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When Howard Dean said recently that he wanted to be the candidate “for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,” Democrats were quick to cover for their heir apparent. Of course he wasn’t endorsing racism, they said—he was just pointing out that there are millions of white Southern Republicans voting against their economic interests. I say they are missing the point. Dean is building the meaner, angrier Democratic Party we’ve all been longing for.
Stay with me here. In 2000, George W. Bush rode into town on a platform of “compassionate conservatism.” I say it’s high time the Democrats embraced the logical counterweight to that position: tyrannical liberalism. An iron-fisted approach to social justice is almost certain to appeal to swing voters.
How do Democrats modify their positions? Easy. “Keep abortion legal…or else.” “Save the earth, or bear our wrath.” “Repeal tax cuts for the wealthy, or the streets will flow with blood.”
I see signs of positive movement. For example, Wesley Clark going ballistic last Monday on Fox News: “Don’t you dare twist [my] words into disrespect for the men and women in uniform. I love those men and women. I gave 34 years of my life to them. You better take my words the right way… No sir, you are playing politics with the men and women in uniform.” Them’s fighting words.
Democrats have quite a tradition to build on here. From the Gulf of Tonkin to the Bay of Pigs, Democrats have done their part in the 20th century to further the cause of unilateral aggression and bad foreign policy. Look further back and you remember that the Democrats were once the party of slavery. No party has done more to oppress minorities. By emphasizing this past, Democrats can wipe away public perception of them as wimpy, nice and tolerant.
The candidates have potential. Dean has already demonstrated his ambivalence regarding the Civil War. Clark, in his lengthy and decorated military career, ordered hundreds of deaths. Good causes and necessary evils aside, who’s to say that he didn’t kind of enjoy it?
Of course I’m not suggesting Democrats really become tyrannical. As we can learn from Bush’s example, appearance is everything. Orwellian nomenclature is key. Under Bush, what might have been honestly termed the Anti-Civil Rights and Cutting Down Trees Acts became the Patriot and Healthy Forest Acts, respectively.
Democrats should follow that example. They could propose renaming cabinet positions for starters, making the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Health and Human Services into the Secretaries of World Domination, Destruction, and Rugged Individualism. Force through a foreign aid bill by calling it the Social Darwinism Act, repeal Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy via the Middle Class Elimination Act. They can go about their business as usual, they just can’t sound like liberals.
Democrats have been approaching this centrism thing all wrong. They think that by becoming more conservative, they can appeal to moderates. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has risen to predominance by being more conservative than ever, giving occasional rhetorical nods to the left. Democrats should stick to their guns, but they need to lie about it if they’re going to compete with Bush.
—Nathaniel A. Smith is a news editor.
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