In a perceptive if not OBVIOUS commentary, Arianna Huffington writes:
<< Republicans have also mastered the dark art of REDUCING THEIR OPPONENTS to EFFIMINATE CARICATURES. They have regularly succeeded in EMASCULATING Democratic candidates. And not just any Democrats but Democrats who were actually decorated war heroes with Silver Stars and Purple Hearts. >>
<< Of course, THE DEMOCRATS have often MADE IT ALL TOO EASY for the GOP to fit them into this EMASCULATED narrative. Jimmy Carter, with his sweaters and his malaise and the in-need-of-Viagra visual of those helicopters crashing in the Iranian desert. And Michael Dukakis, well, what kind of man was he if he wouldn't want the death penalty even for the guy who theoretically raped and murdered his wife? He couldn't handle Bernie Shaw, how was he going to deal with the Soviet Union? >>
In 2000, Al Gore REFUSED to point out that Texas Governor George W. Bush's entire record as governor was one of SLASHING funding for programs like pre-school, after-school, and health-care programs for Texas schoolchildren who most needed those programs (which would of course allow their parents to work), while giving huge, BUDGET-BUSTING TAX CUTS to Texas' wealthiest corporations and billionaires.
In 2002, then Senate MAJORITY LEADER Tom Daschle (and Senate Govt. Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman) REFUSED to TIE ENRON corporation and Ken Lay to Bush - even though Enron and Lay were George W. Bush's biggest contributors in Bush's 2 gubernatorial races, his 2000 Republican primary race, his 2000 presidential race, AND his Florida (non-) recount legal battle. Daschle went down to ignominious re-election defeat (his photo placed side-by-side with those of Saddam Hussein and Osam bin Laden in Republican "soft on terror" TV ads) despite the advantages of a tiny state (population) having Daschle as the Senate Majority Leader.
In 2003, California Governor Gray Davis REFUSED to PROSECUTE for criminal conspiracy those Enron traders and others in the electric industry who were CREATING POWER OUTAGES and shortages by COORDINATED PLANT SHUTDOWNS and deliberate power grid overloads.
And, in 2004, clueless (if not treacherous) Senator John Kerry REPEATED Al Gore's anemic strategy of "HEAR NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL, _SPEAK NO EVIL_ of George W. Bush's mal-administration," Kerry, too, going down to ignominious defeat, almost certainly Kerry was robbed of his winning Ohio electoral votes, and as well (quite probably) what should have been his popular vote majority in some western states like New Mexico, Nevada, and even Iowa.
Today, in the spring of 2007, the leading Democratic candidates are WELL ON THE WAY to REPEATING the disastrous campaigns of Gore, Daschle, and Kerry, REFUSING to talk about the elephant in the room - the criminal activities swirling around Alberto Gonzales, Vice President Cheney, and from within the White House itself. (i.e. Karl Rove's role in CIA-outing scandal, the obstruction of justice that pushed that scandal past the somnolent Kerry campaign in 2004, and the Rove "double-dipping in criminal conduct" PURGING of US Attorneys to OBSTRUCT prosecutions of senior Republican officials, including cases that were then on-going in relation to the Congressman ('Duke') Cunningham bribery conviction - cases which have since been DROPPED or faded from the news.
Bill Maher, Frank Luntz, and the Limitations of Reframing Reality
At the moment, everyone is giving advice to the Democrats about how to beat the Republican spinmeisters. Even Republican spinmeisters. On the latest Real Time with Bill Maher, it was GOP language guru Frank Luntz dishing out advice to me, Paula Poundstone, and anyone else who would listen.
Frank is the supreme reality reframer who took the estate tax and turned it into the "death tax," turned school vouchers into "opportunity scholarships," and turned drilling for oil in a wildlife preserve into "responsible energy exploration."
It is Frank's contention that the reason Democrats keep losing presidential races they should win is that they are too critical, too negative, and too angry. Really? Anyone remember the '04 Democratic convention where the Kerry campaign had put the kibosh on all expressions of anger and Bush-bashing?
