoughts about the candidates, the system, and the consequences of the choices involved here.
It is time to do a little roleplaying (with a nod to PTI):
You are a Republican. First off, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? YOUR PARTY IS KILLING AMERICA! Ha ha. I kid because I love. Seriously, though. You're a Republican. Your party is staring into the abyss. You were given all the levers of power, and you fucked up everything; worse, the public has finally realized it. You got your ass handed to you in the 2006 midterms, and the 2008 congressional races are looking to be a GOP bloodbath. Things are so bad that many are increasingly convinced that this is the end for movement conservatism itself – Uncle Barry's gift to the people is about to croak, and there's a waiting list to spit on the corpse. Suddenly, all of your positions are hideously unpopular with the public. Your word is like ashes and your honor is like dust. You are a joke. Do you prefer to:
A. Rehash all the battles of the nineties, when your star was on the rise, and every week came news of some new smear against Bill Clinton. Remember the nineties? Political journalists do. Even the nominally liberal ones look back with fondness on those days of scandal and leak and soap opera (I'm looking at you, David Plotz). Those were very exciting times. To the Good Old Days! (p.s. - remember that time John Kerry ran for President, and for the last two months before the election, all anyone talked about was a war that ended in 1975? Yeah. That's right. You're feelin' me.)
B. Talk about the last seven years.
You are Joe Lieberman. You are a self-righteous prick who has shown the moral courage (feel the sneer...taste the sneer...) to not actually switch sides and officially join the Republicans, but instead choose to air your constant accusations of treason under the guise of "more in sadness than in anger" criticism from within; after all, a supposed Democrat calling the Democratic Party a security liability is going to get on TV a lot more than a Republican doing the same thing. Good for you! As Fox News' favorite elected Democrat, would you rather:
A. Have the wife of the man about whom you once said "In this case, the president apparently had extramarital relations with an employee half his age and did so in the workplace in the vicinity of the Oval Office. Such behavior is not just inappropriate. It is immoral," become the Democratic nominee, thus allowing you to kick The Holy Joe Roadshow into overdrive in support of John McCain. Think of all the nasty things you'd get to say about the Clintons! On television! And, incidentally, the absolute hatred of the Clintons felt by many red staters would likely drive turnout in the general election, blunting the rising Democratic tide in the Congress, and perhaps allowing you to maintain some of your current importance as Senator #51.
B. Watch as the supercharged Democratic turnout engendered by an Obama nomination benefits down-ticket Democrats, leading to even bigger gains in the House and Senate than people are predicting. No longer needing to kiss your ass for support on tight votes, Harry Reid instructs the Senate clerk to begin referring to you as "the gentleman from Nobody Gives A Fuck." Alan Colmes laughs at your impotence.
You are the elite Democratic Establishment By which I mean the consultantocracy, the DLC, etc. Most of you (Howard Dean as DNC chair being a notable exception) are where you are because of the Clintons - either through the jump start that working in the Clinton White House gave to your career (Rahm Emmanuel) or the influence that comes with membership in the ascendant wing of the party in power (anyone at DLC during or just prior to Clinton). You come from different walks of life, have taken different paths since the Clinton years, are scattered across the country in various positions of Democratic authority. So what do you all have in common? You came of political age in an era when the Republicans were kicking your asses. These were the dark days of the Democratic Party - everywhere you turned, there was a Republican in front of a camera mouthing off about the moral and testicular faults of the Democrats. Understandably, this has fundamentally shaped your approach to national-level politics. For the sake of argument, I am willing to concede that the Third Way, top-down, pour-all-your-resources-into-swing-states mentality you adopted was the best possible approach to governing a country that tolerated Newt Gingrich and seemed ready to put Reagan's face on the dime. Under this scenario, during the nineties, you held the walls against the rightwing hordes - under extremely trying circumstances - and managed to prevent the worst case scenario: the success of the Republican impeachment power play intended to remove Clinton from office. For this, you deserve congratulations and gratitude.
