Monday, October 24, 2005

Why Hillary Will Never Be President

It’s not because she’s a woman. It’s not because she’s a Democrat. It’s not even because she’s Hillary.

It’s the war.

“Hillary Rodham Clinton is a chickenhawk who knows nothing about national security,” said Scott Ritter on C-SPAN2 Book TV, discussing his new book: Iraq Confidential. He went on: “ …Indeed, that is a problem of the entire Democratic Party. The next top figure in the Democratic Party that stands up in opposition to the war will have a real chance at the nomination."

If the Republicans are split over the budget deficit and the Miers nomination, Democrats are split over the war in Iraq. Fear stalks the political landscape. The elected Repubs are quaking in fear of indictments. The elected Dems are terrified to hammer out and articulate a positive platform that goes beyond mere opposition.

This past weekend, the chatterati TV programs provided stark evidence of the Great Democratic Divide, exposing the strike-slip fault lines of progressive topography with silent tectonics as hawks grate against doves.

The Dem hawks are the unrepentant politicians who voted for the war. For example, on NBC’s Meet the Press, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said that, even given what he knows now, he would still cast a vote to allow the President to attack and invade Iraq.

The Dem doves are the little people and their champions like Howard Dean. On a recent appearance on the political talker, Hardball, Dean reprised his long-held anti-war position: “I thought this [the war in Iraq] was a bad idea in the first place because I believed we would get in just the kind of mess we have…It’s not responsible to take our troops out tomorrow, but we need to get our troops out of there and we need to do it in a reasonable way and not lose any more lives.”

The hawks control the political agenda, maintaining hardened positions that are reinforced by party elders. According to Seymour Hersh, speaking on the C-SPAN2 program with Scott Ritter, there was a secret, as-yet-unreported meeting attended by Madeline Albright and other old party hands in Washington DC last week. They considered how the party should address the nation’s challenges and ultimately counseled a do-nothing strategy on the sidelines so as not to take the spotlight away from the Republicans implosion.

But the doves control the party apparatus and the grass roots. They won’t mean much until the 2006 mid-terms when they will be needed to walk the precincts, handle the phone banks, send the emails, drive the voters to the polls and carry out all the grunt work undertaken by ACORN,, and dozens of other left-leaning groups.

Dem politicians are entirely out of sync with their dovish rank-and-file and they are hoping that the foot soldiers will have short memories.

In a CBS News poll taken October 3-5 of 808 adults nationwide, 91% of Democrats responded that the results of the war are not worth the lost American lives and other costs, 8% think they are, and 1% are unsure. (Republicans disagree. Sixty-two percent believe the results in Iraq are worth the costs, 26% think they aren’t, and 12% are unsure.)

Hillary and her elected colleagues may be having a great time tap-dancing on the grave of Republican hegemony. But she may have waited too long to leave the prom.

Hillary and Bill have miscalculated the intensity of bad feeling they have engendered against themselves while trying to protect Hillary against charges of being soft on terrorism. In 2004, in spite of having a hack politician burdened with war guilt foisted up on them, many of the people who worked for the Kerry campaign supported him because they believed that the candidate would move to end the war once he took office.

But time has passed and now it’s a minute to midnight. From the hinterlands, the streets, and campuses, patience and tolerance of cowardice are wearing thin. The grass roots want a candidate who has guts, not just guile. Principles, not just polish. The willingness to do what is right, not just what is expedient.

If she really wants to be president, Hillary should take a lesson from the nomination of Harriet Miers -- merely being a woman is no longer qualification enough (if it ever was) to take support for granted when seeking a high position…even from one’s own presumptive supporters.

Friendly fire can be just as deadly as attacks from opponents. Unless Hillary shows some backbone to her base, all it will take to turn Hillary’s inauguration ball gown into tattered rags is one high-profile Democrat who is willing to take a stand against the war.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Spiral of Speech: Cindy, Katrina & Harriet

Speak up or shut up – that is the question. Cindy Sheehan Hurricane Katrina,and Harriet Miers have a lot in common. They were all the focal point of situations that have given a voice to critics of the Bush administration.

Starting with Cindy Sheehan, she didn’t just voice opposition to the war. Her example gave others a voice to express their opposition to the war – without being unpatriotic or opposing the troops. Whether she ever occupies the public stage again, she accomplished the signal task opening a channel for progressives to speak out against the war.

Hurricane Katrina did for conservatives what Sheehan did for progressives. Plenty of conservatives had reservations about the war in Iraq from the beginning. But they elected their guy to office, so they shut up. They’ve watched the budget deficits grow with increasing dismay. But Bush is their guy, so they shut up.

In the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina came the administration’s fumble and FEMA’s public stumble. Criticism came from everywhere, from all sides of the political spectrum. But nowhere was it harsher than from conservative media sources: Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson on MSNBC, Sheppard Smith, Bill O’Reilly, and Geraldo Rivera on Fox News – to a man, they were angry at and disdainful of what they saw as shortcomings in the administration’s response. As the story unfolded, Michael Brown’s appointment as head of FEMA made him a poster boy for cronyism.

Okay, so the media never really shut up, but Hurricane Katrina presented the nation with the picture of intense criticism by conservative-leaning networks, anchors, and reporters, speaking straight from the gut. There were few of the usual limits of polite discourse or camera-induced media-speak.

Now the internecine controversy about Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court finds many prominent voices in the conservative movement in full cry.

It’s the Spiral of Speech at work.

Remember Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann’s spiral of silence? She was a social scientist who studied the formation and transformation of public opinion, focusing on the expression of political and social beliefs. She established the Allensbach Institute, an influential German polling organization that conducted political and social research for decades. In 1984, she published her brilliant Spiral of Silence theory. She argued that people fear social isolation, so they monitor the environment carefully to make sure that their speech is socially acceptable in that environment. If they perceive that an opinion they hold will be unpopular, they shut up. The opposite also holds: If they see that their opinion will be warmly received, they speak up.

Before Katrina, conservatives could criticize Bush only in whispers – after all, he’s their president. They’ve held their noses and kept their mouths closed over the bloated federal budget. And many religious conservatives managed to hold their fire when John Roberts was nominated – is that corporate-looking smoothie really their kind of conservative?

Now, released from verbal bondage first by the hurricane and finally by Harriet Miers, they’ve gone public. And loud.

So maybe the conservative caterwauling it isn’t about Harriet Miers at all. (The poor woman hasn’t even had a chance to speak a word on her own behalf.) Maybe this is the first chance conservatives have had a chance to voice a longer-standing displeasure over Bush’s actions, and she is merely the recipient of the high pressure, high decibel level granted by Katrina.

Noelle-Neumann believed that people are sensitive barometers of the political climate. It might be too early to foretell the midterm elections, and maybe the spiral of speech will spin yet another direction before then. But at the moment, Noelle-Neumann might well have predicted that Republicans will be in trouble in ’06. If the spiral of speech continues, the conservative, grass-roots base might not work very hard to put back in office the Bush politicos who are likely to put Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court.