It's Still the War, Stupid!

How congressional Democrats can save their seats


It's not the economy, it's the war, stupid!

I'm talkin' to you, Democrats in the House and Senate. Scores of you are about to lose your jobs, while the rest forfeit coveted committee chairmanships because you don't realize the way to avoid defeat is to appeal to your base with an anti-war message.

No smoke and mirrors in the next seven weeks will convince Republican, independent, and conservative-leaning centrists—the motivated voters of 2010—that President Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats have a plan to restore home equity and retirement savings, stimulate investment, and reduce unemployment. Those are functions of the business cycle, impacted by the irrational exuberance that fueled the illusion that real estate and stock values could rise forever. Tea Partiers may irrationally blame Democrats for most of that pain, but they're certain big government—especially ObamaPelosiCare—is making things worse.

The left-liberal political consultant-driven neo-populism, which Democrats have been trying to sell to a dwindling number of the Industrial Era (it's over!) "working class" voters for decades, is folly. Waging class warfare against "the rich"—foolishly defined as anyone earning over $250,000—will do next to nothing to inspire the Democratic base, while refusing to extend the George W. Bush administration's tax cuts only stokes the election day fury of Tea Party activists.

Every election is about energizing the base while winning over independents. But mid-terms, particularly for the House, have more to do with firing up loyalists, because most districts have been gerrymandered as Democrat or Republican. The Democratic base is in despair and inclined to stay home, just as it did in 1994 after HillaryCare gave Newt Gingrich the opening he needed to energize Clinton-haters and cultural and economic conservatives.

We usually see reelection rates over 90 percent for incumbents. This is due to Baker v. Carr (1962) demanding equal population districts, computers making it possible to configure districts block-by-block to determine partisan outcomes, and politicians waging year-round campaigns with taxpayer-financed staffs.

So, Democrats, if you can't control the anger of Tea Party activists, who are mad as hell about losing economic security, what can you do?

You can motivate your base by taking on your own president, energizing those voters who are mad as hell that the leader they elected to end a war decided to ramp another one up instead.

In a matter of months, Obama succumbed to the military-industrial-congressional complex and placed thousands more young men and women in harm's way in the corrupt non-state and graveyard of empires known as Afghanistan. The very year Obama was born, in fact, Dwight Eisenhower warned us of the threat to liberty posed by a huge standing army and the arms profiteers who fuel a perpetual state of war. Ike echoed James Madison, who helped found the Democratic Party with Thomas Jefferson, and who alerted us two centuries ago, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." A former constitutional law professor, Obama apparently never internalized that observation by the architect of our Constitution.

As they face doom, congressional Democrats need to show guts—and political intelligence—and tell their base they intend to fight like hell to end the madness in Afghanistan, and bring home the 50,000 "advisors" Obama left in Iraq.

Democrats, like Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, abdicated responsibility when they made no principled case against the Iraq War in its run-up, just as the Democrats of the 1960's proved gutless by allowing President Lyndon Johnson to sacrifice thousands of young men in Southeast Asian jungles. Congressional Democrats have averted their eyes once again, remaining all but silent last year when Obama gave a George W. Bush-style war-making speech at West Point.

If Democrats need polls to stiffen their spines, the Associated Press-GfK survey last month reveals 58 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, while only 38 percent support it. More significantly, the numbers of those most likely to vote based on the issue rests resoundingly with opponents, with 35 percent strongly opposing the war while only 17 percent strongly favor it. The numbers on Iraq are even more anti-war, with 65 percent opposing and only 31 percent supporting. (For the few politicians who prefer sound arguments to polls, they can cite Andy Bacevich's excellent new book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War.) 

Democrats, give your base a reason to vote this November. Not so Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can keep their jobs, but because you have a duty to oppose the "American exceptionalist" militarism that typifies the Republicans—and which has unfortunately seized the mind of still another Democratic president.

A former press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, Terry Michael now teaches college journalists about politics and writes at his "libertarian Democrat" web site

NEXT: Red Harvest

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  1. After ten years of telling their base that Afghanistan is the good war, the way to defeat the anti-incumbency mood is with an appeal to Nader-like pacifism?

    Good luck with that.

    1. The explanation for this piece is more simple, I think. A Democrat with some libertarian leanings comes up with a novel (if impractical) take on the election. Reason editors like the anti-war angle and think: “Not bad, this will stir up the commenters a bit.”

