"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Quest for War and the 2002 Election

Karl Rove, the president’s chief political advisor, realized soon after 9-11 that constant emphasis upon the war on terrorism could give Bush control of Congress in the 2002 elections and insure a big win in the 2004 presidential elections. The president focused his rhetoric on the new war and skillfully used it to build popularity and collect unprecedented sums for the Republican Party. It also insured continuation of a moratorium on serious criticism and highly favorable press coverage. The campaign for war with Iraq also became a useful strategy for increasing Republican power in the elections of 2002. Anthony Lewis noted that the Bush administration managed to move the American people toward war with Iraq without “a clear casus belli” and “with so little public protest.” Lewis asked if 9/11 made us a different people, one “so frightened by September 11 that for the moment we want leadership without qualms Soon after 9/11 Rove effectively began to demonize the Democrats, implying that they were somehow helping the terrorists. This strategy became more evident as the elections of 2002 approached and produced a great victory for the Republicans.

Early on, Rove told the National Federation of Independent business that the administration was fighting a two front war, one against the Taliban and another against the Democrats on the matter of estate tax repeal. He apparently saw little difference between Democrats and terrorists. Evidence soon surfaced that Rove spent twenty-one hours preparing the presentation on a computer in the Executive Office of the President. The same computer disk that fell into Congressional hands contained confidential assessment of where the White House stood in June 2002, called “Summary of Recent Data,” and it seemed very accurate. He noted that nothing the president (POTUS) did hurt him with the voters and that Democrat complaints about Enron and economy had no effect. His priorities were maintaining the right-wing GOP base and milking the war against terrorism for all it was worth.

The war on terrorism gave the GOP a opportunity to energize its base by accusing Democrats of lacking patriotism. When John Walker Lindh, an American, turned up among Al Qaeda fighters, some Republicans used him to project an unfavorable profile on people who vote for Democrats. The Weekly Standard traced the boy’s misbehavior to the rumor that his father is a homosexual. More common was the approach of Shelby Steele of the Hoover Institution. Steele saw Lindh’s behavior as growing out of “a certain cultural liberalism” characteristic of northern California. He did not reconcile this view with the fact that the contemptible young man had embraced a worldview that was anti-gay and anti-woman. In March 2001, William Bennett and other conservatives formed Americans for Victory over Terrorism. The organization claimed it was needed to oppose those who opposed the war on terrorism even though it would have been difficult to name more than a few prominent people who opposed it. When asked who opposed the war, Bennett attacked former-President Jimmy Carter who criticized Bush for using the term “axis of evil.” Carter, of course, supported the war but feared that Bush’s rhetoric did more harm than good. The effort looked like an effort to tar as a traitor anyone who was mildly critical of Bush and to identify Democrats as being against the war.

Bush’s quest to make war with Iraq was also a strong inducement for conservative Jews to continue their migration into the Republican Party that began in the Reagan years. The increasing number of conservative and Republican Jews may be related to the fact that all but one of the major Jewish organizations (the Religious Action Center) have come to refrain from being engaged in discussions of universal health insurance, workers rights, corporate crime, and affordable housing. Taking a progressive position on these questions would anger their conservative Christian allies and possibly diminish support for Israel. These organizations have become closely identified with Ariel Sharon’s policy of hanging on to all of Israel’s West Bank colonies, and they find the strongest support for them in right-wing Christian ranks and on the political right. In order to court the Christian Right, Karl Rove took the unprecedented step in 2002 of asking Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to speak at a pro-Israel rally.

In House and Senate races, Republicans questioned the patriotism of Democrats if they were at all critical of Bush’s rush to war or had ever voted against military appropriations. This approach, carried out through a high-powered advertising campaign ended the career of Senator Tim Johnson in South Dakota. Some Republicans mistakenly worried that using the proposed war for political purposes and questioning Democrats’ patriotism could backfire. One Republican senator said, “ There are some high-level people in the White House, Karl Rove being the main driver, who are using this for politics. Don’t be baited. Don’t let Rove hook you.” These comments reflected dissatisfaction within Republican ranks with what were considered Rove’s “high-handed tactics.” They blamed him for Driving Senator Jim Jeffords out of the party in 2001 and questioned his tactics a year later.

The central strategy for Congressional races in 2002 was developed by Rove. He directed where resources went, and he even intervened in primaries to get his candidates nominated. In New Hampshire, he helped John Sonunu, Jr. take the nomination from Senator Bob Smith. Smith’s supporters mounted a write-in-campaign that threatened what otherwise would been a certain Republican seat. Rove and Sonunu responded to the threat by making Sonunu’s opponent, Governor Jeanne Shaheen appear to be “a corporate flunky,” in a well-financed effort to somehow make the Democrat partly responsible for the corporate scandals that shook the stock market. Sonunu won the seat handily. The strategy of blaming Democrats for corporate scandals was also used in the Massachusetts governor’s race where Shannon O’Brien was linked to corporate fraud and greed because her husband was a lobbyist. A TV advertisement blamed her for the Enron scandal because as State Treasurer she invested state retirement funds in Enron. The handsome Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, was featured in a TV advertisement in a bathing suite, and won.

