January 20, 2004

Like most polls, the first survey to come out since last night's Iowa caucus is showing a mixed bag for the President. The race is basically tied between Bush and "generic Democrat", which is what Edwards and Kerry are, for all intents and purposes. Bush is clearly favored on matters dealing with the "war on terrorism", but his handling of the economy (and other domestic issues) gets mediocre grades from the public.

I remain unconvinced that any Democrat will be able to defeat Bush if the principal issue before the voters is foreign affairs. If there is one hard and fast rule in elections, it is that the more hawkish position is generally going to be the more popular. As long as Bush can find an adversary to vilify, whether it be Iran, Syria, North Korea, or Monaco, a large segment of the public will back him, no questions asked. After September 11th, the appetite for any foreign adventure increased dramatically, and as the high percentage of people who still believe that Saddam was behind that attack and had ties to Al Qaeda attests, Red State voters aren't particularly discriminating.

So what to do, if you're a blindly partisan Democrat, who is as concerned with such mundane things as the maldistribution of income, budget deficits, gay rights, racial intolerance, and all those other things that tend to get clumped together under the label "domestic policy", and who wants to see his party capture at least one branch of government in the next election? As I said, we can't do much about foreign policy except try to be constructively critical, and perhaps shame the Administration into occasionally telling the truth. But on domestic issues, I have a modest proposal.

The Democrats need a slogan that encapsulates their domestic policy positions (also, they need some policy positions, but lets take care of the easy things first). They already have the backing of the public. What they need is to turn that support into actual votes, to make their positions the compelling reason people vote in the upcoming election. The "war on terrorism" is catchy, and allows Bush to sere into the psyche of the electorate his entire foreign policy (which the public largely supports) and his domestic policy (which the public doesn't), even though it is not technically a "war" under Article I of the Constitution, and even though his policies that directly deal with terrorism (eg., the by-now comical color-coded threat system) are a mixed bag. To counter that, we can't simply come up with our own "wars" (eg., a "war" on deficit spending), because to do so would sound derivative, and would smack of defensiveness, a no-no in game theory.

So I humbly suggest the term, "let's put the grown-ups back in charge". First, it reminds the public that the Democrats are generally the more responsible party when it comes to the public trough. Clinton raised taxes on the rich and ran a public surplus, and the economy averaged a quarter million new jobs a month; Bush cut taxes on the rich, ran a record deficit, and the economy has suffered a net job drop since he took over. One party knows how to manage a global economy, and the other believes that "Reagan showed that deficits don't matter", and relies on a superstitious belief in tax cuts as the panacea for everything.

Second, it tweaks the GOP, which used that slogan in 2000, and boasted during the early days of the Bush Administration that after eight years of bitter partisan division under Clinton, there was a new sheriff in town, one who was a "uniter, not a divider". Suddenly, the public doesn't find the petty "scandals" of the Clinton years to be so bad, not when the State Department has basically become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton, and when our foreign policy has been taken over by an ideological cult. When the President is so myopic that he doesn't know the difference between the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and the potential for same, when his explanation for telling a whopper in the last State of the Union was that the ever-reliable MI-6 believed it to be true, when he refuses to even read newspapers, and when his judicial nominees tend to belong to the same bund as Ann Coulter, the fact that Clinton defined the word "is" to mean the third-person singular of "to be" isn't such a big deal anymore.

And lastly, it is a pointed criticism at the one area of Bush's handling of foreign policy that does concern the public, his inability to get along with others. Much has been made of French and German intransigence at our efforts to develop an international front against Saddam Hussein before the United Nations last year. His apologists, of course, blame Chirac for undercutting our efforts to build a coalition to deal with WMD's, never bothering to explain what exactly was wrong with that; since no WMD's were subsequently found, it's kinda hard to use Saddam's alleged violation of Security Council resolutions as a causus belli. At some point, a certain amount of humility is called for when the reasons we used to hector other countries into fighting along side us have been discredited. Instead, we have the type of international relations one would expect where you have a "leader" who behaves in the manner of a petulent child, unable to understand or acknowledge the possibility that he may be wrong about something.

But if any of you have a better idea for a slogan, fire away....

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