Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Monday, February 16, 2004  

David Neiwart, at both his site and the American Street, wonders just how dirty Republicans will get in the upcoming year:

Of even greater concern, though, is the kind of emerging conservative rhetoric that paints liberals not only as "desperate" but evil vermin who deserve to be exterminated.

(Answer: as dirty as their creativity permits. It's going to be a back-alley knife fight.)

The reason is because the GOP strategy-setters have been co-opted by the neocon fringe (which is to say the fringe of the neoconservative wing). The Republican Party still a pretty varied stew--red meaters like Tom DeLay, sure, but there are also healthier ingredients like Olympia Snowe. In local politics, the GOP is even more varied. City republicans are as likely to be gay, nonwhite, or secular as their Democratic foes. But those folks aren't charting election strategies.

Francine Prose, in an article in the March Harper's (if you subscribe to only one magazine, Harper's should be the one), compared the philosophical underpinnings of the neocon wing to reality shows.

Observant readers may already have noted that the guiding principles to which I've alluded--flinty individualism, the vision of a zero-sum society in which no one can win unless someone else loses, the conviction that altruism and compassion are signs of folly and weakness, the exaltation of solitary striving above the illusory benefits of cooperative mutual aid, the belief that certain circumstances justify secrecy and deception, the invocation of a reviled common enemy to solidify group loyalty--are the exact same themes that underlie the rhetoric we have been hearing and continue to hear from the Republican Congress and our current administration.

If Democrats wish to defend themselves against this approach, they have several options, most of them bad. They can respond in kind--but unlike the group loyalty GOP overloards can expect, Dems will get a bronx cheer from their own camp, and drive waffling Republicans back to George. They can ignore the attacks, which is the classic Daschle Maneuver. But smiling and praising the guy who's carving you up in a knife fight has shown to have its flaws as well.

The Democrats have about a month to come up with a coherent response that works. Elements from the campaign--calling the GOP on these tactics rather than responding with slimier smears; demanding that the press ask hard questions about the behavior of politicians; demanding that the GOP stand behind its actual record rather than its PR--have worked. But they mostly worked among the Democratic faithful and during a relatively attack-free phase.

Another tactic is to target the moderates with a reasonableness campaign. Trying to separate the Snowes from the Bushes might be easier than Dems imagine--after all, with very soft support and a growing list of black marks, Bush may not even be around next year. Senators have a longer view. Congressional Dems can give support to this tactic by pushing for moderate legislation--in the Bush years, moderation is a wedge issue for Republicans.

In any case, soon the knives will start glinting under streetlights. How will the Dems respond?

posted by Jeff | 11:24 AM |
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