Column: Dems in 2004 Should Run on Bush's 2000 Theme: It's Time to Restore Honor and Integrity to the White House





Mr. Carpenter is a historian and syndicated columnist.

Democratic strategists and their presidentially hopeful candidates are of two minds on how best to get out the vote in the coming electoral blood fest. Briefly put, one camp believes in promoting “new ideas” while the other prefers to exploit hardcore anger. This strategic divide may come across as irreconcilable, but the two camps are, or at least could be, much closer in message than usually thought.

In proposing new policies to replace the gazillion destructive ones Bush has huckstered with deceptive rhetoric, or in merely denouncing his record and leaving it at that, both camps, in effect, are playing a variation on the same campaign theme: a determination to restore honor and integrity to the White House. Bush made a mockery of those qualities as he campaigned on them four years ago and, as can so easily be shown, has maintained a perfect record of mockery since. In vowing – with jackhammer repetition – to restore presidential integrity and in surveying – again with jackhammer repetition – how Bush has forsaken it, the challenger sets the agenda. By sticking to it, he throws the incumbent on the defensive.

At minimum, a glance at your local bookstore's current events section testifies to the prevailing integrity gap. Well-researched volumes laced with indisputable titles and subtitles such as Lies Bush Told Us…, Big Lies , Weapons of Mass Deception , … Mastering the Politics of Deception and … the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush seem to appear almost daily. Bush's political trail by now is so littered with falsehoods and fraud, muckraking authors can expose its obscenities with little effort and in half the time. The book on this guy is literally on the street.

The problem, of course – the reason George W. continues to hover in the approval-plus column – is that the informed, reading public dwells in the minority. The greater number is too preoccupied with sweating out health care coverage or getting “outsourced” to adequately appreciate all of W's wonders. Political scribes on the left and even clear-eyed Republican apostates such as Kevin Phillips can expose in print the president's debasements till the cows come home, thus further invigorating an already motivated but minority opposition, but the more important job of enlightening the majority necessarily lies on the campaign stump and in the television ads of the Democratic Party's chosen standard bearer.

It is in this realm that a synthesis of the party's seemingly divergent strategies can come into play. The challenger can vent with all due anger that after four years of presidential lies, the idea of commanding a White House instilled with integrity is indeed a radically new one. With this as the only new idea urgently needed, new and complex policy ideas could be put aside for the time being. They're simply not what a challenger wants as a political centerpiece anyway. Complexity is a loser. Democrats have always had a hard time understanding that concept; but however unfortunate, it's true. The electorate prefers hearing and tends to vote for broad swaths of principle, not pinpoints of policy debates. Hence only one, exquisitely simple cry should be heard from the Democratic hustings in 2004: W's very own 2000 mantra about restoring honor and integrity to the White House. Only this time the pledge will actually mean something.

Obviously the candidate needs something to say in between repeated vows to reinstate presidential integrity, and this is where venting anger over recent history comes in. Here, the territory is so rich in blood-curdling reality the candidate never need be tempted to bend the truth or stretch it one iota. Do Americans really want a president who lies to them about foreign policy? One who lies about environmental policy? Education? Energy? Fiscal policy? Trade? Foreign threats? Corporate reform? Intelligence findings? Give all the examples you want.

The script has already been written by George W. Bush. The script is his record. The challenger just needs to read it to the public as comic relief to the fundamental campaign theme of what W. promised four years ago and delivered not – honor and integrity. Let that be the simple, clear message with which battle is engaged.


© Copyright 2004 P. M. Carpenter

Mr. Carpenter's column is published weekly by History News Network and buzzflash.com.


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Herodotus - 1/19/2004

Ah...you would do well to read Roberta Wohlstetter's book on Pearl Harbor, as would anyone who believes that the Bush (or Clinton) administrations fell down on the job.

And to be clear, domestic political gain is particuarly low on the list of motivations for the vast number of government employees charged with the defense of this country. That's pretty obvious, wouldn't you agree?


Ann O. Namas - 1/19/2004


Domestic political gain from "war on terrorism" is "very low", Herodotus ?

That depends on the gain or loss of alternative paths.

A president who barely squeaked into office, rising therewith far above his general level of competence for job, due mainly to clever packaging, was, after the flounderings of his first months on the job, in fairly desperate need of a new issue he could make his own. I am not one who thinks there was any conspiratorial prior knowledge of 9-11 in the Administration, but it certainly was not an example of stellar planning or intelligence. Osama was not an unknown threat, airline hijackings an unknown tactic, or the World Trade Center an unknown target.

