and by using the politician's best tool fear.
Unfortunately, some wars are won by the side that is the most
fanatical in the religious sense. The victorious leaders harness the
holy energy of collective insanity.
[From the Machine Crusade by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson]
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the
populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety)
by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."
~ H. L. Mencken, "Women as Outlaws"
But will it work this time? Fred Barnes reports they intend to give it a try.
POLITICS IS PRETTY SIMPLE. If the debate in an upcoming election puts your party at a disadvantage, it makes sense to try to change the debate. At the moment, the 2006 midterm election is framed as a referendum on the Bush administration and congressional Republicans, putting Republican candidates on the defensive. Party strategists, led by chairman Ken Mehlman, want to rejigger the debate so it's about a choice between candidates, putting Democratic candidates on the defensive as well. In short, they want it to be a choice election, not a referendum election.There are a couple of problems on this front for the Republicans this time. We are reaching a point where a majority of Americans are ready to get out of Iraq and a majority are recognizing that the Bush tax cuts didn't help anybody but the richest Americans.Now for the second part of the strategy, fire up the American Taliban once again. Barnes reports:
This is not a new idea. Republicans brought about a choice election in 2004. Democrats believed they were a cinch to win a referendum on President Bush's first term, and Republicans worried they were right. But Republicans were able to make Democrat John Kerry at least as much of an issue as Bush was, especially on national security.
For 2006, the Republican National Committee, the White House, and most Senate and House Republicans are on board with the choice strategy. In fact, some members of Congress are already repeating a phrase first used by Bush in meetings with congressional allies. It's an assertion that Democrats would "raise your taxes and raise the white flag" in Iraq.
There's another part of the 2006 Republican strategy. This spring and summer, Republican leaders in the Senate and House plan to bring up a series of issues that are popular with the Republican base of voters. The aim is to stir conservative voters and spur turnoutThis too has some problems the first is that the radical Christians have heard the words from the Republicans for years and not seen any tangible results. Will the give up on the Republicans and just stay home? The second is it will inspire those opposed to a theocracy to go out and vote?
in the November election. Just last week, House Majority Leader John Boehner and Whip Roy Blunt met with leaders of conservative groups to talk about these issues.
House Republicans, for their part, intend to seek votes on measures such as the Bush-backed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a bill allowing more public expression of religion, another requiring parental consent for women under 18 to get an abortion, legislation to bar all federal courts except the Supreme Court from ruling on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance, a bill to outlaw human cloning, and another that would require doctors to consider fetal pain before performing an abortion.
You can run but you can't hide.
The Republicans have little choice. The Republicans are stuck with a President who is becoming less popular everyday and they have made careers out of blindly supporting him.
Two pollsters consulted by Mehlman on the choice strategy said it would be counterproductive for Republican candidates to concentrate on highlighting their differences with Bush or congressional Republicans.A weakened Bush is a weakened Republican Party.
So will it work? Joe Gandelman has some thoughts.
Will it work? It'll likely turn off a lot of independent voters and mean losing the few Democrats that polls show support the GOP. It could well energize the party's social conservative base. But it could backfire because such a strategy will ensure that voters who aren't part of the GOP base will make sure they cast their votes this time around. 2006 won't be the year when people who are upset over the Bush administration will stay home (or agree with Ralph Nader).
In the end, though, Barnes has it right: it will depend on whether Republican voters want to perpetuate this kind of politics where winning means having to literally and openly changing the subject so demonization of opponents trumps explaining your record, offering concrete policy solutions or detailing how things will be done differently by you in the future.
But maybe in the end the GOP elite will find that there are some Republicans who want to end the dominance in their own party of people who think this way and seem fixated on creating a Disunited States of America to perpetuate themselves in power. Because, in the end, independent-thinking Republican voters are the only ones who can clean their own house.