If Democrats and their moderate allies want simply to win the next election, they may play it safe. Keep riding the GOP's self-made spiral of unpopularity. Keep hoping that nothing dramatic will happen to mobilize the Republican base. Keep it about "left vs right." Keep nibbling at Karl Rove's coalition.
There is another option: Treat the 2008 election as if civilization were at stake. While most of the effort and money is going into primary campaigns, it's time to look farther ahead and face some hard facts about the general election of 2008:
The neocons won't budge easily. After years of brazen corruption, they must keep our justice professionals politically leashed, just to stay out of jail. That's powerful incentive to innovate fresh tricks — like in 2000 and 2004 — to swing any close election their way.
Even if a Democrat wins in 2008, the presidency may prove worthless. So long as one of our great national parties is run by "culture warriors," politics will grow ever-more vicious, void of negotiation or reason. Extreme partisans of both sides may relish this. But the pragmatist-progressive majority will despair as their Great Experiment slides ever-deeper into a bitter sea of bile.
There is a solution: America must overwhelmingly repudiate neoconservatism. This monstrous, mutant version of conservatism should not be left in charge of a major party, licking its wounds and preparing for a comeback in 2012.
For America's sake — and for enlightenment civilization — the next election has to be a complete blow-out. But how?
Why not be bold, imaginative and ambitious for a change? Just as Newt Gingrich was, back in 1994, when neoconservatives seized the party and movement of Goldwater and Dole, transforming it into something both bizarre and overwhelmingly powerful. To reverse this American calamity, the GOP must be given back to reasonable men and women. To grownups who — though classically conservative — are willing to negotiate with their neighbors, instead of demonizing them.
Top priority must go to shattering Rove's Big Tent Coalition — by rousing twenty million "Ostrich Republicans."
I've described as 'ostriches' people like your mostly-decent uncle, who stays glued to Fox News, desperately seeking reassurance that his side has not gone insane. Burying his head in denial, reciting the slogan-of-the-week, trying not to think about what conservatism has become.
The bad news? By now, only a fraction of GOP supporters are accessible via reason. No amount of evidence will sway the insiders and thieves who are benefiting most from the Great Kleptocratic Raid. Or their high-paid shills. Or the fanatics and extreme dogmatists. Or even the narrowminded variety of libertarians, who ignore 4,000 years of history by seeing only one enemy of freedom — bureaucrats.
The good news? That still leaves millions of our neighbors who are sincere in seeing themselves as reasonable (if conservative) Americans. Folks who have let themselves be led, step-by-step into accepting a redefinition of their movement, from prudence to recklessness, from accountability to secrecy, from fiscal discretion to spendthrift profligacy, from consistency to hypocrisy, from civility to nastiness, from logic to unreason.
These people make up the largest single bloc in Rove's tent! If we pull enough of them out of it, the tent will unravel. The other groups will be marginalized and scattered. Culture War will wither away.
Moreover, this category includes many of those skilled professionals — in the civil service, officer corps, FBI and so on — who may yet save us all. If they were to shrug off the know-nothing bullies who were appointed to harass and distract them. If they wake up enough to do their jobs.
The crux? This election may not be about campaign finance, or mass media, or even particular politicians. For it to be a blow-out, for Americans to take back their nation and for culture war to end, we must act at the grass roots. Not through savior-candidates, but by each of us picking one or two "ostriches" and not letting go until they lift their heads.
Can this work at the grass roots? Stealing "decent conservatives" from Karl Rove, one at a time?
These are your neighbors, your relatives. You can tell them that they owe you this much: one hour — uninterrupted — of their time. One hour to make them realize their movement has been hijacked by a fanatics and thieves.
You may fail. Denial is powerful! But if one in ten succeed, then stand back. Because these decent men and women will awaken angry! Witness those in the U.S. military Officer Corps, now furious at the Bushite bullies who oppress them. If enough Republican civilians also waken, the heat may sear Rove's Red Alliance to ashes...
...ensuring that the next version of conservatism (and there will be one) may be more like Bob Dole and less Joseph Goebbels.
This article contains an extensive compilation of verbal "Ammo" for Hunting Ostriches. It wound up being lengthy for two reasons. First, the sheer number of neocon crimes and betrayals. And second, because you may need to hammer every point before the pattern begins to penetrate thick, defensive ostrich hide.
How does one rouse a stubborn ostrich? As I discuss elsewhere, they are psychologically well-armored, and Fox provides rationalizations to mask every individual Bushite travesty. Lapel pins outweigh death tolls.
