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Pyrrhus Revisited: How Bush can turn legislative losses into electoral victory - and we could, too

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Message Tadzio Koelb
George W Bush's new plan is to make flag burning illegal. This is a golden oldie - his father sang it long ago (saying he found flag-burning "offensive", although whether more or less offensive than high cereal prices and broccoli, he didn't specify). Another familiar tune calls for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Naturally, these are being decried as an attempt to pander to the right wing of his party and/or to distract attention from the murderous, costly, and endlessly unraveling "reconstruction" of Iraq; of course, they are both - but they are much more, and much more dangerous.

Yes, Bush was in trouble over immigration. Asking Americans - whether farmers or housewives - who abuse the poverty of migrant laborers to give up the practice, however, was almost as hard as asking Republicans whose parents or grandparents came from Sicily (or Germany or Ireland or Korea) and broke their backs providing for their families to think of immigrants as a drain on America. The party line had to change, and in a rare display of practical expedience, the White House backed down. Hard-liners were furious, of course - but let's face it: they don't have anywhere else to go. The GOP is as hateful as you can get before passing into the realm of pseudo-candidates such as David Duke or Pat Buchanan, and extremists on the right learned long ago that the best way to move ahead is to co-opt the middle; they are certainly not likely to turn to the Democrats for succor - they'll stick with the GOP.

Distraction is also essentially a dead-end for this president. Remember Mars? Social security reform? No matter what else is on the agenda, no one is going to forget about Iraq, and the only way the memory of Iraq could be spun in the government's favor would be, God forbid, as the result of a massive terrorist attack on US soil.

The real purpose of the proposed amendments is in fact much more underhanded, an almost Zen use of the impetus of the enemy to his own disadvantage. In short, it's leftie-baiting. Here's how it works: Republicans call for various hateful and/or pointless but rights-curbing constitutional amendments. Constitutional amendments are especially good for this purpose, as they require a two-thirds majority to pass. Democrats step up to bat, telling themselves, quite correctly, that any time the administration needs twice as many votes as they have approval points, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. If the amendment passes despite this, the White House wins, because a two-thirds majority in a narrowly shared Congress is quite a thing and it shows that the Republicans rule the world; if it doesn't (and it won't) then, hurray, we win - except that we don't.

Democrats don't win when they defeat hateful amendments to the constitution because in doing so they show the right what they really are: f*ggot-loving America bashers who burn flags while sodomizing senior citizens before giving free food to welfare mothers so they can raise their mixed-race babies to sell drugs. The more we talk about abstract notions of freedom and equality, the more we forget that Christian love these days is about sticking it to the other guy, and that equality is code for "handouts". Our own ability to win becomes our downfall.

So should Democrats let the amendments pass? Not at all. First of all, that would be wrong. Second of all, second-guessing hasn't really proven very effective for Democrats - think of how they wished and washed over the Iraq war and tax cuts for the rich, with little or no benefit to themselves or the country; think about the disastrous "safe" candidates they have fielded for president. Democrats should stand up for what they believe in, and that means they should oppose hateful amendments to the constitution. They should do so with all the power they have, lording it over Republicans scared for their seats in November. They should call in favors, make threats, call spades what they are, accuse the kettle of being black, and generally do whatever is necessary to inflict the most humiliating defeat any president has ever suffered at the hands of a Congress controlled by his own party. They should knock it out of the goddamn ballpark, and then, while it's still sailing away into the distance, they should give this Tit the biggest available Tat.

That this Tat is a possibility is self-evident: two can play at the legislative agenda game. Just as Dems can be put on the "wrong" side of gay marriage, flag burning, gays in the military, English as the official language, etc., so can Republicans be put on the wrong side, especially as election season under the leadership of an unpopular president puts them in a position of divided loyalties.

Ever imagine a congressman tabling a joint resolution calling for the capture of Osama bin Laden? Joint resolutions are often barely worth the paper they are written on except as public relations maneuvers (recognizing the contributions of Italian Americans, and so on), but as public relations maneuvers, they're golden. The implication would be, of course, that not enough has been done to find the elusive Mr. bin Laden (not enough has). Republicans who vote for it would slap their own president (and thus their own party) in the face - but Republicans who don't would be soft on terror (which, incidentally, Republicans traditionally are, insofar as they tend to train and fund the people who later commit it). And it highlights Iraq once again, because Mr. Bush himself claims that bin Laden and Iraq are linked.

It's not the only subject the GOP and the People don't exactly agree on: alternative fuels, for example, could be a place to start. The issue highlights rising gas prices caused by. . .what again? And what if we offered to reimburse farmers who replace their gas engines with biodiesel? Where does the money come from, Republicans will ask. Oh, maybe we can take it from what we would save by not being as war in Iraq. Voting against it is anti-farmer and pro-foreign oil. Voting for it means condemning the war. Free health care for the children of illegal immigrants: who wants to be anti-child, after all? Dems will likely lose these battles - but Republicans will look damn bad winning.

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Pyrrhus Revisited: How Bush can turn legislative losses into electoral victory - and we could, too

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