Mortality Salience, Democrats, and Perhaps Another GOP Whitehouse

I suppose it’s time to admit a dirty little secret to you, my dear readers. I’ve long since been a lot more worried about the presidential race than I’ve been letting on. In a normal world, a world that is not perfect, but by no means insane, after the past six years of Republican Leadership, rationality should dictate that there would be vast support for Democratic candidates, and if they too failed, then there would be the emergence of a third party to fill the vacuum left by this nation’s two dominant parties.

But what gives me nightmares at night is the fact that we live in something very very far from a rational nation. Confirmed by a recent Gallup Poll, the race is still much too close to call, and even worse, on two key issues, Republican frontrunners have the upper hand.

In the same country where people poll strongly in favor of a pull out, where people poll strongly that our invasion of Iraq was not justified and should not have happened, Rudy and McCain still manage to edge out Hillary and Obama on Iraq, and terrorism.

The terrorism thing is understandable. The Republican party has done a good job of flooding the market with its ideas, and considering that there has not been a major terrorist attack on our land since 9/11, this is often seen as undeniable proof that they got it right. Of course, this is a non starter; any number of tactics could have produced the same near results and the absence of terrorism could in their turn prove all of those tactics to be effective.

What is at first glance mind boggling, however, is that the continued and amplified presence of al Qaeda actually seems to increase trust in those whose core policies actually strengthen the organization as a whole. Study upon study has shown that our invasion of Iraq has actually increased terrorism throughout the world. Our presence in Iraq has created a brand spanking new al Qaeda, loosely affiliated with the main organization. Our failure to engage in actually effective anti-terrorism policies has actually led to the failure to capture the head of the organization and bring him to justice.

The long list of failures that Bush, and those Republicans that have backed his policies in some form or another is long, and could take me much of the day to list. But it all goes back to mortality salience and Terror Management Theory.

Going hand in hand with the GOP’s selling of their brand of anti-terrorism action is also a packaged patriotism and reenforcement of the American world view and culture. Listen carefully to the rhetoric of Giuliani and McCain and Bush. They eschew the concepts of moral relativity, and define everything in black and white, us and them. They seek to reaffirm who and what we are, which is the kind of presence people flock to when faced with the reality of their own death.

In other words, the more al Qaeda pops up, the more people tend to gravitate towards those who are poorly equipped to actually stop them. So the polls at least make sense here.

Where they almost completely and totally boggle is in Iraq. Even while much of the GOP has taken pains to distance themselves vocally from Bush, there is little substantive differentiation. Many of the policies put forth by the GOP field closely mirror that of the sitting president’s.

In fact, this policy gap is so narrow that the associated rhetoric is equally similar. Bush, in announcing the surge had finally admitted in a roundabout way that we had been pursuing a faulty plan in Iraq, but with the appointment of Patraeus and Gates to run things, we were on the right track.

But you hear nearly identical words from McCain during the debates; stronger in his criticism of the sitting administration, but with that criticism out of the way, he has said that we are now on the right track.

I blame this lag, muchly, on the Democratic candidates. One thing that has bothered me is that they have been strong in their criticism of Bush, but they must understand that they are not running against him. And while they pursue this tactic, this may excite the base, and may garner a good deal of support, they are still doomed to a very close general election.

There should be a shift in campaign messaging, and it should be now. Right now, Goppers are tap dancing like mad to distance themselves from Bush in name, while still championing those policies of his that receive support from the base.

Democrats can’t let them get away with this. They have to tell the full narrative. No, they aren’t running against Bush, but from the look of all but one of the Republican candidates announced or not, they may as well be.

They need to make the case, and start now, that a vote for the Republican ticket is exactly what it is; essentially a vote for a third term of a president that, at least in this one notion we are largely united, is terrible.

(others blogging about this courtesy Memeorandum: The Carpetbagger Report, Wake up America,, Donklephant, The Swamp, and Mouth of the Potomac

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