I have two friends, Sam and Jim, who are engaged in an ongoing e-mail battle regarding the war in Iraq and the veracity of the Bush administration’s advocacy of same. Lately they’ve been exchanging epithets based on the meaning of “imminent” versus “imminent imminence,” and on the profound difference between the notion that Saddam Hussein was “working” to acquire WMD’s as opposed to the possibility that he was merely “hoping” to acquire WMD’s.
It’s my impression that, if the election were held today, Sam would vote to re-elect Bush, and Jim would not.
Sam and Jim are to politics what diehard fans are to football: you’ve gotta have ‘em, but they don’t decide the outcome of the game. They can argue long into the night about a blown play or a bum call, but the show goes on, and moves on, and eventually it’s closing time. Lights out.
Bartenders love ‘em.
Sam and Jim are both literate academics, students of the written word, and read more about the war on any given day than the average American voter has read in the past year. Jim pounds the table, insisting that Bush hyped the WMD issue to scare Americans into a war which was actually planned by Dick Cheney and the String of Perles back in the 1990s. Sam shoots back a barrage, insisting that Bush never said “imminent,” but implying that the threat almost was; Jim fires away on the majority of Americans who still believe that Iraq was in on 9-11, and wonders why the religious truth-telling Bush has not acted to dispel this erroneous notion. Sam harrumphs, and my dial-up modem chugs along into the night.
Ah, but the election will be not be held today. A year and more will run before that fateful event, and I am afraid that both Sam and Jim will be crestfallen at the fact that their ongoing war of words will not be resolved by the results. Nor will it influence them.
I firmly and confidently predict that Bush will announce, probably around March 2004, that we have found the WMD. He might do so after the ranks of the Democrat contenders have been winnowed down to a few — perhaps as few as two or three — hopefuls. Or he might pre-empt all their carefully-laid plans before New Hampshire. But he will undoubtedly drop the bomb.
“The Democrats are so beholden to the extremists in their party that they support the destruction of the American family as we know it. For that reason I am today announcing my support of marriage as the lawful union between a man and a woman. I challenge my opponents to renounce the vocal minority in their party that wants to destroy marriage, and I urge them to join the vast majority of the American people and to support the Federal “Sanctity of Marriage” Constitutional Amendment.”
At that point, each Democrat aspirant will face a dilemma; either he attacks Bush for being “divisive,” in order to maintain his support among the party’s most effective and active special-interest group, the homosexual lobby; or, realizing that he cannot possibly alienate the party’s rank-and-file supporters, he will waffle, mumble, and, eventually, say “me too.”
Either way, Bush wins. Major league. Big time. For such challenges as these was Karl Rove ably trained by Morton Blackwell, who was the youngest Goldwater delegate on the floor of the San Francisco convention in 1964. Rove has been traveling the country these past months, delivering one central message to conservative evangelicals: “In the election of 2000, only 16 million of you voted. In 2004, we need the other four million.”
But how is Rove to acquire these new votes? Evangelicals are testy these days. The way they see it, the Iraq war has not yet led to the Middle East conflagration that the dispensationalists hoped for, expecting that Armageddon would soon follow. Pornography has not been prosecuted by the Bush administration any more vigorously than it was under Janet Reno — which is to say, not at all. And the federal courts continue to attack the fundamental American values of the family, while Bush’s judicial appointees are successfully stonewalled by an extremist minority of liberal senators.
That isn’t all. Rove can’t turn to economic conservatives for those other four million either. Whatever the statistics say, the core Republican constituency of small businessmen has not yet turned the corner towards recovery. And the “big-government conservatism” that Fred Barnes crows about on Fox has not gone down well with the rank and file. In fact, Bush’s attempt to triangulate the education issue by endorsing Ted Kennedy’s agenda in the “No Child Left Behind” act has now been turned against Bush, exactly as Teddy planned it.
Karl Rove is a student of the presidency of Bush 41. He knows that the watershed was Poppy’s tax hike. The war in Iraq didn’t help then, and it won’t help now. He needs an issue that will cut the right way — dividing Democrats — in the same fashion that the “read my lips” betrayal cut the wrong way, by dividing Republicans in 1992. And he’s got it.
So sometime next spring, W will discover in the Democrat platform the Weapons of Marriage Destruction — domestic WMD — and will mount a sustained nationwide campaign to adopt the constitutional amendment to defend marriage. He knows that every legislative candidate in every state will have to declare for or against marriage, and he knows — because Karl Rove has told him — that the issue will divide Democrats on the state level just as it does on the national level, while it causes hardly a ripple in Republican ranks. This issue will cut just the right way, and will supply a healthy Republican sweep on the state and national levels. Lee Atwater will be smiling.
The WMD issue will cause political devastation in 2004. When the dust settles, those other four million and more will go to the polls, knowing that traditional marriage as we know it is at stake. Democrats will sputter about the economy, about the postwar occupation, about that leak to Bob Novak — all to no avail.
Sam and Jim will be in full voice at the virtual bar. “He said u2018imminent threat.’” “No, he didn’t! He said, let’s act before it’s imminent.’” Fists will crash on the table. Glasses will overflow. Voices will rise. And fall.
And then, after “last call,” Sam and Jim will have to go home.
On the way out, they’ll see Bernie, the late-night lady who has been hanging out there forever. “G’night, fellas. Hey, how do you like those Democrats, trying to destroy marriage. What a bunch of creeps”
And the lights will go out.