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 www.huffingtonpost.com/drew-westen/outflanked-in-iraq_b_65436.html.)
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