[Reposted (Jan 17, 2006) in light of the recent New York Times story on John Kerry. Facts do not stop Swiftboaters. To stop them, we must have the vision to reframe the entire election process. -JF] If we imagine for...
If we imagine for a moment that politics is theater, would anyone try to perform one play on a stage set for another? Even worse than that, consider the fate of the lead actor who, midway through a performance of Death of a Salesman, is suddenly whisked away by the stage manager, who then pushes him back onstage in the middle of an adjacent performance of Macbeth,, and then tells him that he has to, nonetheless, finish the final act of the play he had prepared--all while remaining in character.
What a ridiculous situation! And yet, as I discussed yesterday, this is exactly what happens to Democrats when they are 'swiftboated' by Republicans. To stop 'swiftboaters' from destroying the candidacies of more and more top notch Americans running for office, Democrats must take the initiative now to make sure that these candidates can set and stay on their own stage--in their own frame.
The key to cracking down on the swiftboaters is to reframe the entire political system in moral terms. They key is to start describing the swiftboaters as 'gangs.'
But before we do that, a few things need to be in order...
Step 1: Democrats Must Appoint a 'Stage Manager' to Deal With Swiftboating
Any Democrat who does not recognize and acknowledge that the radical wing of the GOP will use brutal defamatory 'swiftboat' tactics to destroy the reputation of anyone who challenges them, has not yet faced the reality this nation faces.
As I discussed in yesterday's Frameshop post the dark threat of a 'swiftboat' campaign is that it shifts the focus from the policies in question to the false charges against the politician critiquing those policies. The only way to avoid the damage of a 'swiftboating' campaign, therefore, is to avoid being drawn into that distraction--to hold the debate by holding the frame.
This means that no Democratic candidate under attack can fight this battle by sheer force of fact or rhetoric. Every actor needs a director and a stage manager, and the Democrat being attacked by a swiftboat campaign is no different.
So, step one is for Democrats at a national and local level to appoint someone to be the front person--the face of the Democratic response to the 'problem' of radical GOP groups that defame candidates, particularly military veterans.
Al Gore would be a fantastic person for this job. Jimmy Carter would be a great as well. This person would establish a commission with one job from now until 2008: to pre-empt every swiftboat-style smear campaign by the radical right in this country by leading the nation in a national discussion about the dangers of threatening good Americans away from political participation.
Step 2: Set the Pre-Emptive Frames: 'Moral Accounting' and 'Gangs'
Why are swiftboat campaigns immoral? They are not immoral because they question the qualification of a candidate to hold office. That, like it or not, is what political campaigns are about.
Swiftboaters are immoral because they are organized by gangs that use threats to intimidate and silence Americans, to drive good citizens from the public square back into their homes. These 'gangs' are not new to American history. The classic American movie Shane is the story of one family that overcomes the intimidation of a brutal gang to protect his family, his home and his town.
Gangs succeed by disrupting the moral accounting of American life. When we work hard and play by the rules, we deserve to have our voices heard. Instead of hard work, gangs use the power and money of others to threaten good people and snatch away opportunity.
Once appointed, the Democrat Party lead in charge of pre-empting the swiftboat smear campaigns of 2006 and 2008 should work hard to establish this broad frame of the 'Moral Accounting of American Life,' and to define the swiftboat gangs working to destroy this fair American system as a very real threat to the lives of every American.
Moral Accounting and Gangs.
Step 3: Americans Don't Debate 'Gangs,' We 'Monitor' and 'Crack Down' on Them
Once we are inside the frame of moral accounting as the basis for American life (e.g, hard work, fair play deserves to have its voice heard), then the logical solution is not to debate with threats to that morality, but to prevent them from getting in the door.
Americans do not debate gangs. We 'monitor' their activities and 'crack down' on them using prevention, vigilance and wherever possible: the legal system.
The Democrat in charge of pre-empting the swiftboat attacks from the GOP is not in charge of reacting to attacks, but of 'monitoring activity' and 'mobilizing authorities' to 'crack down' on gangs that are 'taking over areas' and 'intimidating locals.'
When the Democratic Party steps up to deal with the problem of swiftboaters gangs destroying campaigns, they do so not for the sake of candidates, but for the sake of America's families.
Step 4: Those Who 'Paid the Price' Deserve Protection
Ultimately, every single political victim of radical GOP swiftboat techniques--whether they are a Democrat like John Murtha or a Republican like John McCain--their efforts to defend themselves will fail unless they make defending the American people from swiftboating a key part of their broader political efforts.
This is not about 'honorable' campaigning---although that is an admirable goal. The job of monitoring and cracking down on the gangs that are intimidating Americans on the political landscape will not go down easily. They will put up a fight that is as brutal and as dangerous as any gang in history. The gangs that tried to dominate the American west had to be put down forcefully by the law. The gangs that threatened to destroy America's cities during prohibition had to be broken before they released their grip hold on the nation. The gangs that launch swiftboat campaigns, today, are no different. They will not go down easily.
But those of us who pay the price--who work hard, play by the rules, care for our families, invest in our future, and believe in the prospects of America--we deserve to be protected from these gangs. We deserve to listen and to participate in the political process without gangs riding into town, guns firing in the air, dragging out of town any American who expresses his or her views.
Those of us who pay the price--who may disagree, but still listen to each other, pitch in to help a neighbor in need--we deserve to be protected from these gangs.
Those of us who pay the price--who fought when our nation called us to fight, who watched our friends die on the battlefield, and who came back home still believing in America--we deserve to be protected from these gangs.
© 2006 Jeffrey Feldman