It’s pretty obvious that the Bush Administration will try to counter public dissatisfaction with the Iraq war by calling critics “appeasers,” “quitters,” and the like. It is also obvious that the national Democrats, having gone through the Swift Boat Experience, are now ready to counter-punch speedily. But will they respond cleverly?
After Secretary Rumsfeld’s VFW speech, the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, was ready with a zippy quote. She said, “Secretary Rumsfeld’s efforts to smear critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy are a pathetic attempt to shift the public’s attention from his repeated failure to manage the conduct of the war competently.”
This reminds me a little of the press releases Mary Matalin used to issue on behalf of George H.W. Bush in 1992. She would call the Democrats “sniveling,” “pathetic,” “cowardly.” Her rhetorical style, in other words, was to rely exclusively on pejorative adjectives. You can imagine people looking over a first draft in Pelosi’s office and saying, “Let’s add ‘reprehensible’ there.” “No, ‘abhorrent’ sounds tougher.” “Too fancy. How about ‘pathetic’?”
Matalin’s candidate, as you will recall, lost. If you’re going to counter-punch, you have to say something that makes people stop and think. It has to have some content. For example: “No Democrat wants to ‘appease’ Osama bin Laden. We want to destroy him. By the way, why is bin Laden still at large, Secretary Rumsfeld?” Or: “Instead of going to Nashville to reminisce about World War II, Secretary Rumsfeld should be back in his office trying to figure out how to end the war he started.”
This is not a kind of politics that inspires me. But it’s going to happen, and it might as well be effective.