DAVID BRIN's world of ideas

Ostrich Hunting: The Bill Clinton Gambit

By David Brin, Ph.D.

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

[image from Project Management Essentials blog]

The Ostriches

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.

This article contains an extensive compilation of "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. Those who wish to skip my long-winded explanations can print this handy "cheat sheet," and also show their ostrich this even-more-handy chart.

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.

[image from Michael Michaud's Instablog]

Ostrich Ammo: Hypocrisy is the Zinger

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.


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."

Reality Check: Do facts matter at all to you? That the economy and stock market always do better under Democrats? That new businesses start up better and government regulators are more helpful? That capitalism works better? That the GOP's only consistent goals have been to rip off the taxpayer and benefit a few thousand super-rich?


  • 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 do you "lose" 270 tons of one hundred dollar bills? That's ninety million $100 bills, or the average monthly mortgage payments of TEN million Americans.)...

including almost a billion dollars that were "misplaced" by the side of an Iraqi road?

Self-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? Then how about George W. Bush?


  • made US taxpayers subsidize a huge, private, mercenary army, controlled by one of his closest and most fanatical liberal-democrat supporters?

  • then lavished more tax dollars on that crony-contractor, for him to lure top soldiers out of the Army and Marines, 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" under 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, simply to make a minor political point?

Self-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.

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.


  • 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?

Self-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.

[image from Critical Mass]


  • 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?

  • used the words "emergency" and "top secret" to conceal those crooked deals?

  • 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 to Bill Clinton?

  • 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?

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.)

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.

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.


  1. 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?)

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

[image from Malcolm McClay/a>]

Here are some more hypocrisy skewers. Make your ostrich face every one.


Self-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?


  • 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?

  • 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.)

  • 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?

  • 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?

Self-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?


  • declared that he was the one and only "decider," in what had previously been a vast and sophisticated democracy?

  • declared repeatedly that a president can refuse to answer to any kind of accountability or oversight by our elected Congress?

  • 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?

  • declared "Mission Accomplished" when an endless, Vietnam-style quagmire had only just begun?


  • 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.)

  • 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?)

  • 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?)

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.)

Next ... even more (what-if) "crimes of Bill Clinton"!