But is it surprising that watching your country led into a disastrous war with all the attendant damage to national security provokes anger in sentient beings?
Frank also insisted that Democrats keep losing because they only talk about what they are against, never what they are for.
"Bring the troops home, and end the war... How is that not knowing what we are for?" asked Paula.
Bill framed the question as a mystery: How can the Republicans keep electing what he evocatively called 'You fucking kidding me?' candidates:
Richard Nixon? You fucking kidding me? Ronald Reagan? You fucking kidding me? George W. Bush? You fucking kidding me?!
I don't think it's a mystery at all. I've written extensively about how the Republicans have used fear to scare their way to victory (see here, here, and here). Fear is their go-to play. Mushroom clouds as smoking guns! Terror alerts any time the poll numbers take a dip! And isn't it interesting how we have the Fort Dix arrest of the gang that couldn't jihad straight just as Bush's approval rating hits a record low? When the president warned that if we didn't fight them over there, we'd have to fight them over here, I never imagined that ground zero would be Circuit City.
Republicans have also mastered the dark art of reducing their opponents to effeminate caricatures. They have regularly succeeded in emasculating Democratic candidates. And not just any Democrats but Democrats who were actually decorated war heroes with Silver Stars and Purple Hearts.
Just imagine: George McGovern was a World War II fighter bomber pilot who flew 35 missions and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery under fire. And the Republicans successfully painted him as a yellow-bellied, panty-waisted pacifist-coward.
And John Kerry was transformed from a decorated Vietnam War hero who volunteered for duty into a Chablis-sipping, windsurfing, French-loving, croissant-eating wuss, while Bush, Cheney and all the rest of the Deferment Gang got to pretend they were take-no-guff-from-terrorists bad-asses.
Of course, the Democrats have often made it all too easy for the GOP to fit them into this emasculated narrative. Jimmy Carter, with his sweaters and his malaise and the in-need-of-Viagra visual of those helicopters crashing in the Iranian desert. And Michael Dukakis, well, what kind of man was he if he wouldn't want the death penalty even for the guy who theoretically raped and murdered his wife? He couldn't handle Bernie Shaw, how was he going to deal with the Soviet Union?
Since the political use -- and abuse -- of language was the recurring theme of our whole Real Time discussion, I had to bring up my favorite linguistic moment of the week: After Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' claimed that the response to the Greensburg tornado was hampered because so many National Guardsmen and their equipment are in Iraq, Tony Snow took umbrage, saying: "There's a lot of stuff available."
Stuff? Was he suggesting his brother-in-law had a tractor he was willing to loan the governor? Or maybe Snow got two power saws last Christmas, so Kansas could have one that had never been used and was still in the box.
The truth is that no matter how often the White House attempts to spin the domestic collateral damage from the war by attacking the messengers (remember how they did the same thing to Louisiana's governor after Katrina?), the facts don't lie: the Kansas National Guard is operating with only 40 to 50 percent of its equipment. And there are similar problems all over the country.
Indeed, the Government Accountability Office released a report in January concluding that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have "significantly decreased" the amount of National Guard equipment available here at home, while stateside units face an increasing number of threats.
There are currently over 25,000 National Guardsmen in Iraq, with another 13,000 slated to be deployed as part of the surge. And every guardsman who is in Iraq is one less guardsman who can help out in Kansas or with the California fires or the Missouri flooding or whatever other disasters -- or terrorist attacks -- might be coming our way.
After years of successful spinning, Frank Luntz and the Republican Party are suddenly coming face to face with the limits of reframing: Our safety and security have been severely undermined by the war in Iraq (Tony Snow's "stuff" not withstanding); and it's getting harder and harder to reframe Democrats as ineffectual eunuchs when a ballsy woman is leading the charge in Congress.
Angry? You bet. Bush and company have turned America into a collection of Howard Beales: we're mad as hell and we're not going to allow reality to be reframed anymore.
Watch the exchanges with Frank, Bill and Paula here.
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