Cutouts and Paper Tigers, and What To Do With Them

Verizon has a charming new ad campaign, about how they "never stop working for you." One television incarnation on this theme features a competitor who claims to also "have a full "network" that is always there, "working for you."

This "other network" has a spokesman who refuses to give straight answers to simple questions, and when pushed, the "network" turns out to consist of flat cardboard cutouts that, with a single tap, fall like dominoes.

The ad is entertaining, shrewd, and memorable. It is an even better analogy for American party politics in 2006 and beyond.

I spoke to a local Democratic Party organization a few days ago, at a screening for the documentary "Why We Fight." After the movie, the topic was "What can we do to win over the Republicans?"

After fully disclosing myself as a libertarian with an inborn distrust of government at any level, and as someone who knows nothing about political campaigns, I proceeded, as humans are apt to do, to give my opinion on both of these things.

The context was Iraq and security issues. The questions related to how Democrats can come off not looking like wusses whenever the GOP pulls out the "War on [Place Something Scary Here]" card.

We had already discussed the nature of the Iraq insurgency. Halfway around the world, this insurgency — for all of its complexities and wanton violence — has already won its argument with the American occupation. The majority of Sunnis, Shia, and even Kurds, see absolutely no future in American occupation. For every one willing to physically attack the occupiers, a thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand stand by, hoping for an insurgent victory sooner rather than later — knowing full well that it will come.

Iraqis of all faiths and classes are planning on it, and it gives them a measure of hope. There is no question in their minds that they will eventually take back their country, piece by piece.

Even as Iraqis themselves die in droves in this third year of their struggle for real freedom, the insurgency has won hearts and minds, something the American military or the American government has never done. The insurgency is winning because there is only one way for the situation in Iraq to conclude, and every Iraqi knows it. So do most Americans.

It will end when we will leave Iraq. Our Army and Marine forces will indeed, someday and hopefully soon, depart. We may leave in disgrace, and there will be embarrassing videos and memoirs and excuses and blame-passing here at home. We may do it angrily, as did the Israelis when they "departed" Gaza — in a dusty, smoky trail of destruction leaving the locals with one more shining story of occupatorial selfishness and contempt. We may leave as we did much of Germany in the 1990s, with new contracts, environmental cleanup and formal ceremonies. But we will leave.

This makes them the winners.

Exactly what the Democrats hope to be on November 7.

I told these small town Democrats that they are already a great American insurgency. They are going up against a Republican media, big GOP money and a blatant bumper-sticker regime that, at first glance, seems robust. Like most insurgencies, the Democrats are widely distributed, decentralized, subject at times to a cacophony of voices and fickle leadership. Like all insurgencies, they hold forth righteous reasons for taking their country back.

Like a native and righteous insurgency, they already have won hearts and minds. They already — by default perhaps — stand for something that resonates overwhelmingly with average Americans. The average Democrat today stands more consistently, and more publicly, for rule of law, anti-federalism, the Bill of Rights, limited government and fiscal responsibility than any registered Republican.

This means they have the silent support of millions of Democrat, Republican, independent and libertarian Americans. This means that it is Democrats who hold the hearts and minds of the country — and whether in November or later, they will defeat the forces that occupy Washington.

Like Moses, reluctant to lead his people to freedom because he spoke poorly, knew nothing about the journey and was old sinner to boot, Democrats ask how can they do battle with Republicans who "always win" on national security?

I suggested that they think of themselves as the insurgency they are, and apply the insurgent’s code. Dedication to faith, brutal honesty, boldness and courage. Never ever attack where the enemy is strong, but always and incessantly attack where the enemy is weak. But where are Republicans weak? As with our military in Iraq, weakness is found exactly where we tend to see strength. Our military is big and powerful, but slow to comprehend and imprecise in response. We are well armed against the enemy, yet frightened to death of him. We are conflicted as to why we are there, and why the Iraqis aren’t more grateful to us.

For Republicans, similar patterns emerge. Republicans have an authoritarian party system that works great, but too often it reminds Cold War Republicans why we held totalitarian systems in such contempt. Younger Republicans who don’t remember Soviet totalitarianism are just turned off by similar approaches in the GOP. Working for the Republicans are talk radio hosts at all hours of the day, all of FOXNews and most of CNN, the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and most of the Washington Post. Yet no one listens to them anymore. We are too busy looking at whistleblower video on, watching the brilliant Steven Colbert on the Comedy Channel, or debating the latest commentary by Keith Olberman at MSNBC. We are too busy watching Fox Entertainment with government-distrusting, anti-authoritarian programs like Prisonbreak, House, Justice, Vanished, and The Simpsons.

The GOP has bumper stickers, but the latest ubiquitous war on this or that, this morning’s versus last night’s fear-mongering, the superficial pro-family-while-hating-everyone message has become part of a background that Americans largely ignore.

Lastly, the GOP is terribly conflicted. The fiscal conservatives are enraged at six years of the President’s financial recklessness. The nationalists are incensed, betrayed by the President’s lack of concern over border security. The Religious Right has begun to wonder what Jesus would do, and find that His righteous anger is directed not at Muslims or terrorists, but at a faithless flock that built idols of war and created their own Caesar.

An example of how a political insurgency works might be the Allen-Webb Senate race in our home state of Virginia. Allen is losing precisely because he is a big money, big organization, big-Bush, authoritarian and for all of the above reasons, a hypocritical Republican. He is scared to death of the election he faces. His less well-funded opponent, a combat-hardened military and political veteran, a fiscal conservative, an intelligent and reflective man, needed to simply enter the race to send Allen into rages, retractions, and stumbles, and ultimately, defeat.

Changing out a few Senators and Representatives won’t solve America’s problems as a declining and troubled empire. But it will be a positive step. As Gary North so wonderfully explained, the coming investigations will be entertaining.

The Democratic sweep, whenever it comes, will demonstrate that when service providers [the President, his administration and his Congress] purport to be something they are not [lovers of rule of law, economic freedom and democracy], when they refuse to give their customers and shareholders straight answers, regular people might just walk up and tap them on their cardboard chests and watch as an army of paper tigers all fall down.