It did take some clever political packaging to deflect attention from the policy failures leading up to 9-11 towards a new half-baked, but inspiring-sounding "war on terrorism". Nevertheless, to rephrase Lincoln slightly, you may be able to fool nearly all the people for quite some time, but you cannot fool all subsequent historians for all time.


Herodotus - 1/19/2004

hmm...using foreign relations for domestic political gain? I am reminded of John Kennedy's constant harping over a missile gap in the runup to the 1960 election. How rather unfair of him, when the administration knew that the Soviet Union did not have the bombers and missiles that it claimed to have and that the U.S. was more secure that the public had been mislead by the Democrats to believe.

But your argument is not clear. The reason we all use the phrase "war on terrorism" is because the adminstration wanted it to be used in order to have a shorthand expression for the 2004 election? Perhaps not. Maybe there is no other adequate phrasing that anyone has come up with. The media certainly isn't creating any of its own that are useful. Any ideas of your own?

Whatever the foreign policy campaign is called [war on terrorism; 'redressage of 9/11'; the 'bolange of goalaga'], the campaign still occurs and follows a structure that those in the administration have crafted for particular reasons. Domestic political gain is very low on that list.


Caleb - 1/18/2004

rg,
1) "so the Democrats who did (and still do.. the over whelming VAST majority) never saw anything wrong with Bill and Hillary SUDDENLY have developed a sense of integrity?!!"

I never heard a Democrat say that there was nothing wrong with Bill or Hillary, just that having an affair and then lying about it was not what the framers had in mind for impeachment. Telling the American people lies in order to bolster support for a war, on the other hand, is well beyond a breach of integrity.

2) "Honesty suddenly matters... integrity and honesty disappeared for 8 years (and is still non-existent in the universe of New York)..."

Interesting, the governor of NY, the mayor of NYC, and the former mayor of NYC are all Republican. Are you trying to tell us something about them?


rg - 1/18/2004

...so the Democrats who did (and still do.. the over whelming VAST majority) never saw anything wrong with Bill and Hillary SUDDENLY have developed a sense of integrity?!! Honesty suddenly matters... integrity and honesty disappeared for 8 years (and is still non-existent in the universe of New York) so suddenly it rears it's ugly head again.


NYGuy - 1/16/2004

LAGUY,

I agree with a lot of what you say, but, do you really believe it is time for me to take my profits in those China and country fund stocks?

Thanks, you have me thinking.

Cheers


NYGuy - 1/16/2004

William,

There is one difference with Carpenter and that is he posts several articles a month unlike any other author. The theme never changes and the style is usually the same, bait and switch. As such he has become, in my opinion, the standard bearer for HNN.

I think we do have to separate the difference between intelligent discussions and verbal exchanges for entertainment. Since HNN does not have a comic strip I guess Carpenter is the next best thing.

I don't want you to think I always disagree with Carpenter. I think he is right when he says liberals are angry and negative and have nothing to say. :)

Cheers


William H. Leckie, Jr. - 1/16/2004

Of course I'm not saying HNN is a "propagandist" site. I'm saying that if Suetonius is tired of reading Carpenter, he can exercise his choice--if he is a rational adult--to read other things on the site. Neither Carpenter nor HNN force him to read anything, I have no problem if he does or doesn't, and your comment is typical of the Stepford right.

I only occasionally post comments because, frankly, I'm tired of the usual cliched irrationality of the Right.

But this gives occasion to remark about the rise of "leftist" or "liberal" indignation on this site and elsewhere: You guys have been cowing people for a couple of generations or so with shrill invective that has diminished our public discourse and indeed drastically narrowed its range to a limited rhetorical repertory.

Now that's coming back to haunt you, you complain about "propagandistic" websites. Carpenter's columns are really quite conventional in a context that the US "conservative movement" has established. When Suetonius finds him tiresome or you prattle about propaganda, you are really writing about....yourselves.


LA Dude - 1/16/2004

Now you're talking, NYGuy.

Action, that's what it's all about.

Come out here to Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena and me and my little old lady will show you all about action and traction.

Remember how the President said, in his inaugural address, he was going to make going after the Taliban a top priority ? You betcha, he did. Took action right away with no delay, and now those beautiful stone statues are safe, the druglords are behind bars, and Osama is nothing but a door mat in some cave in the Himalayas.

