How the Democrats Defeat Themselves by Showing That They Are Coming From Fear: An Extensive Passage from Drew Westen on Huffingtonpost

I wish I could say that Professor Weston is mistaken in this analysis, but it seems to me pretty well on target.

(The full article can be found at


Outflanked in Iraq

by Drew Westen


Last November, the electorate was angry but hopeful. When the Democratic Congress surrendered to the president in late May in an attempt to “support the troops before Memorial Day,” however, they were surprised that the outrage had now turned on them. Within a week they found their performance rated unfavorably not only by Democrats but by the Independents who had swept them into power. That should have been a wake-up call that their strategic calculations were miscalculations, and that their attempt to craft a “middle ground” that would appeal to moderate Republicans in the Congress–and in the process make Democrats appear, as they had been for the last five years, like supplicants to their Republican colleagues, begging for crumbs and pleading for them to be reasonable–was not winning the middle in Middle America. After repeating the same strategy, punctuated by public hand ringing and protestations of impotence (justified in terms of rules about cloture and filibusters arcane to the average citizen), they find themselves today with an approval rating at 11 percent.

The conclusion they should have drawn is that you can’t project fear and have people trust you on national security. When voters perceive a mismatch between what their leaders say and what they do, they pay attention to what they do. And right now, they aren’t listening to Democrats’ positions on national security, which are difficult to discern (because they vary by the day, depending on whether they are preaching compromise, confrontation, or helplessness in the face of Republican intransigence). They’re watching their posture, which seems anything but courageous and upright. They remember well how Republicans bullied the Democrats for five straight years in Congress and cowed them into relinquishing their right to use the same filibuster Republicans now threaten to use at every turn, and they get the message: that Democrats are weak in the face of aggression, and can barely put their hands in front of their faces to block the blows from a minority in Congress and from a bully sitting in his bully pulpit at 29 percent in the polls.

Since 2001, Democrats have repeatedly cast votes for things they didn’t believe in because they don’t trust the intelligence of the American people. They don’t believe they can convey, or their constituents can grasp, the subtleties of the situation in Iraq, habeas corpus, torture and detention of foreign nationals (creating rules of the game that can be used against our troops and our children if the travel abroad), and warrantless wiretapping. But in so doing, they vastly underestimate the emotional intelligence of the electorate — which happens to be a much better predictor of their voting behavior. People may not follow closely arguments about FISA courts, but they do follow the messages their elected representatives convey louder than words. They understood in 2006 what the Republican leadership really cared about when they discovered how long they’d known about Mark Foley’s illicit interest in high school boys, and they understood what was happening in Iraq when George W. Bush was using the same words he’d used for the last three years as the situation visibly deteriorated.

Today, they understand that Democrats are afraid of taking a stand for fear of being branded. If Democrats really want to end the war, there is only one place to start: they need to stop repeating the Republican brand about what it means to “support the troops” and tell Americans what it really means to support the brave men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America: to deploy every other weapon in our arsenal–including diplomacy–before we ask them to risk their lives; to enter into war only after an honest and judicious examination of the evidence, not to cherry-pick the data to justify a predetermined plan and demote and impugn any general who tells you that the plan offering the best opportunities for selling the war (i.e., no cost, no sacrifice) is not the plan offering the best possibility for success (as occurred with General Shinseki); to take care of our wounded soldiers when they return home, and to give them time with their families to recover, physically and psychologically, between tours of duty; to stop fighting at every turn increases in their combat pay and the survivor benefits to their loved ones should they perish in battle, and to shed a tear with their families at their funerals, so that they know our leaders are truly with them in their grief and so those who send them to war get a visceral feeling for the costs of war; to proudly display their flag-draped coffins when they return to shores they will never see, rather than to whisk their bodies into the country in the middle of the night and ban photographers from taking any pictures of them because it might be bad for “public relations”; and when it is clear that staying the course is no longer a viable option, to plan for their safe return to their country and loved ones rather than to justify further losses with past losses and to brand anyone who opposes an indefinite drain on our military as a traitor.

