Why National Security Matters

Some friends and I went by SF MOMA this weekend, the idea being to soak up some culture and decompress from hectic weeks. But I'm not so good at turning off the political part of my brain, and so I found myself browsing the old newspapers strewn about Robert Goder's superb installation. One of them had an Anthony Lewis op-ed from the 1992 GOP Convention that I thought was good enough to Nexis and excerpt here:

"GOP Needs a Kremlin to Bash," the lead headline in The Chicago Tribune said the day before the convention. It neatly stated the seeming dilemma of a Republican Party that for 40 years had made a theme of denouncing the Democrats as soft on Communism.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union did not faze Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson or the others who speak for the Republican Party today. They bashed the un-Christian and the un-straight. They bashed Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. And they even managed to flog the Red menace.

If the Democrats won this election, Republican chairman Rich Bond suggested, Jane Fonda would be sleeping in the White House "as guest of honor at a state dinner for Fidel Castro."

The sleaze was so thick on the ground here in Houston, the attacks so far-fetched, that some people may be tempted to dismiss them as funny. Not I. I remember Joe McCarthy. I have been going to national political conventions since his day, and I do not recall one as mean in spirit as this one.

God was much spoken of. But He was a God without compassion, a God of intolerance.


The Houston convention was significant in a number of ways. First, it marked a big advance in influence by the religious right.

The Democrats this year did much to erase their reputation for yielding to special interests outside the party. But the Republican Party has actually been taken over to a remarkable extent by the special interests of the hard right and religious conservatives, who worked precinct by precinct to capture state delegations.

The success of the extremists was evident in the choice of the two Pats, Buchanan and Robertson, to address the convention. But even the supposed moderates, like Rich Bond, shrilled themselves up.

The nastiness had a purpose, and that was the second significant point in the convention. The idea was to take people's minds off the real issue in the 1992 election: the economic suffering of millions of Americans.

Conservatives came to power when Ronald Reagan combined right-wing social ideas with a new economic idea: the supply-side miracle. The Government would cut taxes, increase spending and balance the budget.

The result has been to push the world's richest country toward bankruptcy, and to leave the average American earning less in real terms than he or she was 12 years ago.

Worth thinking about, no? Aside from post-Nixon fallout, the only times a Democrat has captured the presidency was during that brief period when the Republicans had no foreign bugaboo to scare Americans with. Sex and morality, it seems, were never enough to drive its occupants from office. They didn't stop Clinton from winning the White House, didn't stop him from keeping it, and didn't stop Gore from beating Bush (the Supreme Court, however, is another story). Fast-forward to 2004 and George W., wielding the club of terrorism, wins outright. It's an odd trick of history that Gore didn't occupy the Presidency on 9/11, and so Democrats weren't in a position to prove their abilities on terrorism. It's an odder trick that Republicans, who have done a stunningly bad job choosing, planning, and conducting the retaliatory attacks, will emerge from the crucible with anti-terrorist credibility. But product of timing or not, we should be cognizant that Republicans are building the same advantage that allowed them dominance all throughout the Cold War. Whatever Kerry's advisors seemed to have thought, it's not, and almost never is, the economy, stupid. Battles over Social Security are important, and pollsters continually find that Americans really all want to hear about Medicare, but don't be fooled -- national security is where Republicans win, and when they don't have it, they lose. So how do we take it away from them?