TCS Daily

The Domestic Counterinsurgency

By James K. Glassman - July 2, 2004 12:00 AM

In a private conversation on the Senate floor last week, Vice President Dick Cheney hurled the "F-word" at Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., an intemperate critic. Cheney wouldn't repent. "I expressed myself rather forcefully," he said. "Felt better after I had done it."

You can hardly blame him.

As Iraq has moved closer to democracy over the past few weeks, the terrorist opponents of sovereignty, as expected, have grown more desperate and more violent in their counterinsurgency.

A similar pattern has occurred in the United States.

As Republicans have moved closer to consolidating power in all three branches of government, Democratic opponents of free-market conservatism have grown more desperate and more rhetorically violent in their own counterinsurgency.

Just listen to the former vice president of the United States, Al Gore.

"How dare the incompetent and willful members of this Bush/Cheney administration humiliate our nation and our people in the eyes of the world and in the conscience of our own people!" he screamed at a speech May 26 at New York University. "How dare they subject us to such dishonor and disgrace. How dare they drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud!"

But no event epitomizes the Democratic strategy better than the June 23 premiere of Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's propaganda film, which Christopher Hitchens, former columnist for The Nation, describes as "an exercise in moral frivolity, . . . facile crowd-pleasing . . . (and) abject political cowardice."

Until now, Moore has been an outlier, a fringe character, a petulant extremist. Armond White, in the current issue of the New York Press, a counterculture weekly, calls him a "fascist liberal." In the New York Times on Saturday, David Brooks showed how Moore's political philosophy is rooted in an abiding hatred of his countrymen, displayed with gusto abroad.

Americans "are possibly the dumbest people on the planet," Moore told the British paper the Mirror. "We've got that big (expletive) grin on our face all the time because our brains aren't loaded down," he told a crowd in Munich. "The U.S. government started the war in Iraq in order to make it easy for U.S. corporations to do business in other countries. They intend to use cheap labor in those countries, which will make Americans rich," he told a Japanese newspaper. "It's all part of the same ball of wax, right? The oil companies, Israel, Halliburton," he said in Cambridge, England.

So Moore is radical and a hater. But we've had a lot of those in our history. The big difference is that Moore is now embraced by the Democratic Party's establishment. Among those paying homage at his film's Washington opening were Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Florida Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat. What on earth are these people doing at a Michael Moore premiere? They're scared. America has been undergoing a sea change over the past quarter-century, and Democrats, in this election, are trying to turn back the tide. Whatever it takes.

In the 1970s, more Americans identified themselves as Democrats than Republicans by an average of 21 percentage points; in the 1980s, the margin slipped to 11 percentage points; in the 1990s, to 9 points; today, the parties are dead even.

Republicans have now held a majority in the House of Representatives for a decade. They have controlled the Senate, except for a two-year hiatus, since 1994 as well. They have held the White House for 16 of the past 24 years, and their appointees are in the ascendancy in the Supreme Court. No significant Democratic legislation has been signed into law since the 1993 tax increases. If Republicans win this time, they will hold the House, Senate and presidency for more than two years for the first time since the 1920s.

No wonder the Bush campaign characterizes Democrats as "wild-eyed." In their desperation, they seem willing to debase, if not destroy, their own party.

I doubt this approach will work. Republicans are certainly vulnerable, and the administration's post-war planning in Iraq deserves criticism. But the director of Fahrenheit 9/11 is wrong. Americans aren't stupid. We don't like extremists, don't admire Marxist-style rhetoric and can recognize conspiracy fantasies when we see them. We admire cool determination, optimism and pride.

A better strategy for Democrats would have been to show America a clear, rational alternative and make the Republicans look like the wild-eyed ones. Despite Cheney's outburst, it's way too late for that now. By joining forces in their counterinsurgency with Moore, the Democrats, tragically, have set their course.


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