Sunday, November 04, 2007


I hesitated before posting this -- it's the sort of post Atrios dismisses with the mocking line "Everything is good for the Republicans!" But in fact, in presidential election cycles (or seven of the last ten, at least), everything (or at least everything that gets the bellicose juices stirring) is good for the Republicans. And I don't see why that's likely to change this time around.


I don't agree with Frank Rich about this:

...what happens if President Bush does not bomb Iran? That is good news for the world, but potentially terrible news for the Democrats. If we do go to war in Iran, the election will indeed be a referendum on the results, which the Republican Party will own no matter whom it nominates for president. But if we don't, the Democratic standard-bearer will have to take a clear stand on the defining issue of the race. As we saw once again at Tuesday night’s debate, the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, does not have one.

Sorry, but no. I don't accept the premise that the Republican nominee will share ownership of any negative consequences from an attack on Iran -- and if he does, he'll also share ownership of the vote-generating fear and the opportunity for self-righteous bombast.

And if there's no Iran attack before next November, I'm not sure I believe that Democratic nominee's stand on a potential attack can ever be politically advantageous. I'm afraid that, once the Republicans play the war card, there's only a selection among bad choices for the Democratic candidate, because Democrats haven't ever managed to reframe the idea of this kind of war, or reframe the (Republican) politicians who like it.

If you're a Democrat and you oppose the next war, you're a sandal-wearing wuss who wants to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" while evildoers kill your fellow citizens in their beds, which you don't mind because you secretly want America to lose. If you waffle on the next war, all of the above applies, plus you're a flip-flopper. If you come out foursquare in favor of the next war, the Republicans will simply substitute doves for you -- they'll ignore your support and point to fellow Democrats who oppose the war, or even to people outside the party such as Cindy Sheehan, and imply that your hawkishness is meaningless because those people are the true face of your party, and therefore are the true face of you.

No, none of this worked in 2006. But it worked like a charm in 2002 and 2004 (and remember, there was considerable disapproval of the war in 2004). It didn't work in 2006 because the only war the Republicans could attack Democrats on was a war the public was thoroughly sick of. Iran, however, will be a fresh new war.

Republicans wouldn't regularly get away with all this if the Democratic Party's brand weren't horribly tainted in the public's eyes by decades of GOP attacks, or if Democrats had even begun the process of besmirching the Republican Party's brand. But we are where we are: Every election cycle, one party runs under a cloud of distrust and skepticism, and the other party doesn't.

Yes, the polls say that party affiliation is now skewing very much away from Republicans and toward Democrats. But if the Republican Party is bobbing up and down in the water, Democrats aren't throwing in an anvil. They're not saying that the Republican front runners are Republicans; they're not saying, It's the Republican Party, stupid -- that is, they're not saying that the Republican Party is a noxious group of finger-wagging kleptocratic saber-rattlers and the GOP front-runners are just more of the usual.

Since there simply is no widely embraced negative Republican stereotype, the Republican nominee will be able to run unencumbered, as an individual delinked from Bush (assuming Bush is still loathed) -- even while he gets the advantage of an association with Bush among whatever voters still like the man (or have rallied around him in a time of war and/or fear).

But the Republicans nominee will run against a party with a tainted image, especially in foreign policy (despite the fact that the worst foreign policy debacle in U.S. history is a Republican's doing), and will tailor attacks to whatever aspect of the Democratic stereotype the nominee embodies or can be said to embody. And that will be true no matter who the Democratic nominee is or what he or she has or hasn't said or done about Iran. The best the nominee can do is try to minimize the damage.

And yes, I think that's true no matter how desperate voters are to get out of Iraq -- Democrats haven't gotten voters to see Iraq as a category of foreign policy debacle, so we'll probably start the Iran war cycle just where most war cycles start, with the public rallying around the flag (and the GOP) as soon as the sabers really start rattling.

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