Monday, January 26, 2004

Realities, perceived

Conservatives of many stripes perceive Howard Dean to be the George McGovern of our time, the antiwar candidate. Dean isn’t really antiwar, but just try to convince a conservative of this; the fruits of the debater's labor would be few indeed, no matter how much the Democrat Party's base wants Dean. And the base really wants him.

This is a problem. Democrats need an overwhelmingly, undeniably, and indiscriminately patriotic ticket for the White House, the only thing that will beat George W. Bush in November. The reasons why cut straight to the heart of the cultural divide that is paralyzing American politics.

Many Americans fear, deep down, that a Democrat President will not defend this country in a time of war. The perception is a testament to neoconservative, far-right activists’ (e.g., Richard Scaife et al.) concerted, systematic, and relentless efforts to paint Democrats as unpatriotic commies.

U.S. citizens particularly susceptible to ultra-conservative propaganda perceive the Democrats as no less than traitors to these United States. They fancy that a totalitarian, fascist Democratic National Committee issues edicts from on high to its liberal minions, encouraging political operatives to ally and collude with other nations, destroy the U.S. Constitution, and eventually implement "Communism Light" (i.e., socialism) once the ashes of a destroyed democracy, forever synonymous in conservatives’ minds with a particular brand of anti-Keynesian capitalism, have settled.

Democrats would do well not to stereotype these conservatives, who fit no stereotypes. The stereotypical leftist’s propensity to trivialize ultra-conservatives as "Confederate flag–waving, racist bigots who aren’t that smart" is an inaccurate perception itself and only stretches a polarity whose connecting line of communication, pretty taut, is nearing the breaking point.

The conservative’s perception of the liberal as undaunted traitor is also inaccurate, however deserved the label may be. The average conservative (and, for that matter, liberal) voter’s attention span only entertains first impressions, and politics, at first blush, often resembles something it isn’t.

The average voter, left or right, busy with the myriad responsibilities of living (including making one), takes little time to formulate an opinion about politics, a subject she detests. Yet the resulting opinion, ironically, is nevertheless strong. For the conservative, it is thus:

1) Peacenik commie pinkos tend to vote Democrat.

2) Buzz-cut retired armed forces members who fight to defend us tend to vote Republican.

“Any questions?” the conservative then asks you.

Don’t even ask. “Perception is the reality,” as they used to love to tell us in graduate school. The idea is this: People generally act according to their perceptions. The left side of the aisle must deal with the conservative voter’s perception, which equals, if not the Democrat’s real intent, certainly the reality of the situation when it comes to winning votes to seize the White House.

But do not despair, for the Democrat Party will call upon its ingenuity and do everything in its power before it suffers demise courtesy of an inaccurate perception. The Democrat Party's power and ingenuity, not to mention its resiliency, are formidable.

A coordinated effort is underway to shatter the perceptions that conservatives harbor (at least the ones harbored by more reasonable conservatives: the moderate ones). Recent events indicate that the Democratic National Committee has issued edicts from on high. Political operatives, the other heavy-hitting candidates for the Democratic nomination, are allying to eliminate the elements contributing to this perceived reality before it ruins anyone’s chance to remove Bush from office.

This is their plan:

Give the Democrat Party’s base its time in the limelight. Let Dean appear on all the important Sunday morning political shows. Create the illusion of “a movement to take back America.” Make the base’s members feel like they’ve played with everyone else, fair and square.

Then put the squeeze on Howard Dean. Attack him on two fronts. Defeat the base summarily in Iowa (with John Kerry, retired and decorated military man) and in New Hampshire (with General Wesley Clark, American hero and former NATO commander).

If all goes well, the Democrat Party’s base will go home defeated but also satisfied, pleased that the party leadership listened to the base’s grievances. The threat of a third-party candidacy will decrease dramatically, and the base will get in line behind a Clark/Kerry ticket, the Democrats’ patriotic ticket, the only Democrat ticket that can shatter perceptions and win the White House.