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THE SILVER BULLET
By David Podvin
“My Republican opponent voted to cut medical benefits for our war heroes in order to give a tax cut to himself.”
This should be the mantra of Democratic candidates in 2004. It should be vigilantly repeated until Republicans howl in protest. It should be endlessly repeated until conservatives wail about the class warfare of it all. It should be relentlessly repeated until every right wing pundit across America is foaming at the mouth…even more than usual.
And then it should be repeated again.
What George W. Bush and company did was unpatriotic – they sent young Americans off to fight for this country while stabbing them in the backs. Those soldiers who do not return in body bags will come home to a dangerous future of severely reduced medical care, courtesy of the flag waving phonies of the Grand Old Party.
The Republicans must be made to pay for this act of treachery. They must be exposed as pseudo-patriotic frauds. They must be publicly humiliated and politically destroyed. It is the only moral thing to do.
The most recent all-out liberal assault on the decadence of conservatives happened during the 1964 campaign. A team of Lyndon Johnson’s operatives – led by Bill Moyers – accurately portrayed America’s right wingers as racist warmongers. On Election Day, the Republicans were sniveling about “vicious tactics”, while the Democrats were celebrating a landslide victory. Following LBJ’s departure, Democratic leaders unwisely discarded the winning confrontational strategy in favor of being conciliatory. Over the last thirty-five years, liberals have responded to conservative gutter sniping by seeking to “elevate the level of the national debate”. Instead of telling the truth about Republicans, Democrats have chosen to “take the high road”.
It has usually been the road to oblivion.
If the Democratic Party is willing to get tough, the military medical benefits issue can be used to put the Republicans on the defensive and keep them backpedaling all the way through the 2004 election. Here is the chance for Democrats to align with America’s soldiers against the malicious reactionaries who exploit the issue of patriotism to do some very unpatriotic things.
The vote to reduce medical benefits for veterans occurred at the same time that the GOP was passing more tax cuts for the wealthy. This confluence of events creates the perfect opening for liberals to redefine class warfare in a way that yields better results.
Most Americans are not hostile to the rich; surveys show that a large number of middle class voters strongly identify with the upper class in the unrealistic belief that they will one day join the club. That is why the smart approach for Democrats is to redraw the lines of allegiance by personalizing the tax issue. Liberals should use the twin votes on military medical benefits and tax cuts for the wealthy as a foundation to change the battle cry from “The Republicans in Washington are irresponsibly cutting taxes for the rich” to “The Republicans in Washington are irresponsibly cutting taxes for THEMSELVES.” The right wingers in Congress voted to reduce their own taxes, while most of America got nothing, and the troops got screwed.
This is the bludgeon with which to hammer the conservatives into submission:
“The Republicans betrayed our troops in order to enrich themselves. What could be more unpatriotic?”
The lone GOP defense of Bush’s indefensible policies is to insist that anyone who dissents is a traitor. Until the Democrats claim the high moral ground on patriotism, liberals in this country will continue to be marginalized. The medical benefits/tax cuts issue can be used to reverse the momentum of the national dialogue by forcing a long overdue discussion about the true meaning of patriotism.
It is a debate that is well worth having. Rather than recoiling in horror every time they are accused of hating America, Democrats should welcome the opportunity to aggressively engage the right wing on the question of who is really damaging this nation. Republicans are unable to defend their philosophy, so they have always depended on being able to intimidate liberals. The GOP cannot defeat a Democratic Party that refuses to cower, and therefore the cowering must end. As they say in self-defense class, begging for mercy is no substitute for a well-placed knee to the groin.
Democrats should proudly embrace patriotic symbols while forcefully arguing that love for America is most convincingly expressed through deeds, like serving in the military and voting to help those who serve in the military. There should be no reticence in declaring that, in the name of God and country, the Democratic Party will stop all future Congressional actions until our troops have been rescued from the legislation that did them wrong. It is bad enough that an American soldier dies every day in Iraq, the voters must be told, without having our heroes also being attacked by the GOP in Washington.
The Republicans will reflexively respond by attempting to browbeat the Democrats into submission with indignant screams of “partisanship”; after all, this has been their trump card for years. However, if the Democrats just keep waving Old Glory, the conservatives ultimately will be placed in the untenable position of having to run in 2004 as the politicians who ambushed G.I. Joe.