Then it was Saddam's turn. But our guys acted, unlike those Nobel Piece aspiring French frogs. Now Saddam's a miserable POW, and by golly we're going to find out what we all wanted to know for so long: where did he hide his megatons of anthrax and African uranium ?

Next comes North Korea. Thanks to all the President's many actions, their nuclear development has been stopped dead in its tracks. All they need now is a few tax cuts, and presto, they'll be making cheap computer chips for Silicon Valley before you know it. On their way to the better life that those inactive Clintonites hate so much.

And then comes the big prize: China. That may take action on a rather longer time frame. But, no worries, they'll come into the 21st century too eventually, and then irresistible force of regime change will crush the immovable object of Maoism. And their economy will finally be liberated from totalitarianism, too.

I'd sell those China stocks and country funds you have invested in so massively now, if were you, NYGuy.


NYGuy - 1/16/2004

William,

Is your agument that HNN is a propagandist website and those who voice opinions that are different from those who post articles here should not visit this site? Actually you may be right and it seems with all those trying to census others agree with you as postings are declining.

By the removal of descent you would reduce those who post here who you disagree with, but that would make your life easier since you could just lap up authors like Carpenter and feel you have all the answers.

Hmm. Maybe you are right and that is why there are many who are not posting on this site. Just what HNN is looking for.


William H. Leckie, Jr. - 1/15/2004

You always have the option, Suetonius, of not clicking on the link to Carpenter's columns. But you'll keep on reading him, I'm sure.

See--and I am being sincere, here--the Right has this almost erotic fascination with its real or imagined adversaries, most obviously in the instance of the Clintons, can't live without'em and without excoriating'em or ignoring them except as straw men for sloganeering.

The US Right has no other way of contending with its lack of substance save sheer mouth or muscle, or, dare I say,handling its lack of soul?...that's what the word "reactionary" entails.


NYGuy - 1/15/2004

Ann,

Not really sure what you are saying. Is it that inaction was a preferable course after 9/11 in the tradition of Clinton? Do you believe that we should still be debating in the UN? Should we have begged forgiveness from Al Queda for being such an imperialistic country and vow to turn our future over to countries like France?

You do not say. But you create a negative spin against our current government.

I look around and see our country coming out of the Clinton recession, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and other countries who want to exploit WMD's are now thinking better of that choice.

Is it the peace and prosperity of our country and the world that bothers you. I am beginning to think that having a better life is something that some people can't stand. Lets go back to the good old days of "Noble Peace Prize aspiring" Bill Clinton.

No wonder we see so many people still living in the 20th Century and have to be dragged into the 21st century.


NYGuy - 1/15/2004

Ann,

Not really sure what you are saying. Is it that inaction was a preferable course after 9/11 in the tradition of Clinton? Do you believe that we should still be debating in the UN? Should we have begged forgiveness from Al Queda for being such an imperialistic country and vow to turn our future over to countries like France?

You do not say. But you create a negative spin against our current government.

I look around and see our country coming out of the Clinton recession, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and other countries who want to exploit WMD's are now thinking better of that choice.

Is it the peace and prosperity of our country and the world that bothers you. I am beginning to think that having a better life is something that some people can't stand. Lets go back to the good old days of "Noble Peace Prize aspiring" Bill Clinton.

No wonder we see so many people still living in the 20th Century and have to be dragged into the 21st century.


Suetonius - 1/14/2004

Mr. Carpenter can DO something or he can keep writing tired editorials that say the same thing. My dislike of Carpenter is well known. My boredom with this tiresome experiment now overshadows my dislike; how many times can you say the same thing and have it be published as a "new" editorial. So he thinks Bush has done bad things. Fine. Point made...but endless repetition???


Barbara Cornett - 1/14/2004

No there isn't. what isn't new is that you cannot deny what he says about Bush so you once again attempt to deflect attention from his negetive critique of Bush by reserving your remarks for Carpenter and even poor Dowd who isn't even here. Bush has soiled the carpet in the Oval Office and he has dirtied the White House and he has even caused government agencies to issue warnings that our government is in serious danger because of the debts he is running up.

We need something new. Mr Carpenter is discussing ways in which democrats can form strageties to get elected so we can bring about that_new_here.


