Wednesday, April 02, 2003

No preemptive cringing

James K. Galbraith blasts those on the left who say, now that the war has started, that it would be better for its opponents to convert their efforts into support for the rebuilding of Iraq once the war is over.
The dilemma is now acute. Retreat is unthinkable. George W. Bush's neoconservatives (standing safely in the back) will figuratively execute any who quail. The level of violence will therefore be raised. Meanwhile, the prime stocks of precision munitions have been drawn down, and speculation about the future use of cluster bombs and napalm and other vile weapons is being heard. And so the political battle -- the battle for hearts and minds -- will be lost. If history is a guide, you cannot subdue a large and hostile city except by destroying it completely. Short of massacre, we will not inherit a pacified Iraq. For this reason, the project of reconstruction is impossible. No one should imagine that the civilians sent in to do this work can be made secure. To support "the groundwork" for this effort is to support a holocaust, quite soon, against Iraqi civilians and also against the troops on both sides. That is what victory means. You can watch the beginnings (if you have satellite television) even now, as injured children fill up the hospitals of Baghdad. The moral strategy would be to avoid the holocaust. To achieve that from the present disastrous position, the United States would have to accept a cease-fire, which would lead to the withdrawal of coalition forces under safe conduct. There would be no military dishonor in such a step. It would, however, entail the humiliation of the entire Bush administration, indeed its well-deserved political collapse. Too bad the moral strategy is not a practical one. The practical alternative? It is to oppose, to speak up and to write against the war, to expose and illuminate the frightful choices we confront. Let us remind our leaders at every turn of their recklessness and miscalculation. The American public may, if it chooses, reject the liberal position and support the hawks. But let us give them a choice. It is quite sure anyway that no one, in a situation as grave as this, will line up behind a platform of preemptive cringing.
Amen Mr. Galbraith. I am sick and tired of Democrats who spend their time fretting about how the Republicans will respond. Real leaders anticipate the moves of their opponents, yes. But they do not let the fear of those moves dictate their actions. For instance, Howard Dean could have cringed at the prospect of a smear campaign based on his signing civil union legislation into law. Instead he has decided to boast about it and openly dare his opponents to make an issue of it. People admire that kind of guts even if they aren't particularly sold on the issue involved. I am reminded of a story Harlan Ellison told about being hired to write a column for some magazine. The announcement of the deal was apparently followed by a burst of cancellations by readers who said that they didn't want to pay for a magazine with the writings of a commie-pinko like Ellison. Ellison asked the editor of the magazine if he was concerned about this and the editor said no, because for every cancellation they received because of his columns they received 3-4 new subscriptions for precisely the same reason. Democrats have to stop thinking in terms of the votes they might lose and instead think in terms of the votes they can win. There is a huge pool of dissatisfied voters out there. The candidate who can tap into that pool will have nothing to fear from the votes they might lose because they adopt certain positions. If you want to win the muddled middle in this country, the people who consistently list themselves as undecided, you don't do it by waiting for them to tell you what they want. You will wait forever because they do not know what they want. They are waiting for someone to tell them what they want. They will follow whoever does so in a forceful and convincing fashion(*). It is not smears that cause Democrats to lose elections. It is the way they react to them. It's tough to appear forceful when you spend all your time worrying about how the opposition will react.
(*) Dubya has this rule down cold. It is probably the primary reason he is able to have any electoral success. Lincoln may have been right when he said you can't fool all of the people all of the time. But Dubya understands that you don't have to if you can just fool enough of the people enough of the time.


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