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Purging the Doves

December 14, 2004
By John Emerson

Peter Beinart's recent proposal that the Democrats denounce Michael Moore and his kind puts me in a hard place. Except for Matt Yglesias (who rather weakly defended him), most rejected Beinart's proposal, but it still leaves a bad taste. It's as if I'm on probationary status now, and Beinart's proposed purge was just the tip of the iceberg.

Recently some of the bright young Ivy League things of the Yglesias sort confessed, with no apparent embarrassment, that they had initially supported Bush's ill-conceived Iraq War primarily because they had been unwilling to be seen on the same side of the fence as the anti-war hippies they knew. Kevin Drum has expressed regret that Robert Scheer is writing for the LA Times (and has his doubts about Bob Somerby too), and Brad DeLong went ballistic when Barbara Ehrenreich was given some column inches by the New York Times.

The goal is to cleanse the Democratic party of any smirch of anti-war sentiment, thus giving the American people only a choice between two different war policies. I find it hard to list the number of ways this is wrong.

First of all, I think that American military policy, at least as long as Bush is in office, is the big political issue of our time. War is a serious question and our answer to the question shouldn't made on the basis of election demographics. If war is the wrong choice but the American people want war, we should get to working changing their minds.

Contrary to some beliefs, one of the functions of politics is to define issues, rather than merely finding out what people already think and doing that. (The cynicism of a commentator on my blog was amazing: when I mentioned that even the "new European" Poles mostly oppose the Iraq War, his brilliant response was "How many electoral votes does Poland have?" I find that response to be hideously corrupt. You have to win elections to do anything, but the big questions shouldn't be used as bargaining chips like artichoke subsidies and shrimp imports.)

But there's more. For example, the Republicans will be able to brand the Democrats as the anti-war party no matter what. This is true especially as long as Bush is Commander-in-Chief, since no matter what the Democrats say, it will only be words. Bush, on the other hand, is able to order the military to kill people. There's no way to trump that.

Furthermore, part of the Democrats' image of weakness is their well-earned reputation for tagging along after the Republicans and caving in when the going gets tough. It sounds cynical, but I don't think that the Democrats can establish themselves as tough guys in international affairs unless they first confront the Republicans politically - to the voters, weakness is just weakness. (During the recent election, Kerry was careful not to come off as a dove, and it didn't do him any good to speak of.)

Some claim that there is little danger of splitting the party with a hawkish stance, since doves "will have no place to go." This is stupid. While I doubt that anyone will have much energy for another third party in 2008, if given a choice between two hawkish candidates, I think that a lot of voters will just stay home.

And we can be sure that the Republicans will be very effective in reminding the peace wing of the Democratic party that the Democratic candidate is almost as hawkish as the Republican candidate; in fact, given an opening, they will gleefully try make it seem that the Democrat is dangerously extreme in his hawkishness.

Since I believe that the relatively-dovish position is the correct one, to me what the Democrats need to do is figure out how to do a good job of presenting this position. Bush's planned 20-year imperialist war against an undefined enemy needs to be opposed. It's not defensive, it's not anti-terrorist, and Bush his using the political capital the war gives him to push destructive agendas entirely unrelated to foreign and military policy - for example, an assault on Social Security. So how do we fight against that?

As always, it comes down to the media - the big story in American politics right now. The media we've got is unwilling to report the Democratic point of view and tends to suppress facts that have a Democratic or anti-war slant. Republican talking points reverberate and echo, and Democratic talking points fall dead. In that context, trimming the message, running a stronger candidate, reforming the party, or running a stronger campaign will not be enough to bring victory. We need new media.

My conclusion is that someone has to write a half-billion-dollars-worth of checks. If that doesn't happen, is there any hope?

Visit John Emerson's blog at http://seetheforest.blogspot.com.

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