Hence, you'll need persistence, plus willingness to empathize! Instead of screaming at a strawman image of all conservatives, show your ostriches that you understand their better values — prudence, independence, honesty, fiscal responsibility, individualism, real patriotism — and then show forcefully how the neocon/Bush cabal has betrayed them all.
It also helps to shake up their perspective! Take a fresh angle. Here's an approach that has been tried, on occasion, by some liberal pundits like Bill Maher. Only never with the kind of relentless thoroughness that may grind and finally penetrate ostrich hide.
Try asking "What happened to the moral outrage that you once fulminated towards Bill Clinton?"
And then start going down a very long list of thought experiments. Here are some examples, offered in a very in-your-face style.
Which President did Alan Greenspan praise, and which did he criticize?
Republicans have always adored longtime chief of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan. During the long 1990s prosperity, when small businesses boomed and middle class investors did better than ever, when oil was cheap but we invested in new energy, when capitalism was working for everybody, conservative pundits liked to shift much of the credit for that prosperity from Bill Clinton to Greenspan.
Fair enough. But in that case, out of the six presidents under whom he served, which one did Greenspan recently write that he found most "literate," showing "a consistent, disciplined focus on long term economic growth"? On the other hand, which one seemed dogmatic, uninterested, uncurious and focused only upon getting tax cuts for his favored groups?
Of the two major parties, which one has Greenspan accused of having "swapped principle for power? They ended up with neither. They deserve to lose."
Figured out which one? Here a hint: Visit the Bureau of Economic Analysis (http://www.bea.gov/) and check out Table 3.9.1., Percent Change From Preceding Period in Real Government Consumption Expenditures and Gross Investment. In summary:
G.W. Bush grew the National Government by 27.3%
Clinton "grew" the National Government by -10.8% (that is an 11% shrinkage)
G.H.W. Bush Grew the National Government by 1.6%
Reagan grew the National Government by 33.9%
Carter grew the National Government by 11.7%
Ostrich Reality Check: Do facts matter at all? The economy and stock market do better under Democrats. New businesses start up better, and government regulators are more helpful. Capitalism works better. The GOP's only consistent economic goals have been to rip off the taxpayers and benefit a few thousand super-rich.
What would you have said if Clinton had sent twelve billion dollars of taxpayer money into a war zone — as a raw cash, unsupervised slush fund — then managed to "lose" nine billions of it...
How did they "lose" 270 tons of one hundred dollar bills? That's ninety million $100 bills, or the average monthly mortgage payments of TEN million Americans. This "loss" including almost a billion dollars that were 'misplaced by the side of an Iraqi road'!
A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq. "For the first time, the extent to which some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding has been researched by the BBC's Panorama using US and Iraqi government sources.... A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations..... And example cited in the article: "In the run-up to the invasion one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth seven billion that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company, which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president. Unusually only Halliburton got to bid — and won."
In fact, this is the tip of the iceberg. Arguably the biggest reason for the war may have been the excuse it offered, to bypass normal contracting rules using "emergency" clauses in the law. Now look back at how the far-right howled over the UN's "Oil for Food" program and some possible graft that might have added up, over a decade, to a billion dollars. Where is the same indignation over theft that directly betrayed our troops in the field, amounting to tens and even hundreds of times as much?
Ostrich Reality Check: Remember how mad you were over "Whitewater corruption" amounting to at most $80,000? Would you have let Clinton get away with "losing" a hundred thousand times as much without even attempting an explanation or starting an investigation? Then why does George W. Bush get a pass?
How would you have reacted if Bill Clinton made US taxpayers subsidize a huge, private, mercenary army (Blackwater), controlled by one of his closest and most fanatical supporters? Then lavished more tax dollars on that crony-contractor, for him to lure top soldiers out of the Army and Marines and into that private force, instead of using a fraction of the same taxpayer money to simply make re-enlistment palatable to those highly skilled men and women?
Then signed documents making that liberal mercenary force immune from any law, American or foreign?
Then let those leftist mercenaries exonerate themselves from cold-blooded murder, by allowing them to ghost-write a "report" on US diplomatic letterhead?
While also using tax dollars to create many more secret liberal groups, to perform intelligence-gathering, interrogation, kidnapping and international "operations" without even a figleaf of supervision by the CIA?
Then ruined the effectiveness of one of the best of those groups, by leaking its methods and "outing" one of its agents, simply to make a minor political point?
Ostrich Reality Check: Never heard of any of this? Then might your source of news be... well... part of the problem?
Yes, others have asked "What if a Democrat had done that?" But one at a time, these "bullets" bounce off ostrich hide. Only when piled high will the point get through.
