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Fracturing the Bush Base:

A Compassionate Approach


By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers


June 27, 2006


My understanding of Buddhist practice -- big on compassion and understanding, small on coercion and retribution -- kicked in after watching Frontline's "The Dark Side" last week, the powerful 90-minute documentary examination of how the CheneyBush White House manipulated the country into war with Iraq.

I wondered whether a shift in thinking about Bush and Cheney and Rumseld and the rest of the crew would alter the way I viewed them and the war. (By the way, if you missed the show -- the first such full-length documentary on a major network laying out the lies and deceptions -- it can now be seen online.

Here's what I mean:

Suppose one viewed the members of Bush&Co. as sincere idealists. They had been warned by the outgoing Clinton administration that al-Qaida was extremely dangerous, but it wasn't until the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that they woke up and, out of love of country, decided to do something about it. (Even if you don't think this scenario accords with the facts, I beg you to stick with me here, and see where this line of argument is going.)

THE "NEVER AGAIN" MENTALITY

Sure, there was a political component to their action -- their agenda was floundering in Congress, and 9/11 presented them with an "opportunity" (Condi Rice's term) to hook their domestic and foreign goals to the fight against terrorism. But mainly they were determined that the U.S. would never again suffer such a deadly humiliation. This was the United States of America -- don't tread on us!

So, looking around, they saw a growing militant-Islamist threat. They also saw that the U.S. was the one remaining superpower on the planet, and thus believed that America would face little military opposition in going after the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and, more importantly, after anyone who supported and encouraged them.

Since the Muslim world in general was relatively weak and defenseless, the Bush crew felt that Islamic extremism could be attacked and rooted out with very little meaningful opposition before that fundamentalist force became even stronger and more dangerous. The U.S. could move to establish a new political system in the Middle East, based in democracy and free markets. Bringing calm to that volatile area of the world would be a boon to all concerned. A side-benefit would be to stabilize, and in effect have more control over, the immense energy resources (oil, gas) in that area of the world.

BUSH BASE AT LEAST A THIRD

Of course, in 2006 we (and they) know that changing the world doesn't happen that simply or quickly. But at the time, in this scenario, Bush&Co. were operating not so much out of greed and lust for power as out of a sincere belief that they would be doing good works by using their considerable military and economic muscle to alter the region, and thus the world, for the better.

Now one can believe that the above sketched scenario in no way meshes with the truth: That, in reality, President CheneyBush and their co-conspirators are rapacious, greedy, power-hungry felons. But I suggest that they may have talked themselves into believing they are operating out of truly idealistic motives, for the good of the country and the world, with a positive by-product that their policies aid them politically and their political friends financially. Do well by doing good, that sort of reasoning.

More importantly for our purposes today, a large percentage of the American population, at least a third and possibly more, accept this aggressive, "muscular" approach and operate under its suppositions. They truly believe that America, especially beloved by God and able to exercise its power for good in the world, should be supported in all such endeavors.

No matter where you live in this country, you have neighbors or colleagues or friends (or sometimes even family members) who believe that America is engaged in righteous work in the world by attacking "evil" countries and bringing the glories of democracy and free markets to these unfortunate peoples. Some of those Americans believe this out of religious conviction, others out of idealistic motives.

SEEING BUSH SUPPORTERS DIFFERENTLY


So the opposition gains no political advantage by regarding this large slice of the population, at least 30% and perhaps as much as 40%, as ignorant oafs. The point is that they are True Believers and, by and large, tend not respond to logical and/or factual argument.

To reach them, I suggest, one has to approach them not as calamitously dumb, but as sincere, patriotic citizens, dedicated to the best interests of the country, and greatly influenced by their religious/political leaders and by the parroting mainstream media and the HardRight pundits on talk-radio and cable TV.

In short, the possibility of breaking these citizens away from being automatic Bush/GOP supporters rests in approaching them in a different, more sympathetic way, using their language and set of ideological constructs. Put another way, the "framing" of our arguments must take into account their way of thinking.

Or, phrased more benevolently: These are frightened human beings, just as worthy of understanding as are we, who also are fearful of different aspects of our social/political world. If we treat the Bush/GOP supporters mainly as "enemies," ignorant ones at that, we will have no chance of reaching them and explaining why we believe what we believe. If we treat them as fellow citizens worthy of our respect and understanding, true dialogue may be possible.