      1. I tend to wonder if there’s a large calendar storyboard at the Reason offices with a list of hot-button topics and boxes to indicate which topic’s been used already this week.

        1. Naw, they just wing it.

  2. What wars are they suppose to be against? They don’t seem to be against any of the present wars.

  3. The war they should end is the one on drug users.

  4. They can campaign on closing down Guantanamo Bay too while they’re at it!

  5. The Left has it’s very own Steve Chapman. Who knew?

    1. Idiocy finds a home everywhere.

  6. “Libertarian Democrat”? How is that even possible? (I’m assuming here that words have meanings and that a political-economic philosophy should be consistent. Then again, we’re talking about libertarianism, so we can bend, borrow and steal a few concepts, right?)

    1. What’s so confusing? They support the individual’s right to have his rights abridged by the majority.

    2. No worse than “Libertarian Republican”.

    3. If Democrats understood economics, they’d realize that most of the outcomes of their policies are regressive (anti-small business, anti-poor – or both in one package, like minimum wage laws) and those few that are “progressive” (welfare) end up pushing the lower class towards mediocrity and reliance on the Federal Government instead of towards prosperity and innovation. Authentic progressives could be convinced, for example, that the burden of environmental regulations will hit the poor the hardest, therefore progressive environmentalists should focus primarily on environmental justice (largely protecting property rights for the poor) instead of carbon taxation.

      The fact that most Democrats are economic authoritarians who pay lip service to social libertarianism and pacifistic foreign policy when time to get elected is really no different from the fact that many Republicans are social authoritarians and warmongerers who only pay lip service to economic libertarianism when it comes time to win elections.

  7. The Democrats could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat if only they demanded the TRUTH about HIV!!1!

    You know they are going to lose big when these stories start showing up. My favorite “key to Democrat victory” strategy is APPOINT ELIZABETH WARREN TO CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSIONER!!! and progressives will crawl to the polls over broken glass en masse .

  8. Why would a libertarian want to save the seats of a bunch of Democrats? The Pelosi house has been very socialist. Oh I know why, because Reason mag is a fake libertarian site, more worried about getting invited to liberal Washington parties. How many gay guys name Matt do you have working at Reason, or as you like to call them “Cosmotarians”.

      1. The poor sentence structure was a nice touch though.

        1. You sound like the JetBlue flight attendant.

    1. Who said they want to see dems win? Seems to me the only thing that could make such a thing worthwhile is if they were to end the damn wars. They have no use besides this. That my take anyway.

      1. A Saboteur Extraordinary? The Bureau of Sabotage has been showing extremely poor performance, lately. Now get out there and sabotage the inexorable growth of government!

  9. Why would a libertarian want to save the seats of a bunch of Democrats? The Pelosi house has been very socialist. Oh I know why, because Reason mag is a fake libertarian site, more worried about getting invited to liberal Washington parties. How many gay guys name Matt do you have working at Reason, or as you like to call them “Cosmotarians”.

    1. Sorry, it wasn’t any more intelligent than the first time you posted it.

  10. “the Industrial Era (it’s over!)”

    It is?

  11. The president was against increasing the number of troops before he was for increasing the number of troops (in Afghanistan…uh, no, I mean Iraq)
    The president was for increasing the number of troops and than he did increase the number of troops (in Afghanistan), but now he will campaign against his own policy…
    Yeah, that will fire up the base…

    1. OK, the president was against increasing the number of troops somewhere, and he still is, except he is for increasing the number of troops somewhere over there because it means that we can at somepoint reduce the number of troops at somepoint somewhere…
      now its clear.

  12. You mean that Obama doesn’t get what the founders meant? WHAT?!! Oh no!

  13. Caption contest: “Watch me swat my tongue like a fly!”

  14. Scores of you are about to lose your jobs, while the rest forfeit coveted committee chairmanships


  15. It’s still the economy, stupid.

  16. What’s a Democrat libermatarian? Taxpayer-funded gay abortions?

  17. Terry is saying that the Democrat voter is is going to get all motivated to turn out and vote for Democrats in order to vote against what are now Democrat wars?

    How does work, exactly?

  18. How does work, exactly?

    You can fool some of the people all of the time; that’s how you win elections.

  19. Oh I know why, because Reason mag is a fake libertarian site, more worried about getting invited to liberal Washington parties.


  20. It’s too late (or too early) for that to sale. Democratic politicians don’t care about peace or civil liberties. That is just an act they put on when out of power to appeal to the libertarian tendencies of the masses.

