Dispatches From the Moderate Left

Saturday, June 04, 2005

DU Fantasises (US)

I highly recommend reading this faux-news article from Democratic Underground for two reasons. One, it's absolutely hilarious and two, it gives a bit of an insight into the disconnect between radical/attack dog Democrats and how to win an election. The article basically paints a Democrat fantasy of the 2006 midterm elections where the Dems sweep to massive majorities in both houses and a Bush/Cheney impeachment looks just around the corner (with Nancy Pelosi, of all people, in line for the top job when Bush/Cheney go).

How did all this happen? Through no fault of the Democrats apparently:
[T]he electorate clearly was expressing its revulsion at Bush Administration policies; voters said the key issues affecting their votes were their anger at the lies undergirding the Iraq War, now in its fourth year, the condoning of torture as American policy, and the current economic crisis.

If this is what progressives in the States are pinning their hopes on then they're in trouble.

Iraq War
This point is mainly based around the (bizarre) assumption that the mainstream media is very quickly going to turn itself into a mouthpiece for the progressive agenda and, among other things, push the Downing Street Memo story strongly. Unfortunately it still doesn't describe how the Democrats managed to connect this discontent with voting Democrat. Simply being angry with how Bush ran the Iraq war isn't enough of a reason to vote Democrat for a lot of people. Kerry had this problem, he was unable to effectively capitalise on the powerful negative feelings about the war as he couldn't outline a coherent strategy for what he would do differently to Bush other than vague platitudes about 'multilateralism'. The 34% of voters who cited 'national security' or 'Iraq' as the most important issue of the last election broke overwhelmingly for Bush and I can't see that changing any time soon.

Further, I don't think the Downing Street Memo story is going to turn people who currently support the war against it. If you believe the war was justified on moral/democracy grounds (and most of the supporters nowadays do, if only due to cognitive dissonance) then the 'revelation' that Bush had planned to go to war a long time before the inspections were finished just shows his moral resolve and doesn't translate into 'vote Democrat'. Nothing in this article suggests how Democrats could make that happen.

If Abu Gharib didn't hurt the GOP, and it didn't, then nothing will. Even if worse stories about who ordered what and what happened to X number of detainees in X number of places come out, nothing will have the sheer visceral impact of the Abu Gharib photos. Once again, there's a disconnect between anger at the wrong and 'vote the GOP out'. In the sort of ideologically charged political climate which exists in the States, it will probably take a scandal of truly epic proportion to even dent a party and while the whole torture thing is truly terrible I don't see it having the sort of effect on the electorate that this article dreams about.

This is probably the silliest of the points made in the article. It dreams up a fantasy recession/depression suddenly breaking out in the next year or so thanks to a currency collapse. This causes massive job losses and the government can no longer afford any protection programs because it spent all its money on tax cuts. This is an awfully thin thread for Dems to pin their electoral hopes on. Sure, the US economy isn't wonderful at the moment, but it's in no danger of immediate meltdown and hoping for one doesn't leave you much room to move if it doesn't happen.

The end of the article exhorts grassroots activists to go out and make this happen. Unfortunately they can't, because the picture the story paints is of the country falling to hell in a handbasket and the Democrats, presumably, promising to try and pick up the pieces. Attempting to stir up anti-Bush sentiment energises those predisposed to vote for Democrats but it's not a strategy likely to win over either swing voting pragmatists or those who ideologically identify with the Conservatives.

This might be part of the patronising idea that much of America lives in some sort of Fox-news propaganda bubble and that they don't really know what's in their best interests (the 'What's the Matter with Kansas'/class unconsciousness theory) but the reality is more complicated than that - people actually do agree with what the Republican party stands for and telling them all the (apparently) bad things Bush has done aint' gonna change that. I think many of the 'grassroots activists' floating around are missing this point - it didn't work last election, why do they believe it's going to work next time?


