A Party of Vote Killers?
Jim Geraghty on politics@war.


“If you want to put Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, and Ned Lamont and the gang in charge of the war on terror, well… you bet your life. No, really, and my life too.” So says Jim Geraghty, NRO blogger and new author in an interview at home base, with NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez.

Kathryn Jean Lopez:Voting to Kill”? Explain the title.

Jim Geraghty: The phase, in three words, explains the book’s two topics — terrorism and politics, and how the former affects the latter; it also encapsulates that view of a majority of Americans on this matter. We don’t want someone who will “manage the threat” or “reach common ground” or reduce rogue states to “states of concern,” to use Madeleine Albright’s preferred phrase. We want to kill ‘em. There are many Americans who have never asked, “Why do they hate us?”; they just accept it as a given and want to go about the business of killing those who would threaten us, ruthlessly and effectively, until the concept of attacking Americans is seen, in the farthest corners of the Earth, as synonymous with self-destruction as a policy. I note that there are no Islamists, or Islamo-fascists, or jihadists — or whatever your preferred term is — who ask, “Why does the West hate us?”

It also evokes, “shooting to kill” and is, I hope, just a good, memorable, eye-catching title. Plus, you know, “Peace Mom” was taken.

Lopez: “Put simply, Kerry lost because he was weak or was perceived to be less resolute and ruthless in fighting terrorism.” But he was a Vietnam Vet reporting for duty. Why wasn’t that enough?

Geraghty: When the country was up against a worldwide cult whose hallmark is that they would prefer to die than see us live unmolested, John Kerry felt the best way to reassure the country that he was the man to lead the fight was to remind us he was good at shooting Viet Cong thirtysome years ago. It was a non sequitor to many ears. As we’ve seen from Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan’s leadership in wars hot and cold, wartime experience in the armed forces or in combat is a nice trait, a bonus, but not a necessity.

Kerry may have turned some heads with his Vietnam stories –and boy, did he love telling those stories –but it couldn’t overcome his other comments on terrorism that didn’t reassure people –his insistence that 9/11 changed none of his views, the idea that he aimed to reduce terrorism to the level of a “nuisance” like prostitution or organized crime, his argument that the threat from terrorism had been overstated, his insistence on all U.S. military actions passing the “global test,” his “secret plan” for Iraq, his… aw, heck, now you’ve got me started. Just reread the Kerry Spot archives.

This isn’t even getting into the striking number of Vietnam Veterans who loathed him over his “cut off ears, cut off heads, ravaged the countryside in the manner of Genghis Kahn” comments, and who would have crawled over broken glass for the chance to vote against him.

Lopez: Moving on. Sure, Republicans got elected in 2004 because of 9/11. But what have they done for me lately?

Geraghty: The political world, after 9/11, consistently features policy choices on the war on terror that Congress has to address. In 2002, it was establishing the Department of Homeland Security and what type of labor rules would be in effect for employees, as well as the Iraq war. In 2004, it was Kerry’s — and the Democrats’, as a whole — nuanced worldview, the “global test” vs. Bush’s “for us or against us,” “smoke ‘em out of our holes” policies.

This year, it looks like a two big ones — NSA eavesdropping and the treatment and interrogation of captured al Qaeda detainees in Guantanamo Bay. How to handle Iran may be a third issue.

The consensus position among Democrats regarding Iran is to reestablish diplomatic relations with the country that violated every imaginable international law and custom by taking our embassy staff hostage and parading them, blindfolded, before the world’s television cameras. It appears the self-proclaimed “tough and smart” Democratic party would like to begin negotiations with a concession to Ahmadinejad, a guy many believe was personally involved with the hostage-taking.

My book doesn’t get into domestic, non-terrorism policies. I can see why a conservative would have a gripe with this Congress; I have plenty of my own. But in the end, I have a hard time believing any issue is more important than killing the guys who want to kill us. Big pork, runaway spending — all of these are annoying, but I’ll take setbacks on those issues over a setback in the war on terror — like another attack on U.S. soil — any day of the week.


If you want to put Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, and Ned Lamont and the gang in charge of the war on terror, well… you bet your life. No, really, and my life too.

Will 9/11 ultimately be the downfall of Republican leadership?

