Thursday, August 10, 2006

Weisberg and His Wayback Machine, or How Horrible Hippies Have Harmed House Hopes

Jacob Weisberg's article, "Dead With Ned: Why Lamont's Victory Spells Democratic Disaster" in Slate has been attracting a lot of attention. The gist is that just as in 1972, those darn anti-war Democrats are going to scare voters away.

The party's Vietnam-era drift away from issues of security and defense -- and its association with a radical left hostile to the military and neutral in the fight between liberalism and communism -- helped push a lot of Americans who didn't much like the Vietnam War into the arms of Richard Nixon.
The protesters might have been right about both Viet Nam and Iraq, Weisberg argues, but opposing what they knew to be immoral debacles, then and now, is political suicide.
In 1972, the Democrats repudiated their flawed Cold Warriors and chose as their standard-bearer a naive and honorable anti-war idealist. It was not George McGovern's opposition to Vietnam but his larger tendency toward isolationism and his ambivalence about the use of American power in general that helped him lose 49 states to Richard Nixon. In a similar way, the 2006 Connecticut primary points to the growing influence within the party of leftists unmoved by the fight against global jihad. Nixon had the gift of hippie demonstrators and fellow-traveling bluebloods like Ned's great uncle Corliss Lamont as antagonists. Today's Republicans face an anti-war movement with a different tone and style, including an electronic counterculture of enraged bloggers and callow entrepreneurs like Ned himself. Yet the underlying political dynamic is not altogether different.
We're e-hippies! Groovy! [Disclaimer: I have a volume entitled The Grateful Dead and Philosophy coming out in the spring with Open Court publishers, so I may not exactly be the best person to stand as a representative if one is looking to undermine Weisberg's characterization here.]

You know, I think Weisberg is on something... er, uh, I mean, onto something. He just missed by two years. What you are seeing today is not 1972, it's 1974.

If you want a replay of 1972, it happened already. Look back to 2002-2004 when the Dems got trounced in both the midterm and Presidential year elections. True, Kerry didn't lose 49 states, but the Dems as a group lost control of the whole shooting match and by many measures Kerry did worse than Gore -- and this was once Bush was already a known quantity and Gore had run the worst campaign in the history of humanity. Even the majority leader was defeated, a stinging embarrassment. Weisberg worrying about a collapse in the Democratic party in 2006 is like fretting about how hard the ground was under the Hindenburg.

The biggest difference between 1972 and 2002 is that in 2002, the role of the anti-war protesters driving folks away from the Democratic party on election day was not played by anti-war protestors driving folks away from the Democratic party on election day, but rather by the anti-opposition Democrats who, on the floor of the House and Senate, gave their rowdy united chant, "Hey hey, ho ho, standing up for what we believe in has got to go." The radical policy nihilism of the spineless "leaders" made the party invisible and the results were not pretty.

But two years after the real 1972 came 1974 (I'm a philosopher, I say deep things). That was the year when Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford uncovered "a whole rats' nest of illegal shit" and Watergate became Nixon's Watergate. And like picking at the wrong thread on your sweater, the whole thing unraveled. In 1974, the Democrats picked up 49 seats in the House, five in the Senate, and won the Presidency the next go-round.

For Bush, it will have been a number of things, but most of all Katrina. When the levees broke, the tide swept away Bush's facade. Bush's Watergate will have actually been a gate for water. When Nixon fell as a result of his being a whole lot like Dick Cheney, you got a new crop of Democrats who ran successfully as outside of the Beltwareformersrs who swept into power (some of whom are now the very fuddy-duddies scared to death by what happened to the posterboy for fuddy-duddism). What you see with Lamont is an outside the Beltway reformer about to be swept into power. The anti-incumbent sentimentnt is now so thick, I'm now using it instead of a futon. If Weisberg wants to look back to the 1970s to find a parallel for what we are about to see, he can do just that -- he just should have asked Mr. Peabody to set the wayback machine for two years later.