The main thrust of the campaign, of course, was to convince voters that Democrats were not to be trusted in defense and national security matters because some of them raised questions about President’s Bush’s talk of war with Iraq. The very hawkish New Republic observed that the Bush administration “maneuvered brilliantly” in this respect. The New Republic is still called liberal, but it has been very Neo Conservative for some years. Two recent editors were Michael Kelly and Andrew Sullivan.

There was no evidence to suggest that Rove’s strategy would not be successful. In Minnesota, South Dakota, and New Mexico, Republicans campaigned to unseat Democratic incumbents by claiming they were soft on Saddam, which simply meant they may have shown some reluctance to issue a blank check to the president to pursue a preemptive war or that they had opposed Bush’s anti-labor version of the Homestead Security bill. On September 20, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle delivered a blistering indictment of Bush’s economic policies. It was intended to begin the Democratic effort to focus attention on Bush’s domestic record. The speech was barely noticed as discussion of the impending war almost completely diverted national attention from domestic issues. Only days later, the Bureau of the census had released data indicating that the income gap between the rich and the rest of society had grown since Bush took office. For the first time since 1991 the income of the middle class fell.

The number of poor Americans increased 1.3 million, representing the first increase in that number in eight years. Median household income fell 2.2% from the previous year. The implications of this date were not to become a major subject of public discussion in the 2002 campaigns. The Democrats were so divided on economic matters that they offered no alternative economic plan, and the Democrat-controlled Senate did not even pass a budget for fiscal 2003. Yet their complaints about the economy would have weighed heavily with the voters had not talk of war completely dominated the political debate? President Bush campaigned vigorously to elect more people to support his war agenda and was able to transfer some of his enormous popularity to GOP candidates. Bush effectively milked the issue to raise record amount of money for Republican candidates. As a result the Republicans had more than twice as much money as Democrats to elect candidates. Bush raised between $141 and 180 million for the cause, and this did not include enormous amounts of soft money spent by drug companies and other corporate interests. There is no way of knowing how much of this constituted illegal contributions. It later developed that in Ohio. GOP politicians violated campaign finance laws by channeling through their names illegal contributions to the Bush campaign. By June 2006, fourteen were charged. Many Republican candidates thought Bush’s great popularity was even more valuable than monetary assistance. They called themselves “Bush babies” and repeated his soothing but empty rhetoric about compassionate conservatism.”

Bush’s success in this election underscored how popular he was. For whatever reason, his body language or apparent decisiveness in national security matters, he wastrusted by the American people. Indeed he enjoyed the kind of popularity once enjoyed by World War II hero Dwight David Eisenhower. There was a caricature of each as bumblers and fools, but they were extraordinarily popular. Blame for nothing stuck to them. Bush, at this point in his reign, may have been more popular than Eisenhower. In 1954, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon claimed that they needed more Republicans in Congress to fight Communism. Vice President Nixon raced around the country questioning the patriotism of Democrats, and the GOP lost seats in both Houses. In 2002,however, this kind of vitriolic campaign paid handsome dividends. The usual exit polls were not available, but there was evidence that some people who usually voted Democratic backed Republicans as a means of supporting the war on terrorism and the proposed war against Iraq.

The 2002 elections were the largest victory for a sitting president in by-elections since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. The Republicans not only increased their majority in the House of Representatives, but they seized control of the Senate. In addition, the Republicans continued to gain seats in state legislatures, picking up at least 200 additional seats. The GOP regained many of the votes it had been losing to Democrats among middle class, white suburbanites. White women, too, voted less strongly for Democrats than in previous elections. Even a majority of voters over 55 voted for Republicans. There was an intensive Republican effort to get out their votes, while Democrats were not as effective at this. In some states, like Maryland, the GOP surpassed the unions in getting people to the polls, which led an AFL-CIO official to note, “They put together a real butt-kicking campaign.” There was a poor turn out among Blacks, and Maryland blacks were discouraged from voting by leaflets that said they could not vote if their rent was unpaid or if they had outstanding traffic tickets. In the last days of the election, pharmaceutical companies and other corporate interests made enormous expenditures on so-called “issue ads” attacking Democrats with numerous phony charges. The soft money expenditures by Republican-allied groups (A527 groups” according to the Tax Code) could not be reported during the election due to late reporting and a hard-to-use government web site.

Jonathan Chait of The New Republic wrote that the Democrats were likely to continue to lose elections unless they are rescued by a deep recession of great Republican excesses. Their difficulties in getting their message across were, he thought, likely only to grow.

The fact of the matter is the Republican Party enjoys certain basic advantages when it comes to getting its message across. One is that it has substantially more money for TV advertising .The GOP also enjoyed allied media outlets like FOX News and talk radio, which disseminate its message to its base in a way that the Democrats can’t duplicate.” Across the board in 2002, the Republicans raised more than $200 million more than the Democrats.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum


Mike Chapman said...

Hello, Tim Johnson of South Dakota is still serving as the senior U.S. Senator from that state. The Republicans tried their hardest to defeat him and failed. He is running for reelection again and you can visit his website at http://timjohnson.com/index.php

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About Me

Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!