The publishers originally wanted the subtitle to be, “How 9/11 Launched the Era of Republican Dominance.” We don’t know that Republicans will continue to dominate the executive and legislative branches. It’s entirely possible that the Democrats will win the House and Senate this fall (although I’m a bit more of a skeptic, and I think sloppy pollsters and bad reporters are buying a lot of hype).

We’ll see who wins this year. It’s interesting that polls and focus groups are showing frustration and a foul mood on the part of voters towards the Republicans, but no equal level of enthusiasm for the Democrats or their proposals. Just what are the Democrats offering that would make a voters say, “yeah, those are the guys I want leading the fight against al Qaeda”?

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Republicans do have serious policies that have generated at least some successes, and they are leading by offering and defending those policies. The Democrats tend to disagree with whatever Bush puts forward. After years of endless bitching that Bush hadn’t caught bin Laden, now Nancy Pelosi says catching him would be no big deal. I feel like John McEnroe in his tantrum days –“You can NOT be serious!”

Lopez: The press materials for your book include this: “The GOP, with their ruthless pursuit and killing of terrorists…” HELLO? OSAMA BIN LADEN.

Geraghty: Truth is, every time we capture or kill some al Qaeda bigwig, many on the left side of the blogosphere routinely say, “Oh, big deal, I’ve never heard of this guy.” Well, it’s not the Bush administration’s fault that poorly informed Americans can only name three people in al Qaeda. (Okay, maybe it is the Bush administration’s fault; maybe they ought to be briefing the public on a lot more al Qaeda senior operatives and leaders.)

The CIA claims that 5,000 terrorists have been captured or killed since 9/11 — a nice, even, 1,000 per year, or roughly three per day. (If you’re reading this at breakfast, chances are we’ll have two more by dinner.)

And some of them are big, big fish: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, Abu Zubaida, Hambali, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Abd Rahim Nashiri, Zayn Abidin Muhammed Hussein, Yazid Sufaat, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (KSM’s nephew). And those are just the guys we’ve captured. The ones “not so lucky,” to use Bush’s preferred phrase, include Mohammed Atef, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Hamza Rabia, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, Karim Mejjati, Abu Ali Harithi…

It’s sad to say, but unless your name is bin Laden, Zawahiri, or Zarqawi, many folks assume you’re a no big deal when it comes to al Qaeda. Catching Luay Saqa in Turkey last year was a big deal — he was al Qaeda’s top man in the region, he was plotting to blow up Israeli cruise liners, and allegedly had facial surgery to disguise his appearance. Sad to say, almost nobody in America has any idea who this guy is, and the media paid no attention.

The U.S. will get bin Laden some day. My uninformed speculation is that we’re trying to figure out how to capture or kill him in some extraordinarily hostile and remote region of Pakistan, without starting a civil war in that country.

Lopez: You contend that “[o]nly a delusional political observer would predict that voters will stop thinking about terrorism when they go to the polls for the midterm elections of 2006, 2008, or even 2010. Is that so if we’re not attacked again? Moreover, you write that, “The curriculum at Pakistani madrassas is suddenly almost as important as the curriculum at American grade schools.” I don’t think people are even banging down Nina Shea’s door to hear about the curriculum in Saudi madrassas IN THE UNITED STATES. Do you overestimate how much people are worried about terrorism in 2006?

Geraghty: On the first question, the war on terror is always going to have periodic flare-ups, whether it’s the currently intense fighting in Afghanistan, or the recent plot to blow up airliners in London, or the bomb plots in Germany and Denmark… The bad guys will not go away anytime soon, and they will not be so polite as to cease their efforts to kill us during American campaign seasons. The other thing is, the timing of the 9/11 attacks meant that every election year for the rest of our lives, the country will remember the attacks, commemorate them, and discuss the amount of progress in the war on terror right after Labor Day.

Regarding the line about Pakistani madrassas: When the Taliban blew up the Buddha statues, it got some attention, but most Americans who heard about it thought, “Oh, that’s so sad,” and then shrugged and moved on. We didn’t grasp that these guys were starting a bad habit of obliterating twin landmarks; it didn’t seem like our problem.

I talk a bit about “Jacksonian” Americans in the first chapter — that’s Andrew, not Michael or Jesse — and I think a big chunk of the American people are fundamentally benign isolationists. They would rather not deal with the rest of the world’s problems. But once we’re threatened, and the grievances and issues of over there start affecting us over here, we wake up and pay close attention. After 9/11, books on terrorism and Afghanistan and Islamist extremists flew off the shelves, people were glued to the news, and Frontline specials and Rummy briefings were must-see TV. Citizens wanted to know who these guys were, and what it was going to take to wipe ‘em off the face of the earth.