If Democrats really want to end the war, and to carry out the job the people sent them to do in November of last year, they need to tell the kinds of stories I’m hearing when I talk to servicemen and women every time I go to the airport, like the 23-year old mother of two who just got sent back for her second tour of duty, who had tears in her eyes as she described what it’s like to abandon her three-month old baby and how her older child didn’t recognize her when she returned home from her last deployment. If they want to end the war, they should put forward the most responsible bill they can propose, with whatever guidelines or timetables they believe are truly in the best interest of our nation and our soldiers, and if the Republicans filibuster, let them filibuster, and attach the names and faces of every soldier killed or maimed in the meantime to those who are obstructing the will of the people. That’s supporting our troops, and that’s what will bring this terrible chapter in American history to a close, as Americans start to see on television, live and on camera, who is supporting our troops and who is sending them to their graves while happily spending time with their own families or planning lavish White House weddings for their own children when we are allegedly engaged in a battle for our freedom and civilization.


Drew Westen, Ph.D., is professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University and founder of Westen Strategies. He is the author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation

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14 Responses to “How the Democrats Defeat Themselves by Showing That They Are Coming From Fear: An Extensive Passage from Drew Westen on Huffingtonpost”

  1. Morley Says:

    The Dem fears are realistic, and it is not the population they fear but Gop power. In his new book THE ROAD TO 9/11, Peter Dale Scott documents extensively that the Bushites have created a parallel COG organization, so-called Continuity Of Government. This was orginally an organization that was to be used if the US goverment was decapitated by a nuclear war, and was part of what Oliver North called REX 84.

    Cheney and Rumsfield have worked together since the Ford Administration, and identified with Nixon’s apporach to dictatorial power. During the attack on 9/11, the Bushite regime partially activated COG, led by Cheney in the White House bunker. He then took off for five months after 9/11, setting up a 100 senior managers as part of the COG scenario. The last stage is the declariation of martial law, perhaps after a staged Terrorist event, and the replacing of civilian state and local leaders with military officers. Mass serveillance is in place and concentration camps already built to imprison dissidents and Foreigners.

    The money corporations, the truth corporations and the violence organs are all controlled by Gops. It doesn’t much matter that the Dems are a majority in Congress, because the wider power system, what Scott calls the ‘deep power system’ is controlled by Bushites or Bushsymps. What the Dems are afraid of is that they will trigger COG, but they can’t say so publically because the American people have been so indoctrinated by the American truth organs that they can’t believe it, because it conflicts with the mainstream truth.

    And the American people are afraid too, but we are deluded, disoriented and distracted by the truth media to know precisely what we are afraid of.

  2. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    The question of what the Dems fear is an important one, and there may be many valid parts of the answer. It may be, as some have suggested, that they fear some kind of blackmail, or some kind of violent retribution. It may be that they fear, as Morley suggests above, that if they confront the BUshite evil too aggressively, they will trigger some kind of coup d’etat. It may be, as I’ve been saying, that they fear they will lose the PR contest with the Bushites and thus lose power in the polls in the coming election.

    It may be all of the above, and more besides.

    In a posting soon, I will advance an argument that is directed toward a different level of the matter: regardless of what it is they fear, the question still arises as to why it is that the Democrats are (apparently) so governed by that fear. After all, history is full of situations in which people –despite their being up against truly grave peril– have taken the most determined and principled of stands, and have advanced bravely into the encounter with the enemy.

    The Dems in Congress have not done so, and indeed have been mostly inept and self-defeating in their stumblings toward and then away from confrontation. And I’ve got some thoughts about why that is.

    To be continued….

  3. Steve Says:

    I think millions of common, educated and/or intelligent citizens know this story Morley. They may not know it in such detail as the buzz terms you sight, but they suspect GOP’ers are deep into controlling the economic future of America. I think millions also believe Dem leadership has a serious simpatico w/ the elitist and fatalistic strand of thought you describe.

