Friday, September 19, 2003

Shiny metals are not bulletproof

Mary Schumacher, a poster on Salon's Table Talk, puts it in words I could only hope to emulate:

About that anger; I've been thinking FDR style liberalism died in the 1970s, and that fact has been hard for Democrats to accept. Especially those of us in the oldest cohort of the Baby Boom and older, who were raised, nutured and got our start in life in and from its principles and institutions. (If you are younger than 50, you only experienced it at its degraded and confused end, younger than 30, you never experienced it at all.)

First went the labor movement strength that helped move so many people into the middle class. Then went the populist energy and commitment to community and the general welfare that helped provide middle class security and opportunity through "big government" programs such as Social Security, VA benefits, expanded public higher education, investments in research and technology, etc. The only thing left is internationalism and the technocratic faith in experts, policy debates and credentials -- and those are much more disdained by the population in general than some Democrats would like to believe.

In the 20 years since this death Democrats have been going through the stages of grief. First, in the 1980s, Denial. Then, in the 90s, Bargaining (yes, we concede "the era of big government is over." Will you love us now?)

To me, it seems that Clark represents one more effort at Bargaining, with the only tool that kind of liberalism's got left; the technocratic expert. People say they "want to see" Clark take on Bush in a debate on foreign and military policy. But, Bush isn't going to debate Clark on the basis of expertise, experience and details. He's going to make an emotional and moral argument for his war -- and for everything else that falls out from that.

The only answer to that is an emotional and moral argument against the war -- and for everything else that falls out from that. (emphasis added - Chris)

That's why I think I'm going with the next stage of grief: Anger. Holy, righteous anger. That sweeps away the past and brings you to that point of acceptance where you can start plotting new beginnings.

I think Mary puts her finger right on the fallacy that is the Clark candidacy. The strategist think to themselves, "Clark is a General. Bush was AWOL. Dubya has no chance." But they forget that Bush does not make arguments based on rational calculation. He makes arguments based on emotion. You cannot fight emotional arguments with rational arguments. The emotions will always win out. Have you ever tried to talk down someone who is in emotional turmoil? Not only will you fail but you will probably end up pissing them off in the process.

What you need to defeat Bush is exactly what Mary describes, someone who can make "an emotional and moral argument against the war" to counter the emotional and moral argument that Bush will make. The strategists in the Democratic establishment still haven't figured this out and its why they keep on losing the argument.

A strong civilian will defeat a weak general every time. Shiny medals are not bulletproof.


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