Your time is over. What was arguably (not by me, but nevermind) the only viable response to a rising rightwing tide in the nineties, is no longer an appropriate course of action in the year 2008. With the failure of movement conservatism as both an ideology and a center of power splashed all over the front pages, we can no longer afford the institutional flinch that seems to accompany even the boldest of your attacks on out-of-line Republicans - that little bit of wiggle room that allows you to back off under intense rhetorical counterfire from people who have no use for the truth. You know what I'm talking about. It's that thing that makes your balls melt every time someone says "socialist" or "weak on terror." The desire to explain yourself to professional liars, and to tailor your policies to keep them from being mean to you.
Do you prefer:
A. A second Clinton presidency, one that preserves the niches of authority that various Clintonistas have carved out for themselves during the Party's years out of power. This is your chance to solidify the gains you have made, to ensure ideological continuity for another decade by nurturing and advancing those that conform to your outlook - those that wish to run the Democratic party like a bad CEO, trading investment in the future for marginal short-term gains, not realizing that that approach leads to a never-ending game of catchup.
B. Someone who will clear the deck. Between Obama in the White House and Dean at the DNC, the career prospects for any but the most effective Clinton accolytes will approach zero. New blood will flood the entire Democratic infrastructure - you know, the one that Democrats in the 80's and 90's failed to properly maintain. Targeted gains along the margins? Fuck that. The new order from the top will be to hit the Republicans where they live. Sniping a seat from the Conneticut House delegation will still be nice, but what we really want is to unseat a Senator from Alabama and take the Governor's mansion in Texas. No more trying to tie policy proposals into knots trying to avoid unfair criticism that's coming at us no matter what we do - and no more leaving local-level Democratic parties to die just because they aren't in a particular election season's hotspots.
You are a Republican commentator. Be it print, radio, or television. You make a living - or at least coke and stripper money - by saying, not necessarily nice things about Republicans, but definitely awful things about Democrats. In fact, it's best to not be too explicitly supportive of the GOP, the better to frame your Democrat-bashing as Independent Wisdom.
Seriously, how on edge are you? You are about to enter a time of:
A. FEAST! Hitlery is back, boys and girls, and she wants the launch codes for the missiles! And to replace the CIA with lesbians! And to let Bill give admission interviews at the state school YOUR daughter goes to! Not only could you be in for up to eight years of Chris Matthews howling over every rumor you can manage to make up, but anytime you want, you can put the truly vile shit into a book with a large typeface and get it published by Regnery - which will promptly arrange to have large quantities of your masterwork purchased on the sly by a few rightwing institutions in order to push it onto the bestseller lists. As a career move for a writer, it's better than fucking Dean Koontz. Straight cash, homie.
B. Famine. The producers on every newstalk show in America are going to set their Blackberrys on fire deleting your name so fast. Why? Because you aren't going to be any fun, not anymore. You're going to have to go through so many verbal contortions to try to remove any trace of anything that even appears to be racist, you're going to end up sounding like... a Democrat, circa 2003. Hey, remember how much fun it was to be able to stop any Democratic politician dead in their tracks by saying, "Do you mean you WANT Saddam to stay in power?" Time to find out what it feels like to be on the wrong end of that shit, brother. You could be talking about Obama's usage of the semicolon, and some straight-outta-college douchebag with a shit-eating grin and a tie his mom bought him is gonna go "That's exactly the kind of stereotype that Obama's candidacy puts to shame. Come on now, you're better than that." Motherfucker doesn't even have to say the word "racist", and all the sudden you can't show your face in Washington for six months without diagramming every sentence in the goddamn transcript and showing receipts from your donations to the United Negro College Fund. Think tank execs become deathly allergic to the combination of your presence and a camera. Your editor at Regnery tells you they have to attend their grandmother's funeral. Three times. And every morning on the radio, you get to hear Don Imus talk shit about you as he reads excerpts from his webcomic, Captain Someone Else Is A Racist.