    The wheels on this vehicle are well greased. But it’s virtually impossible to understand who supports whom. Many Dem’s don’t know whom they work for many times, I imagine. Even the more idealistic Dem’s or GOP’ers are kept at a distance simply by the convoluted nature of politics such as persuasive business formulas, psychological trends and sometimes just from a single acclaimed reputation.

    The current cabal really does work in the shadows. Everyone else falls into it like Dr. Schmookler. Or, they slowly wade into those cold and murky waters. The bottom line is that our country is losing its grip on reality. Ironically, all we have to fear IS fear itself. When my patriotic a** dies and is waiting at the gates of heaven I want to be able to say that I sought the truth. I want to be able to say that I was on the other side of this dangerous and very warped game of politics. That’s my battle cry.

  4. Sam Gruen Says:

    Yesterday on Hardball, Matthews described the president of Columbia to Pat Buchanan as being a worse filibusterer than Hillary. Why inject hostility towards the Democratic frontrunner into a conversation about the Iranian president at Columbia?

    Matthews continuously reinforces Reagan mythology he knows to be false. For instance, on 3 occasions I saw, he stopped guests from saying Giuliani was deceitful about Reagan ending the Iranian hostage crisis through steely-eyed resolve. He knows Reagan admitted on TV that they’d traded arms for hostages.

    And Matthews is considered a liberal in the mainstream.

    Perhaps a primary reason for Dem fearfulness is that the media presentation is constantly undermining them, even by liberals. Even here on this page, there is not a single word about anything the Dems have done right. Dems are self-defeating? Perhaps because their base is self-defeating.

    Liberals don’t support our troops, and the troops I mean are our elected Democratic members of government.

    Where are the courageous liberal bloggers who will praise Democrats and acknowledge that they have the right agenda, and may know something about political strategy in this political environment, poisoned by the corporate media and a government that provides Rush Limbaugh as the main source of political commentary to Armed Services Radio.

  5. Morley Says:

    I essentially agree, Steve, that the American people do sense the Elitism of both parties. But the problem is that they do not have an emotional or spiritual ideology that unites them against a repressive power system. We haven’t developed one. What we have is the Dem party of Sam Gruen, who identifies with it in compitition with the Gops.

    But the Dem and Gop leadership are BOTH Elitist, and although they compete among themselves for offices, they unite against the population. The incombants have gerrymandered the electoral space to prevent challenges, and thus have disconnected the electoral process from the population.

    During the past half century, when the War on Communism of the 20th century segued into the fraudulent War on Terrorism of the 21st, the American people have the mainstream choice of two right wing ideologies. The progressive ideology of socialism has been excluded from the mainstream American consensus.

    The Dems cannot rely on the population because they are afraid of mobilizing them, since this would mean espousing issues that would put them in conflict with the weapons, oil, drugs and other corporations of the ruling class. this increases their dependance on the money and media of the ruling class, making them afraid to defend even their own long term interests.

    The Dems are caught between the power interests of the ruling class and those of the population. This neutralizes them, making them afraid to do much of anything.

    If the American progressive population had a strong spiritual ideology to unite them against the oppression of the power system, then the Dem leadership would have to respond to it. But as it is, the progressive population is impeded by the power delusions of liberalism and the obsolete Enlightement conceptual language that prevents us from uniting against the power system.

    Earthpeople at the present time in history are changing our worldviews, but to develop and apply an earthperson ideology to the specific problems of the American power system would take a generation. A short time in history, but a long time in our lifetimes. I don’t know what will happen in this generation, but I, too, look forward and fear the worst.

  6. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    Again, there is room for various explanations of the Democrats’ weakness.

    The media are, as Sam argues, deeply enmeshed in this Bushite regime– at the very least that they are failing to talk about the elephant in the room, to tell the American people one of the most important stories in the history of the republic.

    And the Democratic base, as Sam also argues, another important source of weakness for the Democratic office-holders, being far less loyal than the base of the Republicans.

    But regardless of those components of the situation, I do not believe that explains away the significant failure of the Democrats to address in an energized and impassioned way the central challenge facing the opposition party in the face of this Bushite regime.