HOW IT WORKED DURING VIETNAM

We have seen this happen before, also in a society riven with pro- and anti-war division. In the Vietnam '60s, we Movement activist types finally came to realize that the war wouldn't end until ordinary, middle-class Americans abandoned Nixon and his mad war policies. So, across the country, many of us stopped denouncing the war-supporting "bourgeoisie" and made sure to meet them in non-threatening surroundings -- church picnics, community events, school classes, in their homes, one-on-one meetings, etc. -- to let human contact work its magic.

They discovered that despite the hippie garb and habits that so outraged and threatened them, we were just ordinary, worried young people, sincere in our beliefs; we came to know these middle-class types as caring, anxious, intelligent citizens.

Within a few months, many of them were marching with us, or at least doing anti-war work in ways that felt more comfortable to them. When Nixon shortly came to understand that he'd lost his middle-class base, he ended the war.

I don't want to make it seem that it was us scruffy protesters who ended the war -- but our activities, especially in helping erode the pro-war base in the American middle class, certainly had some salutary effect in bringing that immoral war to a close. Similarly, such compassionate reaching-out could help end the current Iraq War -- one that not only is immoral and illegal but incompetently managed, and which will, in the long run do untold damage to the national interests of the United States.

WHY MANY REPUBLICANS ARE SHIFTING

You might say: Yes, these Bush supporters represent only 30-40% of the population, so why should we even try to convince them? Let's solidify our own base, roughly 40%, and convince those in the middle to join us. But the truth is that Rove knows he can count on the GOP's 40% no matter what transpires, and thus has to concentrate only on a tiny sliver of the population, apparently about 10%. Time after time, using fright, scapegoatism, manipulation, and dirty electoral tricks, he's been able to cobble together just enough GOP votes to maintain control, claim a "mandate," and continue his smash-mouth, in-your-face politics. And so, here we are, two wars in (with another one probably on the way) and our society more and more resembling a one-party police state.

In approaching Bush supporters, the key, it seems to me, can be found in the reasons why so many traditional and moderate Republicans -- along with so many military officers -- already have broken away from the Administration and, to some extent, from the GOP. By and large, they believe that the policies being carried out by the Bush Administration are not in the country's best interests, in the economy's best interests, or in their own best interests.

There are many, occasionally overlapping, reasons for these previous Bush supporters dropping off the GOP bandwagon: starting wars that can't be won and that endanger the national security of the United States, spending the treasury into profligate deficits that lay extreme burdens on future generations and that hinder the possibility of real economic growth, the out-of-control mushrooming of big government and the concomitant snooping into all our private lives, the demonstrated incompetency and corruption (and alliance with torture as sanctioned state policy) that stain the Administration and Republican Party, the violation of our time-honored checks-and-balances system that in the past has provided a brake on executive excesses, and so on.

There are millions of disaffected Republicans -- traditional conservatives, as well as moderates, and the numerous military types -- who have had enough and are either planning on staying home on election day or will hold their noses and vote for a Democrat. (I know and hear from these Republicans each day; to a person, these disenchanted conservatives -- part of the estimated 10% who no longer can be automatically counted as part of the GOP base -- express revulsion at what far-right ideologues and extremists have done to their political party, to their young men and women sent abroad to be killed in unnecessary foreign adventures, to the static economy, to the shrinking and stressed middle class, to the Constitutional protections that are fast disappearing under this Administration's authoritarian rule, etc.

ROVE AND HIS MANIPULATIVE AGENDA

Greens, Libertarians, Independents, disaffected Republicans are potential allies with progressives and Democrats. But the elements of that loose alliance, which perhaps only will come together on Election Day, need to start sharing and talking and coalescing now; Karl Rove already has started his campaign.

Indeed, he's made clear how the GOP will remain in power; it's worked several times already, so he's returning to it once again: Heighten the fear quotient in the general population but especially in the GOP base ("terrorists," "gay marriage," swarthy immigrants, et al.), paint the opposition as unpatriotic wimps; and do what needs to be done to control the election results (remove hundreds of thousands of would-be Democratic voters from the key state rolls in advance, make sure your corporate friends remain in charge of the vote-counting software and that nobody can double-check the vote-tallies on Election Day, etc.).