I think, however, we are seeing a shift from a “we want to liberate the Muslim world from dictators, mullahs, and homicidal maniacs” viewpoint to a “we want the Muslim world to knock this [stuff] off.” Remember the sudden virulent public reaction to the  Dubai Ports World deal? Or the Muhammad cartoons? It’s the “To Hell With Them” Hawks, as Rich Lowry put it. This was just beginning to develop as I was finishing the book; if I were starting over, I’d probably look at this evolving phenomenon in closer detail. I think how much idealism is needed in our foreign policy will be a big aspect of the debate on the Republican presidential primaries in 2008.

Lopez: Why do you make such a big deal out of Michael Moore in your book?

Geraghty: He’s the walking embodiment of the problems of the Democrats in the post-9/11 era. It is amazing that a guy who has not only never been elected to anything, but who has never bothered to even try to appeal to the political middle was able to take such a prominent role in speaking for the party in 2004. In many ways, he became one of, if not the, “face” of the party that year.

His first reaction on Sept. 12, 2001, was to lament that the attacks killed so many Gore voters. Three days after the attacks, he was charging that ABC News had videotape “of the second plane crashing into the tower — that showed an F-16 fighter jet trailing the plane at a distance,” and charged that the military let the second plane hit the tower. Within a year, he was claiming that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were protecting bin Laden.

Take away the video camera and marketing campaigns, and he’s the unshaven guy on the street corner screaming about conspiracies.

And it was pretty much top to bottom that the party embraced him –all the Democratic lawmakers who went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 and gave it the thumbs up, Wes Clark had him out on the campaign trail, Jimmy Carter having him sitting next to him in his box. The Congressional Black Caucus organized a series of events around Fahrenheit 9/11 at black churches across the country. Vast swaths of the Democratic party seemed to have  no idea that Moore was not universally beloved.

Lopez: What’s going on with Connecticut and Democrats? No realization why they lost the last two national elections?

Geraghty: My mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi would say that as “The Left” goes through the process of losing power — not only are they losing elected office, they’re losing their traditional communications advantages in the mainstream media — they are reacting by “purifying” themselves, concluding that their problem comes from dissent from within and that they can purge themselves to victory.

I cannot help but suspect that we’re seeing a massive echo-chamber phenomenon. The Ned Lamont fans really believe that they are a massive, powerful majority, consistently on the verge of sweeping into power on a landslide. They genuinely believe that a majority of Americans really give a hoot about whether Lieberman and Bush shared a kiss or a hug at the State of the Union. A 52-48 win with a self-funded candidate in a mid-August primary ought to have worried them; instead, they thought it was the Greatest Victory Ever. Now we’re seeing Lamont trailing pretty consistently.

The Nedheads have concluded, with absolute certainty, that the biggest impediment to future Democratic Party success is the elected official most admired by those outside the party. The equivalent on the right would be like the GOP grassroots setting out to purge Rudy Giuliani.

It is theoretically possible for conservatives to have a similar echo-chamber phenomenon and to believe they represent a larger majority than they do, but the right has the honest-to-God advantage of the mainstream media pointing out every weakness, flaw, and potential problem Republicans could face. The GOP very, very rarely goes into an election with a false sense of security because of excessively optimistic press coverage.

Lopez: What will you say about your thesis if Cindy Sheehan sells more books than you do?

Geraghty: Hmmm.

Cindy Sheehan’s name recognition: About 70 percent.

Jim’s name recognition: 1 percent, on a good day? Maybe 2, if the polling sample includes a lot of relatives?

I expect to get thrashed, sales-wise, by a big name like Sheehan. If I don’t, then it might be an interesting signal that she’s entered her 16th minute of fame. This is her second book; I suspect her third might be titled, “Hey, I’m Still Here, And I Still Think Hillary’s View On Iraq Is the Same As Rush Limbaugh’s.”

Also worth noting is the number of military moms and dads who are extraordinarily proud of their sons’ and daughters’ service, in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, who despise Sheehan with a silent but white-hot fury. I think they cannot believe that the media has chosen her, of all parents, to speak for “Military Moms and Dads.” Her rants about U.S. troops dying for Israel may be the “Genghis Kahn” Kerry remarks for this generation.