    One way of stating that challenge was articulated by a friend of mine –who nonetheless is not feeling so disappointed as I am in the Democrats’ performance since taking over the Congress. It is vital, said this friend, that Bush not be enabled to leave office with the myth intact that this has been some “normal” American presidency.

    And I think that’s the heart of it. Even more important than ending the Iraq war.

    This presidency has been a criminal enterprise. It has been a systematic attempt to dismantle the American constitutional system and drag the country down the road to fascism. It has turned the ruling power of the United States into what is, unambiguously, a channel for evil forces.

    Yet it does seem that this presidency will come to an end without this huge elephant in the room having been talked about at the American center stage. It does appear that Bush will leave office with the main American discussion –not places like NSB or truthout or Common Dreams– still maintaining the terrible falsehood that this has been a normal presidency.

    None of the Democratic candidates on the stages of these debates has declared, before the American people, the vital truth about this dark regime. Not even those candidates who have essentially no chance at the nomination.

    And neither has the Democratic Congress acted or spoken in a way that would be appropriate in view of that vital truth.

    They’ve brought some aspects of the truth forward, but they’ve not acted as if this were any really huge deal. I don’t expect them to run the government, given the power that’s in the hands of the White House and the Republicans in the Senate. But they could at least pursue strategies that dramatize that truth.

    This regime is precisely the kind of threat to American democracy that the Founding Fathers were most concerned about. Yet most of the American people have not heard the message, from the Democratic opposition, that this is so.

    It’s not just the media’s fault, though surely it is theirs too. And it is hardly the fault of the Democratic base, which would be delighted to see the Democrats raise this banner boldly.

    The congressional Democrats’ own weakness seems unmistakable in this failure.

    I agree, incidentally, with Morley’s suggestion that “a strong spiritual ideology” on the progressive (I would also say “liberal”) side is an essential part of what is lacking. And this connects with what I will be saying about the Democrats’ weakness in a future posting.

    But I think it a fundamental error to fault an “obsolete Enlightement conceptual language” for that spiritual void. The Enlightenment founders of this nation were imbued with a fierce and strong spirit that enabled them to stand up to tyranny and create a system of liberty and order the likes of which the world had never seen. Washington and Jefferson and Madison et al. would know full well how to stand up to these Bushites; indeed, such men of the Enlightenment had enough fire in their belly to risk being hanged by the British for their polemic against what they saw as the tyranny of the British king and his regime:

    And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

    I see nothing obsolete in their spiritual ideology– with its declaration:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

  7. Kitty Hegemann Says:

    Andy: We had a coup d’etat in 2000 when the SCOTUS went over the will of the people of this country and put this horrible Administration in office.

  8. ROBERT M. LEAS Says:

    Amen brothers…

  9. Sam Gruen Says:

    What could be easier than watching someone and finding fault with them?
    After all, absolutely everyone is flawed, self-deceiving, and compromised by something. Even those who never compromise, are still compromised by their rigidity.

    So who are we waiting for to save us? Morely endlessly talks about how we are missing essential enlightened elements, but I have never seen him offer a single idea here about what to do.

    I forget who said that the problem in life is that the wise are full of doubts and the stupid are full of certainty, but it explains why the right is so powerful. We must accept the fact that Dems are inherently less dynamic (full of doubt) than GOPers. Some may cite Kennedy and Roosevelt as exceptions. But weren’t they elitists, patricians raised to be powerful?

    So in stead of lifting a finger to empower the only people with a chance of accomplishing anything, I keep hearing liberal bloggers and posters taking a self-defeating but emotionally satsifying attitude of superiority. Like Morley who says “I, too, look forward and fear the worst.” Ah, so tragic, so wise, so utterly ineffective. Hmmm… sounds a lot like a Democrat.

  10. John Hofer Says:

    If the integrity of the constitution were a central value to US citizens, there would be screaming in the streets. But there is no screaming in the streets. Therefore, the integrity of the constitution is not a central value to US citizens.

