From: Nick Machiavelli, Senior Partner, Machiavelli, O’Blarney, Iago, Alcibiades & Morris, Political Consultants, Chicago, Ill.
To: Ralph Nader, Nader for President Campaign, c/o the Friends of Ralph Nader, Public Interest Research Group National Headquarters, Apartment 13B, Lincoln Steffens Hall of Residence, Harold Stassen Way, Little Kidding, Md., Near Washington D.C. (Donations over Internet, please, to www.naderornadir.com.)
I am not in the least surprised that you are feeling (as you put it) “confused and disoriented.” Anyone in your position would feel exactly the same. John Kerry is a charming guy in private, and the offer must have been a tempting one. Frankly, I see no objection to your using Nader political commercials as “product placement” opportunities for Heinz Ketchup. But if you would feel queasy, I respect that.
Nor am I upset that you request “the utmost secrecy” for our conversation. As someone who regularly denounces political consultants, you would understandably be embarrassed if the public learned you were seeking advice from one. And since you denounce “secretive” corporations with equal regularity, you naturally want any secrecy in your case to be absolutely watertight.
Have no anxiety on that score. My secretary, Lilith, has clear instructions to destroy all letters, e-mails, and phone records as soon as our bill has been paid.
Now, back to why you feel “confused and disoriented.” The explanation is simple: Everyone is being very nice to you–both Republicans and Democrats–and this naturally makes you uneasy. It challenges your view of the essential wickedness of Mankind. (After all, who invented corporations?)
Well, let me reassure you: They all have low, self-interested motives for their expressions of regard and affection. Both parties think you are the key to their winning or losing the presidency. The Republicans want you to stay in the race and the Democrats hope to persuade you to withdraw. Both of them are wrong, as it happens, but we’ll come to that in due course.
In the meantime, what do you want?
Dispense, if you would, with any blather about being the next president of the United States. It is hard enough to swallow that guff from George W. Bush who actually is the president. From your lips it would sound, frankly, comic–as if you had been watching too many John F. Kennedy tributes.
So let me tell you what your aims are. First, you want to improve on your performance in the 2000 campaign when you won three per cent of the national vote. Second, you want to advance the cause of opposition to the Iraq war.
The good news is that both these aims are achievable. The less good news is that in order to achieve them, you will have to forge a new, revolutionary and perhaps personally uncomfortable political identity for yourself.
In a phrase, Ralph, you will have to become the candidate of antiwar conservatism.
You think that is an oxymoron–like “military intelligence”–don’t you? That is a big mistake. Antiwar conservatism is both a traditional theme of American politics and a potential vote-winner in the future. What else was “isolationism” but antiwar conservatism?
It hasn’t gone away. Today pollsters tell us that as many as a third of voters would favor isolationism of one kind or another in the right circumstances–that is, when a war seems to be proving “unwinnable.” And your message will be that America has to come home from a war in Iraq that is turning into a quagmire.
Neither Bush nor Kerry will be saying anything that clear and simple. Both will be sending highly complex messages in which they half-promise to come home and half-promise to stay the course. You should have no difficulty in making them both sound shifty and dishonest–and in making their messages sound like prescriptions for endless war without victory.
That contrast gives you an advantage enjoyed by no other candidate–namely, a foot in both camps. For isolationism has left and right wings. And both wings will like what you are saying. So you have a potential political market for your message in both the Democrat and Republican voting blocs. Which should you go for?
Look, first, at the Democrats. Your problem with them is that opposition parties very rarely lose their core voting support in elections. Why? They are not in power and are therefore unable to betray their supporters. So the potential Nader constituency on the left is confined to disappointed Howard Dean supporters.
This is a loyal constituency but a small one. They will continue feeling betrayed unless Kerry transforms himself into an uncomplicated antiwar candidate on the Dean model. And since Kerry is incapable of being straightforward about anything, let alone the Iraq war, that means they will remain betrayed indefinitely. So those votes are in your hip pocket.
But don’t think too much about them. There are much richer pickings on the Republican side. Remember that great joke by the conservative columnist Bill Rusher: He said that he never really liked Nixon until Watergate. Well, quite a few conservatives feel that way about George Bush and the Iraq war. And that’s no joke for the GOP.
The rock-ribbed Republicans never imagined taking a walk on the wild side with Jane Fonda. After four more years of Bush, however, they think that his out-of-control spending is a betrayal of core GOP principles. They believe his immigration reforms amount to “open borders” at a time when terrorists are trying to cross them. They reckon that he sold them out by hinting to the Supreme Court that it would be just fine by him if they entrenched racial preferences as the law of the land. They point out that the education reform bill he cooked up with Teddy Kennedy had all the conservative reforms, like vouchers, removed from it so that it ended up as nothing but more spending on a flawed system.
And now they’re afraid that the Iraq war is going badly as well.
So my advice to you is very simple: Campaign as a patriotic conservative who wants to reduce the size of government, reform the bloated education system, tighten control of America’s porous borders, end the official racial discrimination of affirmative action, bring the boys home from a hopeless liberal war, and say straight out that the girls shouldn’t have been sent out to fight any kind of a war in the first place–Hell no, they shouldn’t go.
Hey, take a walk on the conservative wild side yourself–give an interview to Pat Buchanan in The American Conservative. Call for an end to multiculturalism and for restoring the separate holidays for Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays. And throw in the odd homely expletive like “Dang it!” and “Gosh darned if I don’t.”
The media would see that you are hurting Bush more than Kerry and write you up as a genuine conservative committed to fiscal responsibility and the ancient gods of home and hearth.
Would it work? As the boys down at the New York State Lottery always say: Hey, you never know!
You won’t do it, of course. We both know that. Even if you thought you could win on these issues, you would shrink from exploiting them sinfully. Even if you were to fight the good conservative fight, your staff would stop you. So you will miss a great opportunity–and win the same number of votes as last time, if that.
But you asked for my advice–and the price for that must be paid.
Please route the Halliburton Class A Preferred Stock to my account at the Bank of Iraqi Freedom, Central Tehran Branch via the Antilles branch of BCCI, naturally, and marked to the personal attention of Mr. Ahmed Chalabi. Better add 15 percent for Ahmed to skim off–he’s just lost $385,000 a month and is probably feeling the pinch.
P.S. I like your idea of using the PIRG newsletter on multinational corporations as a sanitized way of getting insider information to my clients legally. The fine print boys are looking at it now. But Martha’s first reactions are enthusiastic.
–John O’Sullivan is editor-in-chief of The National Interest. This piece first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and is reprinted with permission. O’Sullivan can be reached through Benador Associates