Party Like It’s 1980
Excerpted from David Kahane’s new book, Rules for Radical Conservatives.


One of your mistakes, as I noted earlier, is that for some weird reason you seem to think that being Mr. Nice Guy is the way to win friends, influence people, and once in a while succeed at the ballot box. We, of course, know better. As spiritual sons and daughters of the Society of Saint Tammany, we hold and keep a few principles firmly in mind:

— Promise the voters everything, deliver on almost nothing, but keep promising that the Promised Land is just around the next bend.

● Fan resentment as much as possible without actually starting a riot.

● If a riot starts, blame it on the other guy.

● Remember that some people are naturally credulous, some are naturally lazy, some are stupid, some are disadvantaged and content to remain that way, and some are born civil servants. Find these people and make them your constituents. If you take care of them, they will take care of you, pretty much in perpetuity. That’s the deal.

● It is a surer thing to buy or steal an election than to win it.

● Never run an honest race if you can help it.

● Try to eliminate your opponent before the election. Challenge his filing papers, seek to have him removed from the ballot, get your friends in the media — especially if one of them is also your campaign manager — to call their lawyers and dig up any weapon to hand, including broken beer bottles, pool cues, and your opponent’s sealed divorce records. Then tell people, more in sorrow than in anger, what a skunk he is.

● Always do it for the children, because even though your richer supporters don’t have any kids, your poorer ones have millions of them.

In other words, a good general knows never to fight the battle on his enemy’s turf, terrain, and terms unless he has no other choice. And yet your side constantly chooses to do so. You never grab the high ground when you can fight from the base of the hill or, better yet, the bottom of the ravine. You never marshal at least a three-to-one superiority of forces when you’re on the attack — in fact, you hardly ever attack, despite what we constantly refer to as the “right-wing smear machine” —  and you never take advantage of turf you know on which to conduct your defensive measures. In short, your leaders stink.

So find and promote the folks who want and know how to fight. Men and women who display the same kind of go-to-hell, don’t-give-a-damn lunacy as Barry Goldwater, who famously said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Oh, how we shrieked at that! Goldwater was one of our first experiments in word-twisting and meaning imputation: We just knew that he was one of those crazy John Birchers who saw Manchurian Candidates under every bed. Why, he used the word “extremism”! Whereas we, of course, are nothing if not moderate in all things except our desire to eliminate you.

As history shows, you’re very slow on the uptake. It’s not for nothing that we call you — to your face! — the Stupid Party. You’re like the straight man in an old vaudeville show, the Washington Generals playing the Harlem Globetrotters, Gracie Allen to our George Burns. Let’s face it: Your losing streak began with the very first Republican president, Lincoln, who fielded a stream of inept field commanders, one of whom — that would be George McClellan — later ran against him in the election of 1864 as the Democratic candidate. Sure, Lincoln fired him and eventually replaced him with the man who would actually win the war, Ulysses S. Grant, but McClellan took personal pique to a high order of insolence: His party’s Copperhead platform was frankly defeatist, as was his potential veep, a “peace” candidate named George Pendleton. McClellan lost, Grant fought his way to Appomattox, and Lincoln made the mistake of taking in a show at Ford’s Theatre, but one thing you can say for us Democrats: From the traitor Aaron Burr through the “Let’s give up!” election of 1864, right up to our modern day, we have distinguished ourselves by our treachery, our cowardice, and our sheer inability to tell an enemy from a friend.

In other words, you lucked into Grant, one of the greatest fighting men America has ever produced, as well as the greatest military man of letters. And how did we repay his service during the War Between the States? By slandering his memory — not as a general, because there are some facts that even we can’t argue with, but after his presidency, which the country now remembers (if it remembers Grant at all, which is dubious) as having been marked by scandal and corruption. Yes sirree bob, we invented the template of the greedy fat-cat Republican and we hung it on the great war hero, at which point we realized that if we could get away with smearing the general who saved the Union, we could pretty much smear anybody. To add insult to injury, after his painful death from cancer, we even buried him on the Upper West Side.


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