At the 11th hour of the 1994 gubernatorial campaign in Florida, about 70,000 calls were placed to mostly Republican voters in the Tampa area by campaign operatives of the Democratic candidate, Gov. Lawton Chiles, "who said they were from the Florida Association of Senior Citizens, a group that had nothing to do with them, and the Citizens for Tax Fairness, which does not exist," wrote The New York Times. The callers' message: the Republican candidate, Jeb Bush, was "no friend of seniors" because his running mate wanted to abolish Social Security and cut Medicare. The trick worked; the incumbent won by a slender margin, even though many of the seniors, who changed their minds and voted for Chiles, knew full well that a state governor, much less lieutenant-governor, had no power to mess with federal programs. Still, they voted for the Democrat -- just to be on the safe side.
This episode comes to mind as the Democrats are gearing up for the upcoming campaign. It is crystal clear that they are planning to use, once again, their venerable strategy of smearing their opponents and scaring the electorate, above all its most gullible segment, the seniors. In fact, they don't have much ammunition in their arsenal other than that hardy perennial. The "hope and change" message won't work this time; while fresh and promising in 2008, embodied by a total unknown who could thus be imbued with all sorts of expectations, it has been thoroughly discredited and each passing day looks more and more like a late night comedian's punch line.
Now Obama has a record and will have to defend it, inasmuch as any election involving a president running for his second term is always a referendum on the incumbent. Considering the kind of record Obama has amassed, it will be of little help to his reelection prospects. To be sure, the Democrats will make a herculean effort trying to convince the voters that electing the first black president, while laudable, actually failed to qualify as convincing proof of genuine contrition and did not amount to a true expiation of the racial guilt. Only the reelection of the black president would do the trick, proving once and for all that White America has finally left its shameful legacy of racism safely behind. But will it be enough?
Probably not, which is why the Democrats will have to put all their chips on the tried-and-true expedient of waging class warfare and vilifying the President's opponent. A full-blown "Sarah Palin treatment" awaits the eventual Republican nominee, whoever he or she may be. The Democratic campaign strategy will consist of a flood of outright lies, vicious ridicule, unbridled vituperation, and, above all, attempts to scare the voters out of their wits. The Democrats don't need to win over the voters to their point of view; merely instilling in their minds doubt about the opposition and salutary caution will do the job: why change the -- admittedly imperfect -- present for a scary unknown? Of course nobody believes the Democrat politicians who say that Republicans just love to kill old people, children, and women. But the objective is not to make the accusation believable, it is to smear the Republicans just enough so that an unpleasant odor should stick to them. Will it work? There is no reason to think it won't. So far it has worked every time. After all, they don't call the entitlements "the third rail of politics" for nothing. So how to counter the seemingly invincible smear tactics?
So long as Dancing with the Stars or American Idol is far more popular than the nation's murderous debt; so long as spending, say, on the dental services for pets continues to rise, it doesn't look like most of the voters are serious about their politics. They are thus amenable to liberal propaganda that the crisis has been conjured up by evil Republicans for their nefarious ends. Oh, it's so comforting to think that life is still good and one doesn't have to give it another thought. Demagoguery is not about merely promising people the moon and the stars; it's also about lulling them to sleep, reassuring them that they don't have to bestir themselves and make hard choices, that they can continue their "pursuit of happiness," leaving the bothersome task of ruling to their elected "servants." So the demagogues have a pretty good chance of holding on to power until and unless voters are forced to contemplate the country's plight. But how to do it? I think shock therapy is the answer.
Some three decades ago, economic shock therapy was tried as the last, desperate resort -- and it worked. The place was Britain, the doctor the Tories and their indomitable leader, Margaret Thatcher. As described by Claire Berlinski in her book There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, in 1979, Britain was much further down the road toward ruin than the United States is today, though under Obama's tutelage our country has been making giant strides in that direction. Britain was being ineluctably sucked into the quicksand; there was no light at the end of the tunnel; the country was in an advanced state of decomposition and the unions saw to it that it stayed ungovernable (for union tactics, check Wisconsin). The atmosphere of doom and gloom enveloped the once greatest nation on earth, pessimism was pervasive, the conservative opposition talked only in terms of managing the inevitable decline. It seemed Britannia was finished.
In the face of national calamity, Margaret Thatcher chose a dramatic electoral strategy. Instead of taking a defensive stance and advocating a more benign version of the progressive agenda, she drew a sharp distinction between the Tories and Labour, offering the voters a stark choice between two polar opposites. More important still, rather than making economic efficiency the centerpiece of her electoral program, she took a moral case to the voters, extolling the free market. Instead of making excuses for socialism that it is a noble idea misapplied, she forcefully argued that it is an unavoidable economic disaster; that it robs people of their dignity and it's basically immoral; that it is an inherently evil idea, dooming any country to mediocrity, bureaucratic tyranny, and decay, both moral and physical. Using moral indignation as her primary tool, the Iron Lady appealed to the voters' sense of dignity and shook them out of their leaden stupor. The rest, as they say, is history.
Claire Berlinski argues that the British experience needs to be replicated in this country. But the Thatcher treatment is not the only kind of shock therapy available. There is another way which promises to be just as effective as appealing to the nation's pride and moral sensibility. I suggest that fire be fought with fire. The voters should be shaken out of their complacency and scared into a serious attitude. They have to be made to understand that the country is indeed hurtling toward imminent catastrophe, that cutting the budget deficit and reducing the national debt is not a matter of choice but of dire necessity; that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security do need to be seriously reformed to avert their total collapse; that by their indifference Americans endanger not just the future of their children and grandchildren, but their own well-being.
Only if the voters are made to open their eyes will they come to the realization that real sacrifices are needed to save America and, incidentally, themselves. Because if the country goes, so will their savings, their pensions and their benefits. The medicine may be bitter, but it is the only way of saving the patient's life.
Which means, enough of meek protestations that today's seniors have nothing to fear, that all the sacrifices will be exacted down the road, from somebody else. What is needed is not another mealy-mouthed professional politician in the Bob Dole or John McCain mold whose biggest concern is not to offend someone, anyone, but a straight-talker who tells it like it is. A lot of Americans are tired of politician-speak and yearn for straight talk. Why do you think Donald Trump is skyrocketing in the polls? Because of his ridiculous hairdo or his stupid boast that he is "many, many times richer than Mitt Romney?" No, it's because he dares say openly what a lot of people think and he makes no excuses saying it. Furthermore, this time the Republicans have a huge inherent advantage in the existence of the Tea Party that will have the back of the bold leader who will unabashedly accuse Obama and the Democrats of leading the nation toward perdition and offer a painful, but needed remedy.
Is it risky? Of course it is. Maybe it will work, may be it won't. But at least it offers a chance of success, while the alternative is a high probability of ruin. Just look at the destruction Obama and his cohorts have wrought in a mere two plus years and think of the misery they will be able to inflict on the country if given four more years unencumbered by the President's need to maneuver and bob and weave, positioning himself for the reelection bid. The prospect is too horrible to contemplate.
So now is the time to fight. "The truth will set you free," said a wise man (John 8:32). Indeed, but only if it is spread widely enough and driven home relentlessly enough. The truth should not be whispered; it should be shouted from the rooftops and incessantly pounded into the minds of the people. To shake the voters out of their complacency, an awe-inspiring shock is needed. Shock and awe, Republicans, please.