Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fighting the way you train--governing the way you campaign

In the military we had a saying, You will fight the way you train.

I suspect it was first coined by an NCO in the Mesopotamian army 4-5,000 years ago.

What it means is that if you take shortcuts in your training, when the chips are down in combat you will not be able to do it the right way. You'll fall back on how you trained. That's why good military organizations attempt to make training as realistic and stressful as possible.

I believe you will also govern the way you campaign.

The Republicans of the past eight years bear me out on this. They campaigned in both 2000 and 2004 on the politics of fear and division, and--gee whiz--look what we got. Fear. Division. The shredding of the Constitution. Endless foreign wars. Debt so deep we could. Drown in it.

Here's the conundrum: Democrats have come to believe that the only way to fight fire is with fire.

I quote Mike Matthews of Down with Absolutes, but the sentiment could be jason, Delawaredem, donviti, or anyone who has ever posted at the Daily Kos:

The problem is the Left has never fought back. . . . They keep losing elections because they let the Right decide and execute their agenda. The Left needs to learn that although the Right’s tactics are disgusting, they’re going to continue to lose unless they co-opt them.


And, boy howdy, have the Democrats ever learned their lessons well: call people derogatory names (McShame. McSame, McCoward); deride other people's patriotism (Sarah Palin a traitor for addressing--not joining, addressing the Alaska Independence Party); castigate people with different political beliefs as wingnuts, ReThuglicans, and theocrats; even pass around ridiculous and completely unsubstantiated rumors about Sarah Palin faking a goddamn pregnancy and then actually citing her daughter's pregnancy as partial proof that they were somehow right!?

But they're only doing it because the mean ole Republican bastards started it, and they can't think of a thing better to do to reach all those lower middle-class voters.

It'll probably work: lowest common denominator politics usually does.

But here's the trap: you will govern the way you campaign. If you campaign on demonizing roughly half of your fellow American citizens, then you can't suddenly stop demonizing them once you get into office. If you tell people that evangelicals have no place in the political process, that anybody who opposes abortion rights is a closet Nazi, that all corporate business people are power-hungry rapacious thugs, that all Republicans hate the Constitution, and gays, and would eat babies if they could get away with it....

Then you're going to end up treating them like that when you govern.

Wait, really, we're just doing this to retake power and correct the abuses of the past eight years.

Horseshit.

The abuse of political discourse is the abuse of political discourse no matter who does it.

To reverse Barry Goldwater: Moderation in public discourse is no vice, and extremism in public discourse is no virtue.

The irony here is that Rush Limbaugh won. Limbaugh has held for years that the object of the political process is not compromise, but ideological victory. He redefined politics as a sort of pyrrhic battlefield of ideas in which the objective of both sides is not to come to accord with each other, but to defeat the other.

And he sold this gigantic bag of shit not just to Republicans, but also to Democrats.

He successfully derided Bill Clinton's triangulation strategy as the lack of core values, rather than adherence to a core value of consensus and shared governance.

Geez, he apparently does operate with half his brain tied behind his back just to make it fair.

Since (at least) the ratification debates for the US Constitution, American politics has worked best in an atmosphere of dynamic compromise. Somewhere, beginning in the 1960s and eroding into full-blown ideological warfare in the 1990s, we lost this value. It didn't disappear overnight, and I don't credit any one politician with its demise, although I do lay the largest part of the blame (by far) on the neo-Republican drift into radical social conservatism during the early 1990s.

None of that really matters now. What matters now is that this ideological anything-goes political warfare has so damaged the political process that even a reformer/outsider candidate like Senator Barack Obama has been infected with it.

There is now nothing more important than winning--even at the cost of governing justly as the leader for all Americans.

6 comments:

kavips said...

Just curious.

How do you get around the "if you don't win, you can't govern argument?"

It would be a shame if Tyler took your advice, ran a clean campaign, and then lost to a plebiscite...

It would be a shame for all of us, really....

Shirley Vandever said...

It would be MORE of a shame if he didn't run a clean campaign.

Much, much more.

Steve Newton said...

kavips
There is a definite difference between hard campaigning, issues-oriented campaigning, and even (in the traditional sense) negative campaigning than what we are currently seeing.

The difference is this: negative campaigning impacts your opponent (hopefully with real facts), modern-day demonization attacks entire classes of voters.

Here (crudely) is how the difference for Tyler would play out:

1) Negative campaigning: "Do you want to re-elect somebody who is a tool of special interests like my opponent?"

2) Demonizing campaigning: "The only people supporting my opponent are lazy union workers who have perverted the American political system so that they and their families can live off you like parasites."

Get the difference?

It's critical.

Moreover, on the Presidential stage the Democrats have not been getting killled-they've been losing by fractions of a percent. There's an argument to be made that it has been fundamentally stupid campaigning--not the failure to demonize--that cost both Kerry and Gore their elections.

Go back and look at the effort the Gore people put into Florida in 2000; their internal polling completely missed the Nader effect. Likewise, the Kerry people made a key bad decision in the last two weeks of the campaign that Ohio was in the bag and turned significant resources elsewhere.

Duffy said...

Excellent post. The odd thing is that the candidates have been rather civil this time whereas everyone else (esp. Kos and his ilk) are spewing the bile.

I've always believed that you can spot a partisan as the one who will gladly go over the cliff with his flag flying high.

Even Reagan the demiurge of the GOP said that politics is the art of half a loaf.

Duffy said...

One more thing:

Friedrich Nietzsche Quotes: "When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you."

Mike W. said...

"It'll probably work: lowest common denominator politics usually does."

Unfortunately you're right. Fear & division and appealing to the lowest common denominator WORKS. When it comes down to it politics is all about winning, principles and decency be damned on the way towards that goal.

That said I agree with you that both sides don't need to stoop to this level of mudslinging. Gore & Kerry most definitely lost because of terrible campaigning, not because they weren't nasty enough.