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Can anyone challenge Bush in the next election?

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Comments for the 29 June 2003 Issue
Among the readers of Just Above Sunset are many graduates of Denison University in Ohio.  Those of us who were there in the late sixties remember Steve Holmes.  He's now Stephen Holmes and teaches at the New York University School of Law and has an international reputation as a political analyst and writer.  His biography is here 26 May 2003 Reviews with an introduction to his review of Kagan's book on American power and unilateralist behavior - where Holmes deconstructs Kagan's "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus" contentions. 
In this week's issue of The Nation (27 June) Holmes has a section in the forum on humanitarian issues.  He argues there is a different way of looking at how this country should behave in the world, and lays a foundation for how a candidate might effectively position himself, or herself, to chart a different course.

That's why this has been added to the "Who can beat Bush?" page.
His points?
  • "The foremost foreign aim of Bush's national security team, in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, has been to re-establish America's damaged reputation for invincibility and to demonstrate the fatal consequences of challenging US power."
  • "To garner the public support it needed, the Administration had to concoct and market a self-defense rationale, namely, that Iraq was on the verge of a clandestine handoff of WMDs to Al Qaeda and therefore posed an imminent threat to America and Americans."
  • Fear of mass-casualty terrorism effectively wins most everyone over to agreeing to this diplomacy of threats, and of unprovoked war, of overthrowing other governments followed by occupation -- in effect this fear is one more "opium of the masses" - masses who might not otherwise think this is the way we should behave.
  • Humanitarian intervention plays a similar role for liberals. The Administration wins them over to the new diplomacy by mobilized disgust at Saddam's sickening atrocities.

Thus everyone, conservative and liberal, thinks we're doing the right thing.  Well, almost everyone.

Let's see here.  Liberals believe in humanitarian intervention.  They didn't think the war was a good idea and think we acted on the basis of hearsay testimony and circumstantial evidence?  They think overthrowing another government and occupying that other country requires better cause?  Give them humanitarian intervention - throw them a bone.
Okay.  The Bush-Rove-Cheney team changes the rationale.  Saddam was evil.  So the effect achieved, no matter what was said by us before the war about the reasons, was humanitarian.  So liberals have no leg to stand on.

Holmes refers to this as a "hostile takeover" of the usual liberal agenda and argues "liberals cannot simply ignore the hostile takeover and go on preaching humanitarian intervention with moralistic rhetoric designed to shame doubters into silence."

Holmes argues that moralistic rhetoric simply licenses the current administration to do anything it wants to anyone anywhere.  The administration identifies fairly obvious evil, and the liberals have to agree war is the answer.  Otherwise they are hypocrites.

Opportunistic manipulation of liberal sympathy for the oppressed has tongue-tied potential critics of Bush's foreign policy.  But an honorable commitment to humanitarian intervention should not mesmerize the rest of us into supporting a duplicitous Administration bent on erasing the chastening memory of Vietnam, reawakening the latent messianic ambitions of Americans and disguising how hard it is to maintain public oversight of secretive military operations abroad.

The world is full of evil, no doubt.  Holmes argues it is time step away from this particular trap. 

I assume this means that anyone who runs against Bush should try this:
Don't argue that our only foreign policy aim is to rid the world of evil.  Suggest it might be a bit silly to claim we're the only good folks in the world, and it is our manifest destiny to save the planet from the bad guys.  Things are a bit more complicated than that.

Heck, that is not what folks want to hear.  That sounds so...  French? 
We really do want to believe we are the only good guys and everyone hates us for it.  It's kind of an heroic victim thing.  We stand alone for the good and everyone hates us, but we're right.  And noble. 
As for claiming the world is complex and difficult?  Not a winning strategy.  Not prudent.
-- AP 6/27/03

Quick Hit 4 - Can anyone challenge Bush in the next election?
My older brother, who was in the restaurant business for twenty-seven years, knows a lot about what people want.  He started out at as food service manager for Saga Foods - college dining halls - Carroll College near Milwaukee, then the University of Pittsburgh, then Center College in Kentucky, then the University of Cincinnati, then the twenty-seven year run with his own place.  All along the way he had this "success mantra" for dealing with a public of diverse tastes, or no taste at all.  His words to himself?  "Offend the most people the least."  Translate that to politics.  This is what the Democrats are up to in trying to regain office(s). 
So it will be Bush running with his carefully crafted persona - "I don't read much and I don't like people who do, nor people who think too much, nor, actually, any of these damned intellectuals of any kind, and I know what I do think - Dick Cheney told me -- and there's nobody who will change my mind."  This has a lot of resonance all over the country.  It's not "What would Jesus do?"  It's what would John Wayne do - or Gary Cooper.  Old movies run through people's heads - fixing in hard amber some mythos about how a good man operates in a bad world.  You don't say much.  You don't take shit.  You do things.  You don't talk about them.  Hell, you don't much think about things, because what good did thinking ever do?  You know what must be done, even if no one else does.  And you do it. 
Of the nine Democrats who have declared so far?  Each of them does a variation on the opposite persona - "Whatever I'm not going to hurt you, and I'm not going to hurt any of us, and, by the way, what would you like to hear me say?"  It seems kind of hopeless.
Do you remember the clear-headed, no-bullshit, let's-be-fair liberals of yesterday?  Bobby Kennedy in that last run just laying it all out - hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better?  Well, Bobby got shot.  Martin Luther King doing the same thing.  Well, he got shot a few months earlier than Bobby.  Of course, to be fair, George Wallace got shot too.  Lots of people got shot. 
But the point is that those optimistic "why don't we fix it and make things better" kinds of guys are nowhere to be found these days.  What you'll see on Bush campaign stickers in the 2004 election?  You know - variations on "Just Do It" or "Money Talks, Bullshit Walks" or "Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On" -- and of course that quote from Marge Simpson  -- "We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it."  The other side, the Democrats, will have bumper stickers asking if we all can't just get along.
No Democrat will win anything by whining about the smirking frat boy or by fretting about some British essayist hating cheeseburgers and everything American.  To win the Democrats would have to field an opponent with a sense of humor, some brains, and a lot of optimism, someone who listens to what is being said, and is willing to say - "Hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better?" 
It does not seem like that is going to happen.  And if it did, he or she would get shot.
 28 May 2003