And when it does, expect emotion! Denial, rage, grief, resignation... all the stages of mourning for a movement that was seized by political vampires and turned into something undead.
Don't just ask your ostriches to read all this. We humans tend to skim or avert our gaze from unpleasant facts. (Liberals do it, too.)
No. You'll have to spend some friendship capital. Sit them down. Read this dismal litany to them, aloud!
Be fair. Listen, too! Be willing to learn. But don't let go. The most persuasive thing about this list is its relentless length! Rationalizations and excuses will fade, as you lay down one crime after another. If they love America as much as they say they do.
So also offer hope. That liberals will learn from all this, too. Promise, if conservatism will only rediscover its nobler roots, that you'll be there, with your hand out, ready to negotiate. Grownup to grownup.
What if Clinton, upon facing more criticism from serving and retired senior military officers than all other presidents since Lincoln, combined, routinely responded by having his minions attack their character? Then refused to discuss why other whistleblowers and war critics — including airborne and special forces noncoms — have been killed, some shot in the head, at a rate far exceeding normal combat casualties in their units?
Ostrich Reality Check: Would you have shrugged all that off, if such things happened under Bill Clinton? You, who relished ornate conspiracy theories over the suicide of poor Vince Foster — how would you have reacted if the Clintons used your taxes to create huge private armies led by fanatic democrats? While critics of Clinton had their reputations slashed, or died, or disappeared? Okay, you wouldn't have let Bill Clinton get away with any of that. Only, now substitute "Bush" for "Clinton" and "neocon" for "liberal" and tell us the same.
Would it have angered you if Bill Clinton canceled rules requiring that government contracts be awarded by competitive bidding — (it's called capitalism) — and instead granted multibillion dollar sweetheart deals directly to liberal cronies and Clinton family friends, free of supervision or auditing — as Bush and Cheney did with Halliburton?
Then used the words "emergency" and "top secret" to conceal those crooked deals?
And hid the fact that each private contractor costs five to ten times as much as a soldier or civil servant, while doing astonishingly shoddy work?
Then appointed "inspectors" to many cabinet departments and Iraq reconstruction agencies, who had no professional qualifications other than longtime political loyalty?
Then managed to lose, waste or "misplace" more Iraqi oil each and every week than the UN "Oil For Food Program" did in its entire history?
Ostrich Reality Check: If Clinton had done these things, would you have ignored and excused it all, the way you have for Bush? (Meanwhile, our troops go without. And regular Iraqis starve.)
Should we count on plummeting GOP popularity to rescue America late in 2008? Complacency could be as bad as relying on Democratic politicians as saviors.
Something may firm up the GOP base. Another (convenient) terror attack? War with Iran? The nomination of Hillary Clinton? (Look, I like her. I'll campaign hard if she's the nominee. But can you picture anything more sure to bring out ten million extra Republican voters, through sleet or hail?)
The GOP is already re-positioning, preparing to blame every failure on Bush and "beltway Washington insiders," giving GOP voters a way to support more neocon thieves, backed by the same interests, while pretending they're throwing bums out!
Democrats may, yet again, let Karl Rove frame the debate as a matter of "left versus right," driving moderate and "decent" conservatives to hold their noses and "vote right" — out of self-identity.
How to avoid these failure modes? By going after the weakest part of Rove's coalition... Dole Goldwater Republicans, like that sweet but troglodytic uncle of yours, who gets his memes from Fox, burying his head to avoid choosing between party and country.
Here are some more hypocrisy skewers. Make your ostrich face every one.
Do you figure you'd have noticed if Bill Clinton sent our National Guard units into endless deployments, wrecking families, demolishing our reserves, and leaving our states and cities defenseless, in case of natural disaster. Or in case of a future terror attack?
If he allowed a great American city to be destroyed through staggering bureaucratic negligence, despite plenty of warnings about hurricane danger? Then allowed graft and corruption to siphon off billions, in the aftermath?
If he allowed U.S. air travel to decline into a morass of filthy, overcrowded airports, overbearing security and deteriorating service, while the rich escape to charters and corporate jets?
If allowed our nation's infrastructure, bridges, highways etc to deteriorate at the fastest rate in history?
If Clinton oversaw the worst spiral into national debt the world has ever seen, reversing 1990s surpluses into record-breaking deficits?
Ostrich Reality Check: When did you switch priorities? Loading your grandchildren with debt, while protecting Rupert Murdoch from taxes? Even when our nation is at war, in a "fight for survival"? Is it possible you were taught to make this weird reversal of conservative values? By the same men who directly benefit?
