TO ALL YOU whiners who thought I was too mean to Ralph Nader, hitch up your Pampers. Super Tuesday is officially in the books, John Kerry is going to get the Democratic presidential nomination in his hometown of Boston, and Hobbes and Darwin are about to make some seriously brutish sausage right in front of our innocent American eyes.
Election 2004 won't be for the squeamish. Regime change? We know how the current regime deals with upstarts. Think of Florida in 2000; remember Afghanistan and Iraq; ponder the fate of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who received a late-night visit from U.S. Marines and a one-way ticket to Africa. The guys in power play rough, and they play for keeps.
Already, they're framing the campaign. John Kerry, they say, is the new Michael Dukakis—"Déjà Duke," in the phrase of Boston Herald columnist and radio host Howie Carr. No, he's worse than Dukakis—a guy more liberal (if that's possible!) than Ted Kennedy. He's not just the senator from Taxachusetts, he's the homo lover from Gaymarriageachusetts, home of queer Congressman Barney Frank! Plus, Kerry's an intern-loving dirty old man from Chappaquiddickachusetts! The Republicans have raised megamillions to ram his "two-faced" Senate record up his Assachusetts!
Already taking center stage in this drama is the ghost of Lee Atwater, protégé of the late South Carolina segregationist senator, Strom Thurmond, and personal Machiavelli to George Bush Sr. He's the man credited with coining "wedge issue." On his deathbed, he apologized for saying of Dukakis that he'd "strip the bark off the little bastard" and "make Willie Horton his running mate." His repentance made good press at the time of his death from a brain tumor in 1991, but his methods are still a blueprint for how we the living can run and win a nasty campaign.
Dubya is listening, and the wedges are being forged as we speak.
Not long ago on the TV talkfest The McLaughlin Group—a gathering which seems like a staid Republican tea party in this era of Michael Savages and Ann Coulters—a question was asked. Jabba the Host John McLaughlin wondered if the GOP could afford to run only on "God, gays, and guns." What else is there? chuckled an astonished Pat Buchanan. Fellow pundits mumbled that there are other issues—the economy, security, blah, blah. But if this election is close—and that is by no means a sure thing—slowing Kerry with some major wedgies may be the only way to win. A close election means mobilizing micro-constituencies that might otherwise be sitting on the sidelines, protecting their flags from being burned or their copy of the Ten Commandments from being used as godless commie toilet paper. Liberals are going to need their wedge-motivated voters, too—at least the ones without straitjackets who won't be voting for St. Ralph.
NOW IT WON'T do for the Democrats to run a noble campaign. Moral superiority in American politics is for losers (check the encyclopedia entry under "Mondale"); moral flexibility is for winners (check entry under "Clinton"). Liberals who have an abundance of moral superiority need to check it at the door.
Liberals also need to learn how to win again. For that, go to the experts: the Republicans. There's no shame in it. In their political how-to from '02—Buck Up, Suck Up . . . and Come Back When You Foul Up, former Clinton-War-Roomers-turned-TV-talking-heads Paul Begala and James Carville outline how to run a winning campaign. Like Shakespeare, they know genius is at least one part plagiarism. Take the chapter titled "Kick Ass." Here they take a lesson from "political mastermind" Roger Ailes, the Dr. Evil of modern politics who gave us Reagan, Bush Sr., Nixon, and Fox News—in short, everything but genital herpes. They write, "according to Ailes, the press likes to cover only four things in politics: scandals, gaffes, polls, and attacks. Three of them are bad. So if you want to get in the paper, get your butt on the offensive. . . . " They go on to invoke the name of that great progressive, Gen. George Patton, who looked better than Dukakis in a tank. Patton could slap sense into weak-kneed foot soldiers, and did.
They advise "hard-hitting" attacks, but with a "soft touch" (smile humbly when you're slipping the knife in, like Reagan did), and they offer lessons on how to counterpunch, promising that, if done effectively, your "opponent's jab will be blunted . . . [while] your right fist will be doing a dance on your opponent's face." Yes, it sounds violent and Fight Club-y. Call it Dances With Fists. If you worry that it's primal politics filled with too much testosterone, ask yourself: Isn't this what testosterone's for?
Remember, your opponents are the guys who turned a multiple-amputee war hero, Georgia Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, into an unemployed doormat by suggesting he hadn't lost enough limbs fighting for his country in Vietnam. And that's the least of their crimes.
SO IN 2004, forget vigils, puppets, and peace marches, pack away your sea turtle costumes, get out your checkbooks, and strap on your strap-ons. You soccer moms, go knee those NASCAR dads in the groin!
If you want to take this country back, you're going to have to fight for it.
You can always apologize on your deathbed.