Well too fucking bad, cowboy. You loved you some media frenzy when you got to accuse others of loving Saddam and Terror and Nukes in New York, so you get no sympathy from me - even if you really aren't a racist. And, after a while, just when the media starts running the inevitable backlash stories, when people start thinking that maybe the whole thing was overblown, when you think that finally, finally, it's going to be over and you can get back on TV, Coulter's going to be standing a little too close to someone with a cameraphone when she drops an n-bomb, and it'll start all over again.
So back to the American Spectator for you. Bob Tyrell still thinks you're a shitty writer, but at least he admires your spunk.
You are a foreigner. Too bad for you, ha ha! We have the bombs, and you have the malaria. What you gonna do, sucker?
But that attitude is exactly the problem, isn't it? That kind of horseshit is a good chunk of the reason why you don't like America. You aren't one of those that hates America just because we are on top of the global pecking order - you genuinely fear that we have gone dangerously out of control. No longer a bulwark against the advances of the Soviet Union, the US has become, if not quite an imperial power, a country that is no longer safe to leave to its own devices. Republicans can give all the justifications they want, the simple fact is that you aren't nearly as comfortable with US hegemony as you were in 2000.
And what, in your mind, is the primary symbol of all that is wrong with American policy toward the world? Iraq. And despite your better instincts, a litany of American actions in Iraq and elsewhere have led you to be reluctantly sympathetic to - if not in outright agreement with - the notion that the so-called Global War on Terror is really a crusade against all dark-skinned people who don't toe the US line. After all, when you see America in the news, what do you almost always see? White guys with guns. How much do you believe in the Melting Pot - you know, that key self-conception taught to American schoolchildren that you, as a foreigner, have never heard of? Not very much, I would imagine.
Which would be more likely to help you regain a favorable opinion of the United States:
A. The overthrow of the party in power by...a rival who hems, haws, and bends over backwards to avoid saying that Iraq was a mistake - one that has given no reassurance that she is immune to the Thatcherite temptation to blow something up to prove she can hang with the lads2. Which leads to an important point - the election of a woman to a position of supreme authority may be a big deal in the States, but to a lot of the rest of the world - particularly the dark skinned parts - such a thing is hardly a novelty, and hardly the point. Ask an Indian how racially enlightened the British were under Queen Victoria.
B. The election of the first non-caucasion in American history - one who has explicitly and repeatedly condemned the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Who speaks in terms of unity and cooperation, both within the United States and without - exactly the kind of language that allows someone to support the US without feeling weak, or traitorous to their own people. It may seem like a small thing, and on a purely tactical level it is; but as any number of "clash of civilizations" types will tell you, one of the primary battle grounds of the War on Terror is in the minds of foreigners who aren't necessarily with us, but aren't really against us either. For them, this kind of symbolism counts.
You are John McCain. Hey, John! Remember that time eight years ago when I really liked you because you were the only Republican candidate willing to stand up and call the influence of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell evil, and then a couple years later you gave the commencement address at Liberty University in a blatant pander to the religious Right so that maybe this time you wouldn't get your ass kicked in South Carolina? Man, crazy world.
Anyway, good for you on wrapping up the Republican nomination. Maybe choking back your rage long enough to pose for this picture was worth it after all. Hey, at least you didn't have to literally kiss his ring! Eh? Eh? Ah, I'm kidding. You are a Man Of Principle.