    I believe that most citizens are of the mind that we will squeak through this hard time, setting things right by electing a Democrat president in 08. In most citizens’ minds, this will put things right. And with the new Democrat president safely ensconced, we can breath a sigh of relief and carry on our lives again, secure in the knowledge that we are being adequately looked after. But nothing could be further from the truth.

    What the USA is, if it is anything, is an idea, an idea about how to manage political power to ensure the liberty and dignity of human life. The constitution of 1787 was the original Big Idea. It still is. But I fear fewer citizens are concerned about it, being more absorbed in the life of the economy, globalisation, and privitization.

    This is why the previous speaker was correct to say that this presidency’s evil has got to be addressed if this country’s soul is to survive.

    In Oregon, John Frohnmayer, an independent, is running for the senate seat of Gordon Smith, a wealthy Republican from Pendleton, Oregon. Frohnmayer is running on a simply platform: impeachment of the president and universal healthcare. Something for the soul, something for the body.

    I am a lifelong Democrat, but I am supporting him for the senate. I will vote for any person who steps forward and articulates a clear moral position against this administration. Frohnmayer very well may not win, but he will keep the necessary discourse about the central value of the constitution alive. And it is in discourse that such ideas find their ideal existence, becoming known, so that embodied men may instantiate them.

    Maybe part of the problem with so little resistance is that persons really don’t take ideas all that seriously. Mutual funds, yes. Ideas, no.

  11. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    A question for John Hofer: am I right in assuming that Frohnmayer is running for the Senate in the election of 2008? If so, what would it mean to have a platform that calls for the impeachment of a president who presumably will leave office just as he –if he should win– would be assuming his?

  12. John Hofer Says:

    Andrew, a very good question, and I doubt I have a very satisfactory answer to give, but here it is.

    At least in the interim, he can play gadfly to those still in power, raising the issue of impeachment with citizens who may continue to increase pressure on Dems, especially Speaker Pelosi, to reconsider impeachment. I am not terribly optimistic about the practical success of Mr. Frohnmayer’s raising impeachment, but I think that his raising the issue in so public a way is important for this country both historically and morally — for many of the same reasons that Representative Conyers continues to hold hearings in his hope to create an historical record that there were good citizens who did not go along with the criminality of this administration.

    Moral resistance is worth something. It may be just the 2 ounces of pressure needed to push this administration into serious negotiations with Iran, to perhaps revisit the 2003 offer of negotiation which Iran sent to the US through the Swiss ambassador and which it so stupidly rejected out of hand, heaping scorn upon the Swiss ambassador, Tim Guldimann, for having the timerity to present it to this administration. (See Peter Galbraith’s most recent article “Irans Dangerous Victory” in the October 11, 2007, NYRB.)

    Right now, the odds on negotiations with Iran are slight. The jingoistic fervor in this country against Iran has reached boiling. The Columbia University president’s sophomoric dressing down of Ahmadinejahd seems a frightening example of just how high this fervor has risen. If the best minds of this country can do nothing more than froth in public then the hope for calmer minds to prevail diminishes.

    There are difficult issues facing this country. It will take intelligence and nuance for our country to navigate itself through these issues to minimize suffering. Sadly, this administration seems to have neither the intellectual nor the moral integrity needed to do that. Nothing can change until the fundamental core rot of this group in power is confronted, in whatever way we concerned citizens can confront it.

    I admit, it’s a lousy situation. There are no easy options, no certain options. But I am certain of one thing. It is better to try anything than to do nothing.

    When honor is all that’s left, honor is everything.

    With greatest respect,

    John Hofer

  13. Morley Says:

    Andy’s comment that ‘This presidency has been a criminal enterprise’ is a central ideological focus for the American people. And, he is quite right, the Dems have not addrressed it, and it is absolutely necessary that it be addressed for the population to understand what has happened.

