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Perusing reports of this month’s World Naked Bike Ride in San Francisco, I was impressed by the way the acres of sagging mottled flesh stayed ruthlessly on message: “RE-ELECT GORE” was the slogan on one man’s bottom, as fetchingly dimpled as a Palm Beach chad, while beneath the “GORE” of his butt his upper thighs proudly proclaimed “NO WAR” (left leg) “FOR OIL” (right). “I’D RATHER HAVE THIS BUSH FOR PRESIDENT” read one lady’s naked torso with an arrow pointing down to the Presidential material in question. What a bleak comment on the bitter divisions in our society that even so all-American a tradition as nude bicycling down Main Street should now be so nakedly partisan. It’s as if the republic itself is now divided into a red buttock and a blue buttock permanently cleaved by the bicycle seat of war.
Okay, this metaphor’s jumped the bike path. Let me see if I can find some historical analogy. Ah, here we go: Back in 1559, devastated by the loss of her last continental possession, Mary Tudor, England’s queen, said that when she died they would find “Calais” engraved on her heart. When the Democratic Party dies, you’ll find “NO WAR FOR OIL” engraved on its upper thighs. Despite the Republicans’ best efforts to self-destruct, I can’t see the Democrats taking either the House or Senate this November. As I said a few months back, even a loser has to have someone to lose to, and the Dems refuse to fulfill even that minimum requirement. It may be true that on critical issues such as Iraq and immigration the GOP is divided. But it’s a much bigger stretch to conclude that the beneficiary of those divisions is likely to be the Democratic Party, which is about the last place one would look for a serious position on either issue.
In that respect, the most significant portent for the Dems may not be their stupendous flopperoo in the California special election nor the death of Zarqawi nor the non-indictment of Karl Rove — though, taken together, they render pretty threadbare the Democrat strategy of relying on Republican immigration splits, bad news in Iraq and the GOP’s “culture of corruption.” No, the revealing development is Joe Lieberman’s troubles in Connecticut. Six years ago, he was the party’s beaming vice-presidential nominee. Two years ago, he was an also-ran for the presidential nomination. This summer, he’s an incumbent senator struggling not to lose in his own primary to a candidate who’s the darling of the anti-war netroots left. What’s the Senator done to offend the base? Nothing — except be broadly supportive of the Iraq campaign and other military goals in the war on terror. He’s one of a very few Democrats who give the impression they’d like America to win.
But in today’s Democratic Party it’s the mainstream that gets marginalized. Forty years ago, George Aiken recommended that in Vietnam America “declare victory and go home.” Today, the likes of Jack Murtha, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy have come up with their own ingenious improvement: declare defeat and go home. Having voted for the war before he voted against it, Senator Kerry has now effortlessly re-twisted his pretzel of a spine: last week, he voted to lose Iraq even though we’re winning it. Even if there’s no civil war, even if the insurgents’ leader is dead and his network in ruins, even if the Iraqis are making huge progress in self-government, even if by any historical standard everything’s going swell, the Defeaticrats refuse to budge: America needs to throw in the towel and hightail it out of there by the end of the year, which is the date Kerry is demanding we surrender by.
It’s often said that in our bitter fractious partisan politics much of the Democratic base’s anger boils down to sheer loathing of Bush. If he were gone, if it were a Clinton or Gore waging war in Iraq, the Dems would be cool with it. I think not. Their fury with Joe Lieberman suggests a corrosion that goes far deeper than mere Bush Derangement Syndrome. The Democrats may be prepared to go along with some Clintonian pseudo-warmongering — the desultory lobbing of a few Cruise missiles at Slobodan or that Sudanese aspirin factory — but, when it comes to the projection of hard power in the national interest, the left cannot get past Vietnam. Indeed, the reaction to Peter Beinart’s ringing call for a reassertion of “liberal internationalism” — ringing in the sense that nobody’s picking up — suggests that even his quaintly dated Eurocentric September 10th ineffectually respectable multilateralism has few takers among today’s left.
In the early Seventies, when John Kerry was insisting we’d get out of Vietnam at very little cost, he at least could plead ignorance: he didn’t know what would come after. In 2006, we all know what followed — boat people, Cambodia’s killing fields, globalized dominoes falling from Grenada to Iran. When Murtha, Kerry and co effectively demand that America agree to re-traumatize itself in the humiliation of an even bigger geopolitical bug-out, one assumes they’re failing to consider where the dominoes would fall this time round — in Afghanistan, in Jordan, in Turkey, and beyond. It would end the American moment: Why would Russia, China or even Belgium take American power seriously ever again?
Meanwhile, Bush’s “approval numbers” are back up. Maybe even in double figures again. The mistake the media make is to assume that the 60, 80, 97.43% of the electorate that “disapproves” of Bush is therefore pro-Democrat. I doubt it. On the Republican side, some of those antipathetic to Bush were never in favor of liberating Iraq but figure now we’re in it we need to win it. Others were in favor but revile Bush for pussyfooting around not just with the insurgents but with the Iranians and the Syrians. Others are broadly supportive of Bush on the war but are furious with him for supporting the No Mexican Left Behind immigration bill. None of these demographics seems particularly fertile soil for the Democratic Party, especially a Democratic Party willing to devour Joe Lieberman in the interests of Defeaticrat purity.
Those naked bicyclists are emblematic. The flesh is willing but the spirit is weak, too weak to articulate what ideas animate the party other than disrobed defeatistism. Was it a male or female bottom that said “WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER”? It seems more likely that this November the electorate will conclude, yet again, that the Democrats are not the answer.
© 2006 Mark Steyn