From an electoral standpoint, it is crucial for the Democratic Party to pick a high profile congressional fight with the GOP and win. As a result of the al-Qaida attack on this country, Americans prioritize strong leadership above all else. The Democrats lost in 2002 because the recurring sight of Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt deferring to Bush conveyed an image of weakness. Troop medical benefits is the best issue on which to demonstrate to voters a newfound liberal backbone because it places the Democrats in the advantageous position of defending our warriors from their conservative tormentors.
It will also be tremendously emotionally gratifying to strangle the demagogues with a star spangled banner.
A bruising confrontation with the right wing on behalf of our military personnel will lead seamlessly into what should be the overriding theme of the Democratic campaign in 2004: whose interests does the government exist to serve? The allegation that Republicans have harmed the troops for personal gain is a viable charge because it taps into the widespread perception that conservatives lack compassion. Once the public understands what the GOP has done to war veterans, that knowledge can be used as a credible link to more conventional issues that will expose to voters the true nature of Republican governance:
“Just as the Republicans have stabbed our heroes in the back in order to enrich themselves, they have done the same thing to our children on education…”
“Just as the Republicans have stabbed our heroes in the back in order to enrich themselves, they have done the same thing to the elderly on health care…”
“Just as the Republicans have stabbed our heroes in the back in order to enrich themselves, they have done the same thing to the middle class on taxes...”
Repetition is the key. Democrats must constantly reinforce the message that Republican politicians are helping themselves at the expense of everyone else. The theme must be ruthlessly pounded home: “If they are so immoral that they steal from our heroes, what makes you think they aren’t stealing from you? Here is the evidence that they are.”
We should take it all away from them. The patriotism issue. The morality issue. The fiscal responsibility issue. They never should have owned these issues, and now the average citizen can be shown which priority was really at the top of the Republican agenda in 2003: sending our kids off to die while picking their pockets.
The Democratic Party should be scouring the countryside for evidence of veterans who are suffering as a result of the vile actions of the GOP. It should be collecting factual and anecdotal ammunition to be used in emotionally powerful commercials that will enlighten voters to the nefarious behavior of the heartless bastards who have a hammerlock on the federal government. This tactic will horrify the wobblies in the Democratic Leadership Council, but the alternative is to spend four more years watching impotently as Republicans continue to abuse the people who risk their lives defending America.
There are endless opportunities for effective campaign commercials that will connect with swing voters on a gut level:
“Our Republican Senator voted for cuts in military medical benefits that will prevent this Purple Heart winner from seeing his doctor. Then – forty-eight hours later – the Senator gave himself a tax cut. This is his expensive new foreign watch. And this is the broken wheelchair of an American war hero. After losing his legs while defending this country, our hero has earned the right to be provided with basic medical care. Instead, the money has been allocated by the Senator to provide fancy jewelry to himself. Government is about putting America first; unfortunately, the Senator does not share the patriotic values that are so precious to the rest of us. On Election Day, side with the people who defend our nation. Side with America. Vote Democratic.”
When crafting strategy, an essential consideration is how the opponent will respond. Conservatives are phenomenally bad at playing defense, in part because they lack practice, and in part because paranoid people react very poorly to being criticized. Let the jingoists again haul out the “Anyone who disagrees with me is unpatriotic” canard. This issue is tailor-made to cram that cynical argument right back down their dishonest throats:
“Is it unpatriotic to support the troops? Or is it unpatriotic to stuff your wallets with the troops’ medical money?”
“Is it unpatriotic to want our soldiers to have access to good medical care? Or is it unpatriotic to steal from them so that you Republican politicians can reward yourselves?”
“Our brave young men and women have made great sacrifices for our beloved country – some have made the ultimate sacrifice. When the choice was either supporting the troops or cutting taxes for politicians, Democratic members of Congress were willing to sacrifice their tax cuts in favor of providing medical care to our soldiers. What sacrifices are you Republican office holders willing to make? Other than lining your own pockets, what sacrifices are you willing to make?”
George W. Bush and Tom DeLay have as much combat experience as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, yet they have been allowed to get away with posturing as though they were the Special Forces who captured Baghdad. By showing greater allegiance to their extremist ideology than to their country, the chicken hawks have brazenly betrayed the real military heroes of the United States while smearing anyone who objected. Their behavior is so deceitfully cruel and provocative that it transcends the typical amorality of politics. These swaggering bullies are just begging for a beating, and it is time to accommodate them.
The Democratic Party has been handed the silver bullet with which it can slay the conservative monstrosity that is tearing our nation apart. The Republicans could not possibly have provided a better symbolic and substantive issue that clearly reveals the depths of their depravity. The remaining question is whether Democrats have the aptitude – and the fortitude – to do what needs to be done.
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