Thursday, September 09, 2004

AWOL: A loser that must be fought

A reader passes on a note to Josh Marshal from a "a long-time social progressive/economic conservative who has gone increasingly progressive since Bush took office". In it he advises Democrats to drop the whole AWOL issue because only partisan Dems care about it.

The point is correct, to a certain extent. Few on the other side of the aisle are going to leave Bush because of this (barring some major revelation of illegal tampering with his documentation) and few in the undecided camp are going to be persuaded by all this partisan wrangling. This, combined with the Swift Boat story, is likely to create a "pox on both their houses" effect within that crucial group.

But, as Josh himself likes to point out, there is a greater struggle going on here. The last several years have seen a marked increase in smear attacks on Democrats by Republicans. The Democrats have usually responded to these attacks by taking the "high road". They didn't want to demean the political dialog by giving the smears more weight than they deserved. They also didn't want to drive away the undecided voters by engaging in that kind of fight.

Unfortunately this principled approach, with a helpful hand from the right-wing attackers, created the general impression of Democrats as wimps. And this led to the impression that Democrats don't have what it takes to defend America ("If they won't defend themselves, how can I trust them to defend me?")

Democrats have been placed in a difficult position: absorb the attacks and be perceived as wimps or fight back and be perceived as just contributing to the mess. I don't like the result of either option, but if I had to choose I'd rather be perceived as a mudslinger than a wimp. You cannot let the other side define you. If fighting back requires you to participate in a little tit-for-tat then maybe it may just be a necessary evil.

I guess I believe in the old maxim that you should never start a fight, but you should always finish it.

It's time we finished it.

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