The Dark Arts of Politics has an undeserved bad rap. To begin, let's quote the classic master:
My view is that it is desireable to be both loved and feared; but it is difficult to achieve both and, if one of them has to be lacking, it is much safer to be feared than loved.
Next, let's quote the modern master:
People react to fear, not love --they don't teach that in Sunday School, but it's true.
While it doesn't hurt to give voters a positive reason to vote for you (and it frequently helps) the most important thing to do in any election is the make the voters hate the other guy more. The Dark Arts are an absolutely essential component of any successful politcal campaign/movement. A brief history of successful recent Republican Presidential campaigns shows this to be so.
In 1968, the Presidential election occured against the failure of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Johnson's welfare policies, aided and abetted by local politicians like New York's John Lindsay, gutted economic activity in America's cities. Various Supreme Court Decisions, also abetted by local politicians like Lindsay, gutted the ability of local police forces to fight crime. Taxes, Crime, and Welfare were all up; the result was urban riots across America. When citizens objected to this state of affairs, politicans like Lindsay called them racist. In addition, the cultural excesses of the hippie generation horrified many more traditional Americans. People legitmately resented what was happening around them.
Against this background, Richard Nixon realized that most Americans were ordinary people trying to raise their family and live a good life. Americans deserved respect and would vote for a politician who gave it to them; that was the origin of Nixon's 'Silent Majority.' Nixon was able to channel the frustrations listed above to form a new political coalition as blue collar Democrats abandonded their ancestral party in droves.
The contrast between the respective parties' conventions that year is telling. In a (reasonably) orderly manner, Republicans nominated Nixon and adopted a party platform promising 'law and order' and 'peace with honor [in Vietnam].' Democrats, by contrast, were barely able to nominate a candidate and had a riot outside their convention. When one party has an orderly convention and the other has a riot, why shouldn't the non-riot party campaign on law and order?
In 1972, Democrats handed Nixon a gift by nominating the candidate of Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion on a platform of "Come Home America." Republicans countered by pointing out that the Democrat Party "has been seized by a radical clique which scorns our nation's past and would blight her future." Nixon won a 49 state landslide. Need I say more?!?
Reagan's use of the Dark Arts are particularly fascinating. In the context of the Machiavelli quote listed above, Reagan was one of the few leaders who genuinely made himself BOTH Loved AND Feared. Reagan's sunny optimism and the fact that he was ultimately a successful President cause us to forget that he was also willing to play political hardball when he had to.
In 1980, shortly after the Republican Convention, Reagan appeared in Philadelphia Mississippi and gave a speech that has been taken out of context by liberals ever since. In this speech, Reagan made the pedestrian statement that:
I believe in states’ rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.
Taken in context, it's obvious this was a simple statement about the role of the Federal govt. in economic policy. While the content of Reagan's statement shows no racial meaning, he had to know it would antagonize the left. This statement led liberals to characterize Reagan supporters (and working class soft Carter supporters) as racist. This, in turn, fed on the same resentments Nixon did in a much more subtle way. On top of that, Reagan did it with a smile on his face. Simply brilliant!
Reagan's re-election campaign actually used the dark arts far more liberally than his first race. At the convention, in Dallas, Reagan's U.N. Ambassador assailed the moral equvalence of San Francisco Democrats:
They said that saving Grenada from terror and totalitarianism was the wrong thing to do - they didn't blame Cuba or the communists for threatening American students and murdering Grenadians - they blamed the United States instead.But then, somehow, they always blame America first.When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the "blame America first crowd" didn't blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States.But then, they always blame America first.When the Soviet Union walked out of arms control negotiations, and refused even to discuss the issues, the San Francisco Democrats didn't blame Soviet intransigence. They blamed the United States.But then, they always blame America first.When Marxist dictators shoot their way to power in Central America, the San Francisco Democrats don't blame the guerrillas and their Soviet allies, they blame United States policies of 100 years ago.But then, they always blame America first.
