Sunday, July 27, 2003

Fool me twice and I might get mildly annoyed
This is a point I have made before and will make again and again before the election: the Bush administration is not only generally bad for average Americans; it is specifically bad for the constituent groups that supported him in 2000. The latest news story (though not necessarily the latest victims) is from Steven Thomma of Knight Ridder Newspapers and concerns veterans.
President Bush and his Republican Party are facing a political backlash from an unlikely group - retired veterans.

Normally Republican, many retired veterans are mad that Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress are blocking remedies to two problems with health and pension benefits. They say they feel particularly betrayed by Bush, who appealed to them in his 2000 campaign, and who vowed on the eve of his inauguration that "promises made to our veterans will be promises kept."

"He pats us on the back with his speeches and stabs us in the back with his actions," said Charles A. Carter of Shawnee, Okla., a retired Navy senior chief petty officer. "I will vote non-Republican in a heart beat if it continues as is." (My bolding)

This is the problem Democrats face going into the 2004 election season. CPO Carter (Ret.) is willing to ask the Republicans to betray him one more time, rather than come out and say he will vote against them. That is just too far too a step to announce out loud. And this is from a man who is so upset he’s willing to go on the record in the national press with his disillusion.

Twelve years ago the Communist peril faded. For a brief moment we let ourselves believe that the Republicans, deprived of the enemy that held their coalition together, would collapse. We were wrong. For nearly two decades a cohort of superb strategists had been working on domestic social issues. Because some of them had specifically been working to bring separatist Protestant fundamentalists into the political mainstream, it was easy for us to dismiss them as extremist loonies. What we missed was that they had been building a powerful communications machine and spreading a message through mainstream Republican circles that Liberals and Democrats (the terms were and are synonymous in their lexicon) are the enemy of all right thinking Americans.

Common wisdom is that for Democrats to have a chance next year they must appear capable of taking over defense and foreign affairs and managing them as well as the public thinks the Republicans are doing. My advice is that to win they must pry some betrayed constituents away from the Republicans. In defense and foreign affairs, as in any issue, the Democrats need not only to have a message that is as good as the Republicans’; they need to target the constituencies that value those issues and that have been ill served by the Republicans.

In the 1990’s, a number of Democrats began to push a low-self-esteem message of “we’re just as good as the Republicans.” At the time, this message may have had a tactical utility, but it is not the sort of message that can serve as the unifying core of a dynamic and permanent political body. We need assertive positive and negative messages. We are right because we believe and do this, they are wrong because they believe and do that.

We must attack the Republicans. But we must craft our attacks so that they are not mere sermons to the choir. We must portray the Bush administration and all its toadies in the House and Senate as complete and utter failures. Theirs is an administration of cronyism run amuck. Their idea of defense and strength neither makes us more secure nor rewards those who bear the burden of defending us. We have added tens of billions to our deficit in the name of defense while our soldier’s families need food stamps to eat, the death benefit only covers a pauper’s funeral, our veterans lack basic medical care, and the rest of us have traded sacred rights to become more vulnerable than ever.

If they try to pass some last minute unfounded mandates to win over the CPO Carters of the world, we must vigorously point out the insincerity and dishonesty of their words. Basically we do not have the luxury of letting them get away with anything.

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