Democrats & Liberals Archives

Their Hand Set Against All

As a man in my mid-twenties, I have lived through three eras of American history. My childhood coincided with the declining years of the Cold War. My Adolesence spanned the years of prosperity, and as an adult, my time is that of the post 9/11 era, the War on Terrorism.

My experience of the Cold War made me familiar with the old saws about Democrats and Liberals being weak-willed traitors. Through the years of the peace of the next decade, I would believe that slander laid to rest. I would be disappointed to discover otherwise.

We have not even been given the chance to fail our country before the old hateful criticism came across. Spurred by the power-hungry in the Republican party, by pundits willing to cash in on the new demonization of the left and the moderates, and by a president all to willing to make smirking speeches about how the Democrats would go all weak on a war universally regarded as necessary, the virulent lie has been all but manifest in the conventional wisdom.

There are many reasons for the strong opposition to Bush from the Democrats. This is one of them. In a time where many Democrats felt unity was important, the Republican party leadership chose to abuse that impulse and overwhelm it.

It puzzles me why Republicans chose to endanger that unity, at least in a strategic sense. Instead of getting the American people fully behind our foreign policy, they again turned it into a matter of controversy. Perhaps Bush foresaw the fight that the War on Iraq would produce such controversy, and thought he had nothing to lose politically by practicing demagoguery with his base.

But what he did was create friction where none existed before, to get us into a war what would cause even greater friction in the larger world. Von Clausewitz, in his book On War spoke of strength of arms being complimented by the moral strength behind the fight. By moral, he did not so much mean whether these folks kept the Ten Commandments, but whether there was belief in their cause at home and with the troops. This, he said, was an important kind of strength, one that would enable armies to fight through the chaos and fears of battle in order to secure their objectives.

Our moral strength has been diminished by this war. As with Vietnam, we are put in a situation where we can't trust the optimistic appraisals of our government, can't trust their reasons for getting into this war, and can't trust them to competently carry out the battle. They may bluff and bluster, but in the end, the naysayers have been the soothsayers, the ones who have predicted the course of the war rightly. Some may say that the critics of this war are losing it for us, but the truth is, we are not seeing our soldiers crater under the pressures of the war. They have fought bravely, fought well, and not buckled under the strain. To say that our problems in Iraq come from a crisis of discouragement in the military is to display a distinct lack of faith in their resolve. Now that means the only problem here would be with the leadership, who have the power to shape policy. But then, the discouragement would be their own fault. If the Bush administration is taking an unsuccessful tack for the benefit of the critics of the war, then they have only to get back to taking care of business to resolve that problem. People will be less critical of success and the meeting of goals than failures and shortfalls.

The administration has always had the choice to explain controversial policies in a respectful way, to elicit cooperation, rather than division. The Democrats let Bush pass most every national security package he put forward, including legislation authorizing force for both our fights in the War on Terrorism, The Patriot Act, and the legislation to found the Department of Homeland Security. Hell, we were pushing for the last Before Bush changed his mind and supported it. We were never in a mood to cut corners on our defense. We were never going to bargain with terrorists, rely on warrants and police methods alone. Our idea of a war on terrorism was a comprehensive one, where the cooperation of our allies would become a weapon to strike at our enemies, where our diplomacy with the Middle East would become our means of de-radicalizing the region.

Democrats and Republicans alike fought the Cold War, fought Korea and Vietnam, fought in World War II. Democrats and Republicans alike fight this new enemy. It puzzles me that Republicans could think that we Democrats, seeing one of our favorite cities attacked, could lack committment the War against Terrorism. We were at Ground Zero. We never forgot. I mourn the lack of faith that the Republicans have in our party. It never had to be this way. We never had to fight over this issue, and we shouldn't have. We have real enemies to fight, and they will not pause in their attacks to give us the time to sort this out by political hackery.

There are more important things than political power, and there always have been. At the same time, though, we need leadership that can use the power at hand wisely. The Democrats might be willing to settle for Republican dominance if they were to drop the take-no-prisoner's approach, and keep counsel with us, so we could take legislation back to our constituent and say we did well by them. We cannot lead this nation properly by disempowering large chunks of the population. That can only lead to reactionary political turmoil, with an accompanying deficit of competent, honest, and timely governmental action.

The disappointment of the years after 9/11 is the extent to which the leading party failed to acknowledge the common stake we had in resolving the security crisis that is al-Qaeda and international terrorism, and the extent to which that political machine has acted to exploit the crisis. The Republican leadership may continually take us to task for exploiting Iraq for political benefit, but in the end, it was Bush and the leadership who did that first, using the issue to unseat Democrats and question their patriotism.

Because he based notions of Republican superiority on the willingness to go to war in Iraq, the failures of that war, before the invasion and after are fair game for those who he slighted and slandered to get that war. He has made us more vulnerable to terrorist attack by his actions, not less. Bush and the Republican Party have been given four more years to do something about it. In fighting so hard to portray us as the inferior party in upholding America's defense, he has made an implicit promise to America- that he will do better than we could. My advice to the Republicans in the next few years is simple: Earn the support of the Democrats through your actions. Prove that Bush's reelection was a blessing on this country and not a curse. No more excuses, no more scapegoats. Now is not the time to ask of our fellow citizens "Have you forgotten?", but instead the time to ask ourselves "Do I remember?"

And what should we remember? We should remember a time when loyalty to this country outweighed loyalty to party or person. We should remember those times, because those are the times where America is strongest, and the strength of that inclusive unity is not something to be lightly thrown away.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at January 16, 2005 9:30 AM