Kirkpatrick's truthful declaration was not the only instance of the Dark Arts in Dallas that year. At a prayer breakfast on the morning of his acceptance speech, Reagan told 17,000 Texans about the absurdity of how, thanks to liberal judges
we passed a special law in the Congress just a few weeks ago to allow student prayer groups the same access to schoolrooms after classes that a young Marxist society, for example, would already enjoy with no opposition.
Finally, in an election that also saw the greatest postive ad of all time, Reagan's Bear in the Woods ad was one of the greatest examples of electoral fearmongering I've ever seen.
Moving along to 1988, it's worth noting that most of the hits on Dukakis were self inflicted. No one told Dukakis to call himself a card carrying member of the ACLU, not care about his wife getting raped and killed, or ride around looking like a doofus in that tank. That said, it's time to discuss Willie Horton.
One of the great myths of modern politics is that the Willie Horton ad was somehow racist. It wasn't racist, it was about crime and Dukakis' record on that topic. It's true that Horton was a convicted murderer. It's true that Dukakis furloughed him 10 times. It's true that Horton assaulted two innocent people. It's also true that that ad would have been just as effective had Willie Horton looked like this guy. How was this not fair game?
In 2000, John McCain already had a long running fued with the Religious Right over Campaign Finance Reform. McCain was the one who threatened to shut them down if they got in his way. They had every right to hit back.
George W. Bush successful re-election campaign was notable to students of the Dark Arts for two reasons. First, the swift boat veterans played an essential role in getting out the truth about John Kerry. While some of the claims of what happened in Vietnam were disputed (and never setteled), no one can deny John Kerry's activities when he returned from Vietnam. Given that the man lied about what American troops did in Vietnam to the U.S. Congress, isn't this something the American people have a right to know?
Finally, 2004 is notable because, more than any time since 1864, Americans had a genuine reason to feel afraid. While Democrats like to whine about this fact, the simple fact is that who will keep you safe was a legitimate topic for a devestating ad.
So what does this all mean?
1) Opportunities for the Dark Arts arise from genuine problems. That's why we shouldn't feel bad about using them. To use some examples from the past 40 years:
- Why shouldn't people be afraid of rising crime?
- Why shouldn't people resent welfare recipents living off their taxes while they struggle to get by?
- If some liberal judge wants to make them get their kids up an hour early so they can get bused to some far off school, why should they accept it?
- If a sitting Governor gives some convicted felon a weekend furlough, why shouldn't said Governor be held accountable? Why is that racist?
- If a sitting senator votes against a critical homeland security measure, shouldn't he get called on it?
2) The left is the aggressor in the culture wars. They're the ones who want to take God out of the public square. They're the ones who want six year olds to attend gay weddings. They're the ones proposing taxpayer subsidized abortion. Why should we feel bad about fighting back? The tactics the left hates so much basically involves us calling them out on who they really are and telling the public what they really want to do. What's wrong with that?
3) George W. Bush's Anti-Terrorist policies have worked. In the next year, Obama will face politically difficult decisions regarding Patriot Act renewal, Guantanamo Bay, and surging in Afghanistan. If Obama continues Bush's policies, we should quietly work with him to give him the votes he needs in Congress while letting him take the heat from his base. On the other hand, if he chooses to discontinue any of these vital policies, we should come at him with everything we've got. If this happens, there should be no hesitation to point out that "Barack Obama does not care about Americans' safety. It's too soon to tell how this will play out, but we should be prepared for either possibility.
4) We really do love America more than they do. I know it's not politically correct to say, but after 9/11 conservatives did this while liberals did this. A couple weeks ago Joel Stein (of all people) penned this amazingly perceptive and surprisingly honest column. Stein admits:
Conservatives feel personally blessed to have been born in the only country worth living in. I, on the other hand, just feel lucky to have grown up in a wealthy democracy. If it had been Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Israel or one of those Scandinavian countries with more relaxed attitudes toward sex, that would have been fine with me too.
While his statement about sex was particularly pompus and obnoxious, this entire paragraph (and column) is revealing. Liberals don't wear articles of clothing with American Flags; Conservatives do.
On a similar note, I would never have had my kids baptized by this guy. I would never work with this guy on education. That's why Michelle Bachman is my hero.
Ok, I've said a mouthful. Comments on this one should be interesting.