  • The US economy is in the worst condition in memory, partly because of the massive debt and partly because of the decline of industry. It is propped up now by what has been called the 'housing bubble', and when that breaks (RSN) depression is at the door.

    As the war becomes more disasterous, of that's possible, people may begin to wake up. That's how it was with Vietnam. It will take either a startling defeat (Tet Offensive) or return of the draft.

    You're right that most people are not addled by Fox News. Its viewership is miniscule and in rapid decline since the election. The main reason people vote republican is that they've got it in their heads that the democrats want to raise taxes. Or because they think Jesus wants them to.

    By Blogger Charles Watkins, at 4:11 PM  

  • militarily the Tet offensive was a US victory - it effectively wiped out the Vietcong and put a serious dent in the NVA - and yet it killed the US war effort politically. public opinion is based on perception, not fact. that's why the Dems aren't hitting anything despite all the material they have to throw. enough of the US public is convinced that Iraq is the frontline in a global war on America to have opened up a patriotic black hole in the body politic, one that sucks in every revelation of the administration's incompetence and mala fides.

    In any case Tet was the work of a conventional army equipped on a rough par with the US enemy. The Iraqi insurgency can’t land any spectacular blow against US forces – like all insurgencies it works on a strategy of attrition, one that’s doomed in the long run because the power asymmetries in today's world are so much greater than in the 1960's. The Dems will only make headway once they stop looking for a political coup and start making themselves into the alternative party of government, but seven months on from Kerry’s concession speech they haven’t done anything. quite frankly the only thing they’ve had on spot since 9/11 is their mascot. You can lead a donkey to water...

    on the subject of Vietnam, check out

    By Blogger John Lee, at 12:35 AM  

  • My Tet reference was meant to convey a symbolic turning point, as you say in your first paragraph, not that it would be replayed militarily. What Tet showed was that after all our losses so far, our enemy was still strong and determined. In Iraq, the turning point could be an insurgent act that convinces Americans that the Iraqis aren't worth our sacrifice -- they just don't deserve democracy. The racism is still there, just below the surface.

    Incidentally, Digby has a column today about liberals and patriotism that I think you would like.


    By Blogger Charles Watkins, at 2:24 AM  

  • that's the root problem here - the link between Iraqi democracy and American sacrifice. the idea that if the US hangs on the democratic flame will eventually burn bright enough to wither away all the threats to Iraq's viability has no basis in history. As a political concept, Democracy lacks structural strength – it’s a public good that can only take root and grow within a secure national framework, it can’t create that framework for itself. if you doubt this, look at every democratic success (or failure) from Athens to South Korea.

    I think part of the reason Americans have trouble recognising the limitations of democracy is its centrality to their own national identity, which masks the fact that US democracy was erected on solid socioeconomic foundations like everywhere else. things haven’t been helped either by the myth that the US 'rebuilt' Germany and Japan on democratic lines after WWII. those two countries rebuilt themselves, on the basis of pre-war institutions which Iraq has never had, such as a stable indigenous political system and a viable 'national community'. What the US contributed was a favourable international environment – free trade, security, etc. nation states can’t be 'built' like a lego castle by outside actors - the process is an internally-driven, evolutionary one. trying to catalyse it through force in a country surrounded by neighbours which sponsor terrorism was never going to work, though something may be salvaged yet.

    By Blogger John Lee, at 6:26 PM  

  • Interesting discussion you guys have got going here. I generally agree with John that you can't completely transplant democracy, but I do believe the US can have an effect wrt democracy promotion by creating an environment where it becomes a more attractive choice and by helping it along at crucial moments in a country. But Iraq was an extremely long shot, and it looks like they missed.

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 10:11 AM  

  • I think it could have been done. Had the US turned the government over to some neutral caretaker to keep the country operating while the Iraqis got up to speed, then they might have developed the institutions necessary for democratic government. We should have turned it over to the UN or the Arab League and left as soon as Saddam was deposed.

    By Blogger Charles Watkins, at 3:02 PM  

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