    It’s the same thing the Republicans are doing now, but from a different angle. That is, the Republicans finding themselves on the outs are again pretending to care about out of control government spending and restoring fiscal sanity. A buyer would have to have a very short memory to actually believe the Republicans, but with the state of the American boobocracy it’s always a seller’s market.

    2 years from now maybe Democrats will be able to again fool people into believing they give a damn about civil liberties and peace.

  21. Fools. I suppose the Dems will then just spend another generation losing elections on security issues while the GOP successfully waves the bloody shirt of Afghanistan (the way they did after Vietnam, and after the Civil War) in election after election.

  22. I’m with the others who are questioning the validity of a “libertarian Democrat”. The term is an oxymoron. The main platform of the democratic party today is government intervention to “level the playing field” and also not look like snivelling cowards next to Republicans when it comes to foreign policy. What this has to do with libertarianism escapes me.

    You guys keep pushing this “liberaltarian” crap and sooner or later people won’t “wonder” if the guys at Reason are just liberals in libertarian clothing, they will know.

    1. There weren’t hardly any (Ron Paul aside, who never counted and was considered completely irrelevant during the Bush years) “libertarian Republicans” during the height of the Bush years either. All the limited government rhetoric that got Republicans Congress back in the mid-90s was gone.

      There were lots of Democrats questioning the expansive military-industrial complex, executive power, the Patriot Act, the right to torture and wasteful, expensive foreign wars, however.

      As the worm turns, the Democrats became the pure authoritarians in power and the Republicans became the semi-skeptical-of-federal-power minority party. Unless you’re assuming history won’t repeat itself again, building a permanent alliance with the GOP seems somewhat obvious at this moment but would backfire terribly in the long run. I’d say this article is just horribly out-of-context, as no libertarian could truly wish for this single-party rule to continue, but Michaels is also arguing for the Democrats to change back to their Bush-era positions.

  23. Good article solely because I’ve often wondered… “Hey, didn’t a democrat get elected president? What the fuck happened?! This is Bush term 3!”

    1. The anti-war movement was always mostly just a club to beat Republicans over the head with. Look at how quick the real anti-war activists were kicked to the curb after the Democrats took power.

      Shocking, I know.

  24. Scores of you are about to lose your jobs, while the rest forfeit coveted committee chairmanships…

    Congressional Democrats are wetting their panties because they’re about to be unemployed or downsized, and they still haven’t figured out that the reason I’m voting against them is because I already lost my job and can’t find another one.


  25. Is the Democratic Party libertarian? Of course not. Are there libertarian Democrats? You bet. I swear, libertarians are like the dependent girlfriend of the abusive Republican Party; “He really loves me! He just hits me because I’m unelectable…”

  26. This is hilarious bullshit. End the wars? Can’t do that when Islamists are waging war on you and they aren’t dead. You can’t end that kind of war without straight victory or defeat.
    And anyone with an eye and a brain can see this election is about the shitty economy and Obamacare. Isn’t this guy the same asshole who thought that if America supported the Iranian resistance that it would weaken them by association with the US great Satan? How’s that working out?

    1. By being in Afghanistan, we are making more Islamists every day.

    2. I suppose you think Al Qaeda’s motivation is to impose Sharia on America?

      1. No Ryan,
        They want to impose Sha’ria law on the entire world. Islam is a religion that is still locked in 8th century bedouin Arab culture. Bin Laden, and all the other Islamofacists, want to return to the glory days of islam. When the west was in the dark ages and islamic society was at their peak. The world ruled by the caliphate with himself as the grand imam. Don’t believe it? Then why did he change his appearance from a soldier to an imam throughout the years. Can we say meglomaniac.

  27. Given the Democrats have historically been the Party of war and interventionism, Im wondering where this sudden bought of guilty pacifism is coming from?

  28. The Dems have no need to even pretend to care about their base’s antiwar sentiments. They just assume that as long as they’re not quite as outright evil as the GOP, they’ll automatically have those votes. And for the most part they’re usually right.

    And by the way, Prez Barry never “caved” to the military. From the start of his campaign, he *always* (delusionally) portrayed the war on Afghanistan as justified and promised to escalate it. At the same time he hedged so much on Iraq that anyone could have seen it would nevr end either. In that regard he’s been completely consistent. If anyone fooled themselves into thinking he was antiwar, it’s their own fault.

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