But seriously John, here's the thing. George, it seems, has handed you a big old shit sandwich, the likes of which hasn't been eaten since Gerald Ford was on the receiving end of the beating everyone wanted to give to Nixon - and at least Ford got the consolation of having his finger on The Button for a little while. The point is, running as the Republican nominee this time around is a tough proposition. Being the nominal leader of the Party That Ruined Everything For Everyone is not exactly the top listed job offering on craigslist3. So you gotta ask yourself, would your life be easier if you could run against:
A. Hillary Clinton? I suppose it depends on what kind of campaign you're going to have. Any chance you're going to be running as The Baddest Motherfucker On The Planet? You know, the type of dude who sings funny little songs about declaring war on foreign countries because fuck you, what are you gonna do about it? There is? Excellent! Then this seems to be the way to go. After all, with Hillary as an opponent, you get to be perhaps the last Presidential candidate who gets to ask his opponent, "Oh yeah? Well what did you do during Vietnam?" - because "I worked for the McGovern campaign" is, in the minds of a certain segment of the voting population, a lot more damning than "I was fourteen years old, grandpa." And come on, you know you can't wait to start saying flip-flop about her vote to authorize the war and subsequent calls for withdrawal. Tell me I'm wrong! Tell me I'm wrong! You can't, 'cause I'm not.
But that's not even the point, is it? Sure, you're all ginned up to go through the motions of campaigning, dropping clever soundbites on the media and scoring gotcha points in the debates. Between you and me, though, we know what really matters to a Republican presidential candidate these days - rallying the base. You have got to get those backward fuckers to show up to pull the lever for you, and that's a problem, because They. Don't. Like. You. Ain't that a sonofabitch? Apparently, Falwell didn't put in a good word with the Almighty after all. As it turns out, you won the nomination not because everyone on the Right loves you, but because they think you're the least likely to scare off the independents in the general election. "I love you because you are probably marginally acceptable to people less extreme than me" isn't exactly drop-your-panties material. So what is one to do? Well, Jack, you're in luck, because have I got a loophole for you. You don't need to get them to come out for you; they'll come crawling out of the woodwork to vote against her. They hate Hillary more than they love Jesus, and that is good for John McCain.
B. Barack Obama? Well, do you like distancing yourself from shadowy groups running political ads on your behalf that you didn't actually authorize? I hope so, because otherwise August and September are going to suck. Pop quiz: what is the media going to be Daredevil-sensitive to with a black man as a major party nominee? Bow your head in shame if you said anything other than "racist innuendo." Now, come on, John. You know what some of those good ole boy business groups in the south are going to do. You fucking well know it. They think they'll be able to get away with it, because they always have. Everything's anonymous, no paper trail leading back to the guys who actually paid for the flyers/push polls/cryptic radio spots. But that was local and state-level hijinx, the stuff that gets on the state newspaper front page for a few days and then disappears. Welcome to a media-intensive national campaign in 2008, son; someone somewhere pokes around anywhere near the n-word, and even Fox News has to pretend righteous indignation - hell, they might even put exclamation points in the headline, Nancy Grace style. No, I don't think you're going to say anything like that, John, but there are plenty of people out there who will, and every reporter on the planet is going to ask you if you condemn them, and you are going to find that your Straight Talk armor against the press is really quite porous if your response isn't "Hell yes, fuck all racists everywhere, Barack Obama is a fine upstanding American" every single time. Hard to talk about how much better you are than someone else when you keep having to apologize to them. Worried yet? Ha. That's just the amateur shit. Wait 'til the Klan holds a fundraiser for you on the front lawn of a state capitol.
* * *
Happy to be of assistance.
1Unless you are voting for the Republican nominee, of course. In which case, good for you! I applaud your commitment to your ideals! You are obviously committed to the principle of democracy. Just remember that voting in the primary is only the first step; you need to follow through in the general election. Make sure you circle November 5 on your calender.
2 Some may object to this as a swipe against the notion of a woman being able to lead the military. It is not. Instead, it is a reflection of my belief that a HRC presidency would only become so by a slim margin in the general election, and therefore would be hypersensitive to accusations of weakness from the very beginning. The fact that she has repeatedly reiterated her willingness to drop bombs, deploy troops, and generally be a kicker of foreign asses does not encourage confidence in this regard.
3Look! A web-based reference! I am Young & Hip.