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Living in Fantasy Land - What to Expect From Bush
An Open Letter to Democrats

A. Wharton

My daily internet "travels" to Democratic sites are convincing me that we may miss a prime chance to win back Congress in '02 and the White House in '04 because we want to live in "Fantasy Land" about the Bushies and the GOP.

We all see Bush's daily goofs (they're hard to miss), and we start dreaming that voters will finally "see through W" and elect Democrats. It's a great dream, but it's not reality and it's a good way to be blindsided.

We must plant our feet firmly in Reality and prepare for the absolute worst-case scenario -- that Bush will bounce back by election time. During the 2000 election, many Democrats said, "Voters will see through Bush" or "No one will elect Bush because he lacks substance" or "He's too dumb; he can't even find a coherent sentence with a flashlight." However, people familiar with W. begged Democrats not to underestimate him. But underestimate him we did, and now history is repeating itself.

We see W's flurry of ultra-conservative activity and expect that now, finally, voters will "get it." Let me repeat this -- DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE BUSHIES AND THE GOP. Bush has repeatedly bounced back and kicked his opponents' butts by using sneaky, underhanded personal attacks and borderline illegal activities. This will happen again in '02 and '04 unless we prepare now.

We had better expect quite a few things from Bush and the GOP in the next election, including:

1. First, we should expect a GOP-created scandal around any Democratic candidate who shows promise, both at the local level and for President. That is the first commandment in the GOP Ten Commandments of Guerrilla Warfare Against Democratic Candidates. No one is safe, and anyone can be wrongly discredited, at least according to the GOP playbook. Expect renewed personal attacks on Gore, plus new personal attacks on Kerry, Kerrey, Edwards, Daschle and anyone else who looks promising. And expect the GOP-controlled media to hype any possible scandal to the hilt.

2. Second, we should not take any portion of our base for granted -- and I mean ANY portion, be it black, Hispanic, gay, women, centrists, treehuggers, etc. Just because blacks voted against Bush, don't be surprised if some amazing thing happens to throw a monkey wrench in the mix. There are rumors that Powell might be promoted to VP, and if Bush can pull that off, he will do it for reelection. We've seen the pandering to various interest groups. Expect more pandering to every possible interest group, and expect some of the pandering to work.

3. Third, don't expect Bush to continue these harsh conservative tones near election time. He is getting the hard stuff out of the way, so he can be soft later. Unfortunately, the voting public has a short memory, and Bush knows that. Expect Bush to start appearing very moderate near November 2002 and November 2004.

4. Fourth, don't expect the truth to automatically come out on any program where we have an advantage. Expect the public to hear only GOP-advanced media lies on issues like the budget, social security, health care, the environment, taxes, race relations, election reform, etc. We will have to be vigilant, because the truth will be hidden and buried by the Bushies and the GOP. Where the truth does manage to come out, the GOP will try to divert it with either a newly created scandal or perhaps Desert Storm Part 2 or some other diversionary crisis.

5. Fifth, expect the GOP to continue to use divide and conquer techniques against the Democrats. Expect the GOP to hype every division that can make us argue amongst ourselves. The GOP knows that the easiest way to defeat an enemy is to make him defeat himself. (For a bit more insight on the GOP approach, you might consider reading Machiavelli and The Art of War.) There are clear areas of division between the progressives and the centrists, and the GOP has been focusing on issues that highlight these differences and cause us to forget it is the GOP that is the enemy, not each other. There are also clear divisions with labor, centrists and various racial groups. Each division will be exploited to the max. Remember Nader?

Finally, remember that Clinton bounced back from a rocky start and as much as you hate to admit it, Bush can bounce back too. Denying that possibility only serves to promote defeat in the next election.

So, what to do?

First, we must accept reality and not pretend Bush can't bounce back.

Second, we must engage on the issues and argue why our position is substantively right and theirs is substantively wrong. We can't just repeat 20-year old slogans without arguing the substance. We need to argue that the term "bleeding heart liberal" is a virtue, not a vice. We need to argue that compassion, mercy and kindness are more important than selfishness and greed.

We also can't let issues be diverted to specious arguments, such as on the abortion issue. The underlying issue on abortion is whether each American can set their own beliefs about when human life begins, or whether pro-lifers are going to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else.

Third, we cannot ignore political realities that exist in various parts of the nation. It's silly for Democrats to insist on promoting liberal candidates in conservative states. If you want more liberals, work on changing minds, not changing candidates. When we convince people we are right on the issues, the liberal votes will follow.

As Martin Sheen said to Michael Douglas in the movie, "The American President": "You don't fight the fights you think you can win. You fight the fights that need to be fought." We need to fight W directly on substance and be prepared for his dirty tactics in return. If we prepare for the worst, we just may end up with the best.