Remember, that in the coming Congressional elections, all Rove needs is a simple majority. Then BushCheney claim a "mandate," and continue to swing their wrecking ball, taking this country further down the road of self-destruction. They've used this scenario in 2000, 2002 and 2004 -- aided and abetted by the cooperative mainstream media -- and Rove has made it plain he's sticking with it for 2006.

Thus, why should we be surprised that scary stories are suddenly appearing about terrorists wanting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and planning to disperse deadly chemical agents in the New York subway? Of course, if you read below the frightening headlines, you learn that there's not much substance there -- for example, the alleged Sears Tower crew may well be little more than a rag-tag bunch of big-talking malcontents -- but the fear-factor is at work nonetheless. The GOP message is: Stick with us, we'll protect you.

WE'RE LESS SECURE NOW UNDER BUSH

So, we in the opposition have to tackle this genuine and sincere fear head-on by showing would-be GOP voters -- in non-threatening language and with examples they can accept -- that the Bush Administration by its actions actually has made life in the U.S. far more dangerous for the citizenry. While making sure that our shoes are X-rayed when we fly on airplanes, the Administration has neglected serious examination of containers in our ports, toxic-chemical movements in our cities, and chemical plants inside their laughable "security fences." Bush's wars abroad have made America and Americans much more likely targets for terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security, as demonstrated by post-Katrina failures that resulted in thousands of people dying, is a bureaucratic nightmare of inefficiency and incompetence. In short, Bush&Co. policies have made us less secure.

Rove and Company, true to their usual M.O., are trying to turn their major weakness -- the disastrous war in Iraq -- into their major strength. They realize they simply have to turn around the numbers of Americans who have come to believe that the war was a mistake and needs to be terminated as soon as is practicable. Right now, the polls indicate that nearly two-thirds of the citizenry is looking for a decent and certain way out of Iraq.

But rather than change the war and Occupation policies, Rove and friends are attacking as unpatriotic those who raise questions about the Bush Administration's approach or even as witting or unwitting supporters of Al-Qaida. It's the old Swiftboating of the opposition, smear and sleeze, in place of intelligent policy changes.

DELAYING THE INEVITABLE

Simply put, the Bush Administration has no real plan for Iraq. They're winging it, hoping that they can make it through the 2008 election, and then dump the problem on the next president. I'm not making this up, that's what Bush himself has said.
As ##CBS reported:

"President Bush made it clear Tuesday that there will be American troops in Iraq when he leaves office and it will be his successor's job to bring them home. In response to a question in a White House news conference about if there will come a day that when there will be no American forces in Iraq, Mr. Bush answered, 'That, of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq'."

Prior to the November election, Bush will "withdraw" some American troops (trial balloons for this are being floated by U.S. generals), which can be re-inserted in-country after the balloting. Don't forget that construction proceeds apace in building the huge, permanent military bases in Iraq and the massive new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

It will be interesting to see how the Bush crew responds to the recent denunciations of U.S. military and occupation policy coming from Afghanistan's leader Karzai, and Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki and other elected Iraqi officials, calling for a timetable for withdrawal -- very much what the GOP shot down in Congress when the Democrats suggested it. Lest we forget, polls inside Iraq report 80% of the population wants the U.S. Occupiers out.

MAD DOGS ON A PANT LEG

It is a long-established pattern that Bush&Co. never give up on their goals, but prior to elections they make all sorts of tactical adjustments, doing and saying whatever is necessary to convince the voters that they've become more reasonable and less ideologically extreme; then, once they've managed to scrape by with one vote more than the other guys, it's back to their original plans.

Our oppositional goal must be to convince those in "Middle America" who can be convinced that the only hope for a decent U.S. future is to jettison that incompetent bunch of reckless ideologues at the top and their rubber-stamp lackeys in Congress, and try a fresh start.

We've got four months in which to do it. Let's saddle up.
 

Copyright 2006, by Bernard Weiner
 


Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in Washington and California, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currenty co-edits The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). For comment: >> crisispapers@comcast.net <<
 

 


Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances