The Art Of Political War
I said in my previous post on Social Security that we should allow the question of motives to distract us in the attack on those who want to destroy Social Security. I want to expand on this a bit because it is a very important point.
Let's be clear on something: questioning the motives of the opposition is
perfectly legitimate line of attack. It's just that we have to remain focused, laser-like, on the most essential point of this debate: the mythical "crisis" in Social Security. Any other debate is a distraction.
Democrats have a tendency to go for broad based attacks, under the theory that attacking on multiple fronts will show the oppositions position as being weak. We make two mistakes when we do this.
The first mistake is not realizing that we don't need to defeat the opposition. We only need to win over the audience.
The audience is the mass of voters who have to decide which position makes the most sense to them and to whom they will throw their support. This audience is made up of people who do not devote much of their attention to the intricacies of policy debates. It just doesn't interest them. This is not a fault. It's just who they are.
Now, to such an audience, an attack on multiple fronts may actually appear to be a sign of weakness on the part of the attacker. It can look like the attacker is just flailing around, looking for a weakness, and failing repeatedly. "If they had a legitimate argument to make", thinks the audience, "they wouldn't keep shifting gears while making it."
The second mistake is even more fundamental and it is one I actually learned of while playing video games. I learned that when attacking an opponent, it pays to focus all of my firepower on one target at a time. While doing so I will suffer cuts and bruises from several angles, but by focusing my power I can quickly destroy that one target and thus reduces the overall firepower that is directed against me. If I repeat this process, a large force will be steadily weakened until it can no longer harm me effectively. I then let my forces go hog-wild on the remaining stragglers.
The second mistake is in thinking that the hits you will take from leaving
the secondary targets alone will make you vulnerable to defeat.
The same principle holds true in politics. If you focus your attack on one or two targets, especially the most formidable ones(*), you can destroy that target quickly and reduce the overall firepower of the opposition without necessarily sacrificing a lot of your own blood in the process. The most formidable target in the current debate is the multi-year propaganda campaign that has instilled in people the idea that Social Security is one step away from total collapse. It is that idea that must be destroyed before any meaningful debate about the future of Social Security can progress. It is that idea that is the main weapon in the Republican arsenal. It is that idea which Democrats must not give any credence to as doing so will only strengthen the Republican position.
So, in short, the attack on motives is not a bad one. It's just that there is an even better target of opportunity that will produce better results.
Ironically, it is often the case that a proposal that is weak on multiple fronts may actually have a greater chance of success. When you have so many target opportunities the temptation can be strong to attack on multiple fronts. This can spread your forces so thin that the proposal will get through and win passage despite its many failures (the same irony abounds in the ascendancy of George W. Bush).
When taking down an enemy like the effort to gut Social Security what you need to do is focus your attack on one or two key points, break the lines of the opposition, and then destroy them from within.
You may be surprised just how weak the enemy is once you dispatch their greatest
(* This is a key element of Karl Rove's political strategy: always attack the opposition at their strongest point. Once you defeat that the rest will be nothing but a mop-up operation.)
Believe it or not, I learned this lesson from video games.