    But it is not possible to tell the simple truth about the American power system without de-legitimating it to at least some extent. For example, the CIA has supported terrorist groups for the last half century or so that dealt in drugs. Indeed, during WW 2 the US released drug lords from prisons and sent them to Italy to re-establish the Mafia destroyed by Mussolini. They established drug syndicates based in Sicily and Corsica protected by the CIA and the FBI. Elements of these drug syndicates were probably involved in the assassination of JFK and covered up by the FBI and the Warren Commission, but later partially revealed in 1979 by the House Commission on Assassinations. Peter Dale Scott, a UC professor and former Canadian diplomat, was instrumental in revealing the truth about narcotics, as was Gary Webb about the Iran-Contra conspiracy. The CIA drug dealings in the Vietnam war are better known.

    The criminality of the Bushites is partially based on narcotics, but this is not mentionable in the mainstream truth. The Taliban in Afghanistan, orignially formed with US support, had in 2001, Scott reports, wiped out 94% of the opium growth, while the Northern tribes, supported by the US against the Taliban, had doubled the opium growth in their areas. From a growth of a hundred tons in 2001, opium growth has increased enormously to 6000 tons in 2006, the major industry in Afghanistan.

    This opium is processed into heroin in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by the chief drug lords that both the US and Pakistan backed, and shipped to Europe and the US.

    How can a Dem legislator say this without opening up an enormous hole in the American Dream. The narcotics trade is currently a half-TRILLION dollars, and is involved with other criminal enterprises like trafficing in women and gambling. It is enormously profitable and is laundered into the legitimate economy, where corporation leaders turn a blind eye to its source.

    It is intimately involved with the oil and weapons industry, since the US has always supported drug syndicates, as it does in Columbia under the guise of oppossing it. The rise of narcotics has been enormous under the fraudulent War on Drugs, since the illegality keeps the price up and the ineffectual enforcement keeps the drugs rolling.

    And that is primarily why the US currently has 2.2 million people in prison. And why grass, relatively harmless, is illegal, since it competes with alchohol, tobacco, and narcotics, and is too bulky to ship as easily.

    But drugs are only one source of de-legitimating truth. No Congressman can say so and open up this Pandora box; not least becuase the drug syndicates murder regularly, and are tied in with the police and intelligence agencies. Gary Webb was probably murdered recently although his death was ruled a ‘suicide.’ He was shot in the face. Twice.

    The Bushite regime is a criminal enterprise; American fascism involves a gangsterism lacking the the miltary fascisms of the 1930’s. But the last people who can say so is office holders who rely on the money and media of those complicit in covering up this criminality. And this is merely one truth thread in the power fabric of the US.

  14. Steve Says:


    We handle illegitimate children quite naturally and lovingly do we not? We ought to be able to examine an illegitimate system, or “at least to some extent.â€? So I agree, Morley, about peeling back as many layers as possible. I want to tell the simple truths about the American power system. That may be a rare endeavor, even for Andy. I’m ready to take the actual step. Not a side step, nor a plunge, but a straight step forward in becoming an honest and responsible citizen of this my nation.

    Our current predicament is what it is. When expectations are boiled down we’re left with either a worse or a worst path to follow. The worst case is what we have now and what we’re likely in for come next year in the big election. Many have already correctly expressed these sentiments. If our intelligentsia continues to overindulge in the existential bloodletting of geopolitical propaganda, our country could easily be heading towards another World War. I pray that will be avoided, nonetheless there’ll certainly be increased disruption and demoralization among our everyday working people if the power charade evolves as usual. That’s the worst path. The worse path, or road to redemption, is mixing it up by embarking on an earnest effort to reclaim the American spirit and legacy our Founding Fathers created. I say worse path because we must tussle with evil forces and/or entities. Mom didn’t say life would be easy. Perhaps a real (peaceful) revolution does entail dwelling inside the belly of our own beast for some time. It’s not all bad of course but we’re simply not prepared at this point to appreciate where we’ve come from and where we must go. The illegitimate child is not whole until he or she grasps the concept of illegitimacy. To paraphrase a former rock legend, “We have to fight for our right to feel.â€? Something like Congress saw in their deliberations yesterday. Anyone see that on C-SPAN? This is the style of confrontation we must go through, as I see it. It’s not for the faint of heart but I know y’all knew that already.

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