Herodotus - 1/13/2004

This all just sounds the same. You could substitute this with one he wrote several weeks ago and the difference in dates would be irrelevant. Yawn yawn yawn. It's a Maureen Dowd-wannabe style at a time when even the Queen of Mean herself is going out of style. Is there any thing _new_ here?


Oscar Chamberlain - 1/13/2004

The dividing line between very recent history and politics is pretty blurry. Reasonable people can differ on where to draw it.

Certainly the purpose of this particular entry was political (and most of the responses have been political, too).

I think the hope of the editors when they include these pieces is that those who respond will use history to support or refute the original commentary, or go off on an informative tangent. Some of that happened here, but perhaps not enough.

As the Sioux chief says at the end of the movie "Little Big Man," sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.


John - 1/13/2004

Pure politics, not history...once again. There are plenty of sites for this kind of stuff, so why does it have to be here too?


Oscar Chamberlain - 1/13/2004

Quite right. It is our job, as citizens and as historians, to strip away political verbage whenever it obscure reality. Doing so can only help the political process, and often people outside politics are far better positioned to do this than even the best intentioned politicans themselves.


Ann - 1/13/2004


Make that backBONE, not "background" in the prior post.
Sorry for the multiplicity of posts.


Ann - 1/13/2004

This is my reply to Oscar. Another messageless post went out prematurely by accident.

I think if someone (probably not on HNN) were to look carefully at the history of the term "war on terrorism", it would turn out that the main reason it has been so widely accepted since 9-11-01 is that the current President has been using (i.e. abusing) English in this way in order to have a campaign issue to run on this year. Hijacking the long range future of America's foreign policy for short term political gain is an issue a real opposition with principles and background would run with, notwithstanding the currently reality of a largely hoodwinked public. The "public" includes you, Oscar, so if you are not hoodwinked, I invite you, and anyone else reading these messages to revise your/their phraseology in the future. That was really the rather limited intent of my earlier statement.


Ann - 1/13/2004


Oscar Chamberlain - 1/13/2004

Of course you're right. We're not waging a war on terrorism now. But any opponent to Bush will have the unfortunate duty of talking to a public that thinks in terms of a war on terrorism.

On the positive side, most people understand that such a war is actually a war against some targets and not others. But if a candidate starts out by stating "there is no war on terrorism", many people are likely think that he or she means "there is no war" and tune out before the candidate gets to the clarifying sentence.


Ann O. Namas - 1/12/2004

You make some good points, Oscar, but one does not "wage" "war" on an abstract noun. At least, not in the real world. Democrats and Republicans both need more candidates willing to face down such Orwellian nonsense.

We can have a "campaign" to neutralize Al Qaeda, or a "plan" to reform the Middle Eastern institutions which are breeding grounds for nihilistic violence, or a "strategy" to end the deadlock over Israel-Palestine due to a mostly one-sided U.S. policy, only the first of which is remotely being attempted under the current crop of ruling chickenhawks.

"Terrorism" and "evil", however, like death, taxes, and the common cold, are not going to be abolished anytime soon, and certainly not by soundbites, aircraft carrier landings, or half-baked, improvised "nation-building". There is little ultimate value in being "clear and simple" on jobs, campaign financing, corporate malfeasance, ruinous federal fiscal policies, or lies about how cutting large trees prevents forest fires, while continuing to buy into this Rovian garbage about a "war on terrorism".


Oscar Chamberlain - 1/12/2004

I agree with Carpenter's opinion of Bush's honesty and honor, but Honesty and honor, as themes, won't work

A good part of the populace (not a majority, by the way, but a significant percentage of swing voters) simply assumes that politicians are dishonest and self-interested. If you believe that, trading the current one in for a new model is not that important unless someone can demonstrate how that dishonest hurt them.

Also, right now a majority of Americans want a sense of direction on foreign policty, and they understand that Bush has such a sense. I think a majority would vote for the road to Hell if the alternative seems aimless.

Carpenter is right that the message needs to be clear and simple. "It's good jobs, stupid" strikes me as the best domestic one. Clearly the Republicans are afraid of that, probably because it can combine an appeal to self interest, provide a clear domestic alternative, and make clear his class-warfare policy.

Bush got US troops killed due to stupid postwar planning is probably the best foreign theme. It is a harder sell because it's more complex and because we have Saddam, but while the Democrats are not going to beat him on foreign policy, they do have a chance to make Bush not look indispensable.

However, this won't fly unless the candidate is clear on how he would wage the War on Terrorism.