If von Clausewitz was correct, and war is simply politics by other means, then the reverse is also true, and politics is simply war by other means. Plainly, the Republicans figured this out the day Richard Nixon was forced to resign, and have behaved accordingly ever since.
Rather than fester in meaningless debates about whether the party should move left or right, the Democrats would do well to realize that no matter what they do, unless they begin to apply time tested principles for armed combat in their political struggles, they are unlikely to reverse their fortunes.
A good place to start would be by reading "The Art of War," written over two millenia ago by Sun Tzu [circa 400-320 B.C.] and widely believed to be the oldest book to formalize the concepts and principles of warfare. The text has more than withstood the test of time, and is taught in military academies throughout the world. The concepts and principles taught by Sun Tzu have become recognized as broadly applicable, and are currently put to use by business strategists, athletic teams, Islamic terrorists, and Republican political operatives. Sun Tzu wrote that "it is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected." The Democrats might want to give it a try.
Sun Tzu believed that all warfare is based on deception. "If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant."
This should not present a problem for the Democrats. While the GOP's arrogance may be at its apex, the Democrats are actually far stronger than they now appear. If the Democrats can win the Presidential election in 2004, it is easy to conceive that they will also pick up at least 3 Senate seats and a dozen or so in the House. How different will the national agenda look with these relatively modest gains?
"If he is taking his ease, give him no rest."
The GOP is clearly at ease, and Sun Tzu's counsel is thus to attack. The days of accommodating Bush must come to an end. This should not be problematic. After supporting Bush's most ill-advised adventures in both tax and foreign policy, Democrats were rudely kicked out of power by Bush, who actively campaigned against them as obstructionists. Perhaps we have not yet tested the true measure of spinelessness on the part of Democrats, but it seems unlikely that Democrats will continue to rely on subservience to their adversary as their governing principle.
"If his forces are united, separate them."
Their failure to heed this portion of Sun Tzu's precepts is perhaps where the Democrats have failed most miserably, and Republicans have operated most successfully. For years, religious conservatives would readily break ranks with the plutocratic wing of the GOP over the issue of abortion, thereby allowing Democrats to win elections. Once they wised up and began to hang together, the GOP became a far more formidable opponent. Combined with their newfound unity, the Republicans then actively aided and abetted the rise of the Green Party, paying for ads and recruiting candidates to split the Democratic vote. Grover Norquist then watched gleefully as the Democrats were divided and fell.
How could the Democrats reinvigorate this natural wedge in the Republican Party? I would suggest they begin by putting the abortion issue in play. The GOP controls the White House, the Senate, and the House. While they all campaign as friends of religious right, is there any doubt that this is simply a ruse by the GOP to attract their votes? After all, two years ago, the GOP also controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. While the plutocrats were quickly rewarded with a massive tax cut, I don't seem to recall the religious right being similarly rewarded with a ban on abortion.
Call their bluff. Have a few maverick Democratic Congressman from rural Southern districts introduce legislation banning abortions, all abortions, including cases of rape and incest. The remainder of the Democrats would be free to keep a safe distance. Then dare the GOP to pass it. They never will, because they know the minute they do, the gender gap becomes unbridgeable, and they become the permanent minority party. But in the meantime, as they bottle it up in committee, watch them squirm as the religious right grows increasingly incensed at the great betrayal. Which feeds directly into Sun Tzu's next bit of wisdom:
"Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."
Would anything catch the GOP more off-guard than a Democratic sponsored push to outlaw abortion? Is the GOP really prepared to follow through on the rhetoric they routinely blather at the religious community to gain their votes? Is there any issue that will more decisively divide the GOP's base? Were Sun Tzu in the Democratic Party, he would be putting a women's right to choose on the legislative agenda.
Before you write to attack me as a sell-out to women's rights, recognize that I don't believe for a minute that such legislation would ever get to Bush's desk. The GOP simply cannot afford to match their rhetoric on this issue with action. But even if they did, it is far better that it arrive there now, before Sandra Day O'Conner retires. As currently constituted, the Supreme Court would strike it down. And simply by having the issue in play, it would be far easier for Senate Democrats to filibuster a Scalia-like replacement for O'Conner, were she to retire. Of course, Democrats could choose not to take any risks, not to confront Bush, not to try to divide the Republican base. After all, it is working so well, why change things?