Would you criticize your "Commander in Chief" if it were Bill Clinton who supervised and directly oversaw the steepest decline in U.S. military readiness since the War of 1812? With the Army and Marines running out of troops and equipment, unable to train, and unable to meet recruitment quotas, despite steeply lowering standards and offering signup bonuses in excess of $20,000?
If he brought us to the point where only two Army brigades are currently trained, equipped and prepared to fight a national land force? And those two are in Korea? (Hint: that's fewer ready brigades than Belgium or Mexico have.)
If he fired, transferred, punished, or forced into retirement hundreds of US military officers, for refusing to parrot a party line or for not helping twist our armed forces into a political tool?
If Clinton appointed to top positions at the FBI, Justice Department, CIA, Defense and Homeland Security men and women without experience in those fields, whose sole attribute was partisan loyalty and a willingness to bully civil servants, harassing professionals into toeing the line?
Ostrich Reality Check: If a Democrat did a smidgen of this, would you have looked the other way? Or would you have made a stink if Clinton harassed even one US officer? So, what do you say to that face in the mirror? That fellow who let a Republican administration do all this, and more, without a word of protest?
Would you have laughed aloud — or cried — if Bill Clinton declared that he was the one and only "decider," in what had previously been a vast and sophisticated democracy?
If he declared repeatedly that a president can refuse to answer to any kind of accountability or oversight by our elected Congress?
If he promised (as a candidate) never to commit troops without a timetable, an exit strategy, adequate financing, or clear, achievable goials that directly help our nation, enough to outweigh our soldiers' sacrifice? What if Clinton had promised all that... then did the opposite?
If he declared "Mission Accomplished" when an endless, Vietnam-style quagmire had only just begun?
What if — before your very eyes — "Commander in Chief" Bill Clinton transformed our military's reputation from one of agile invincibility (after Gulf-I, the Balkans and Afghanistan) to one of floundering quagmire-incompetence? (And reputation is what deters aggressors.)
What if he transformed our nation's reputation for always taking the moral high ground to one that makes excuses for torture and treating prisoners as non-humans? (Wasn't that reputation more valuable, over the long run, than any short term access to coerced information?)
What if he drove away nearly all of our allies and made the United States more unpopular around the world than at any time in our history?
Yes, the neocon attitude is "f*@k what the world thinks!" But, in that case, wouldn't traditional conservative isolationism make more sense than trying to "lead" a world that hates us?
Ostrich Reality Check: In fact, Clinton's Balkans War was brief, fierce, effective and perfect, quickly achieving all stated goals (a Europe at peace and democratic for the first time in 4,000 years), at low expense, while preserving readiness and costing zero — exactly zero — American lives. While US popularity soared, even among Muslims, and troop morale hit new records. Beat that.)
Copyright © 2007 by David Brin. All rights reserved.
"Ostrich Hunting: Countering the 'Clinton' Gambit" (published in full here) was originally written for the 2008 Presidential election, but its warning about how to surmount fear and denialism taps into one of America's more intractable problems.
American Policy Center, North American Union Fact Sheet
Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, "Billions Over Baghdad"
David Brin, "War in the 21st Century"
CBS News, "FBI: Violent Crime On The Rise"
CNN.com, "Five Named in Alleged Iraq Contracting Scam"
Jane Corbin, "BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions"
Al Cronkrite, "Blackwater USA: Onward Christian Soldiers"
Malcolm Fraser, "How the West got lost"
Suzanne Goldenberg, "CIA Disbands Bin Laden Unit"
"The Great Iraq Swindle" (video)
Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World (book)
issuepedia, "Bush-Cheney administration hypocrisy"
Carrie Johnson, "Inernal Justice Dept. Report Cites Illegal Hiring Practices"
Naomi Klein, "Greenspan and the Myth of the True Believer"
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (book)
Chris Mooney, "Dr. President"
Valerie Plame, Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government (book)
David Rose, "The People vs. the Profiteers"
Charlie Savage, "Control Sought on Military Lawyers"
Eric Schmitt and Ginger Thompson, "Broken Supply Channel Sent Arms to Iraq Astray"
Daniel Schulman, "Office of Special Counsel's War On Whistleblowers"
Tim Shipman, "Greenspan attacks Bush over tax cuts and high spending"
Pierre Thomas et al., "FEMA Apologizes After Sham News Conference"
wikipedia, Bernard Kerik
wikipedia, 'Mission Accomplished' speech
David Brin blogs at Contrary Brin and comments on Facebook, Twitter, MeWe, and Quora specifically to discuss the political and scientific issues he raises in these articles. If you come to argue rationally, you're voting, implicitly, for a civilization that values open minds and discussions among equals.
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