Lopez: You write, “perhaps the Democrats’ widely disparate views on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and the use of military force will someday congeal into a coherent set of policies that Americans will feel confident is up to the task of protecting them from a relentless, merciless, and blood-thirsty foe. Until that day, voters will have the choice of the Republican worldview, warts and all, or the incoherent option from the other side of the aisle.” So who will do that? Is that Hillary’s job?

Geraghty: She’s the only one with the capacity and inclination to do it; Mark Warner has made his choice by cuddling with Daily Kos. I say some nice things about Hillary Clinton’s stances, speeches, and views on terrorism in the book’s closing chapter, which I figure is going to have three repercussions. First, I’m going to get written out of my parents’ will. Second, praise from a guy affiliated with National Review might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and could end up making her utterly unacceptable to a majority of Democratic-presidential-primary voters.

If the second comes to pass, the third will be me getting rewritten back into my parents’ will.

 Lopez: Are you afraid your book might clue Dem strategists in?

Geraghty: When I began it, I worried that the Democrats might go from being the John Kerry party to the Joe Lieberman party, and the contrast between the parties would fade.

I’ll give you a moment to wipe the milk-out-the-nose spit-take effects from your screen.

The problem for the Democrats is that there is just a huge, huuuuuge gap between the views of their base and the views of the rest of the country on terrorism issues. There are a lot of poll results that suggest this, but one of my favorites was one in 2004 that asked, “do you see America’s military as a force for good in the world, or a force for evil?” And 80 percent said good, 19 percent said evil. Which party do you think the vast majority of those who said “evil” are in?

The other poll that left me slack-jawed was the statement that only 59 percent of Democrats believe it was “not a mistake” to send troops into Afghanistan. Again, Afghanistan, not Iraq! A lot of war opponents aren’t opposed to U.S forces fighting in Iraq; they’re opposed to U.S. forces fighting anywhere.

For the Democrats to win, they can do one of two things. The first is fudge it, paper over the differences, be vague; Kerry tried this in 2004 and a lot of candidates are trying it this year. The other is that they can take on their base head-on and say, “No, the Bush administration was not secretly behind 9/11. No, we’re not fighting for oil, no, the media is not all secretly controlled by Karl Rove, yes, al Qaeda is real, yes, we need a serious plan to fight them, and that means something beyond “more money for port security and a National Tire Fuel Efficiency Program.”


Maybe there’s a Democratic consultant and candidate willing to try to drag their base kicking and screaming to reality, but right now, I don’t see them.

Lopez: ”Many conservatives were born on the morning of September 11, 2001.” Why aren’t they all bussing into Pennsylvania to campaign for Rick Santorum?

Geraghty: I think the Right and the Left react differently to political events and news that angers them. When Rove says, “Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview,” liberals — and this is a generalization — get angry, get organized, and make a lot of noise. They’ll get together and protest anything — wave signs, chant, blog like the wind, write letters to the New York Times, call in to C-SPAN… Clearly, the Right has nothing that can match their arsenal of giant paper-mache puppets.

That, generally, is not the style of conservatives. Sure, they have some protests, and they blog, and they call in to Rush and fume around the watercooler. But I suspect a large number just take a lot of that anger and hold on to it until Election Day.

When the Right is given some sort of political outrage or stimuli — like, say, Cindy Sheehan calls the likes of Khalid Sheik Mohammed “one of my brothers or sisters in humanity” — they seethe a bit, and then they just kind of store it away in their cerebral file cabinet. If the outrage is big enough –“I voted for it, before I voted against it”; Dean suggesting the Saudis warned Bush about 9/11; Patty Murray suggesting that Osama bin Laden is beloved because he builds day-care centers — it becomes a star in their worldview firmament, and a reason “why we just can’t trust those ^%$& liberals.” And on Election Day, these hawks, Jacksonians, 9/11 Republicans, etc. focus that anger in a way that is very beneficial to the GOP.

So they may very well show up for Santorum on Election Day, they may not. But they’re not going to make a lot of noise doing it. It’s not the Silent Majority, but let’s call it the Quietly Angry Plurality.

<title>Voting to Kill, by Jim Geraghty</title>
<author>Jim Geraghty</author>