- The fundamental argument in the presidency wars is not that the president is wrong, or is driven by a misguided ideology. That's so 1980's. The fundamental argument now is that he is illegitimate. He is so ruthless, dishonest and corrupt, he undermines the very rules of civilized society. Many conservatives believed this about Clinton. Teddy Kennedy obviously believes it about Bush. Howard Dean declares, "What's at stake in this election is democracy itself."
Parsing this let's first examine the initial assertion:
- The fundamental argument in the presidency wars is not that the president is wrong, or is driven by a misguided ideology.
This in truth depends on who's doing the arguing. For most people opposed to Bush, these considerations are at least of nearly equal if not paramount importance. Indeed, their concerns about his legitimacy are rather deeply confirmed by both the wrongheadedness of his actions and the grotesque failures of the neoconservative ideology now driving foreign policy, not to mention his breathtaking incompetence, mendacity and corruption.
- The fundamental argument now is that he is illegitimate. He is so ruthless, dishonest and corrupt, he undermines the very rules of civilized society.
And Bush's opponents have every reason to believe this. The evidence that he stole the election only mounted after the dust had settled. To this day, no adequate defense of Bush v. Gore has ever been mounted. The episode, as I have remarked previously, is the kind to anger not just liberals but centrists for whom the principles of fair play and respecting the rules are paramount.
Brooks dismisses this worldview without ever explaining why it may be wrong. Instead, he simply equates it with the rabid conservatives who rejected Bill Clinton's legitimacy:
- Many conservatives believed this about Clinton. Teddy Kennedy obviously believes it about Bush. Howard Dean declares, "What's at stake in this election is democracy itself."
This is a false equivalency. The conservatives who rejected Bill Clinton's presidency as illegitimate did so because he only won by a plurality of votes. And yet, after the 2000 election, they couldn't exactly make that argument any longer, could they? Their grotesque hypocrisy was never more apparent.
So Howard Dean is right that democracy itself is at stake in this next election. The Bush team, in tandem with the Supreme Court and their sycophants in the Mighty Wurlitzer right-wing media, severely damaged key democratic institutions -- the sacredness of the right to vote; the respect for established law; states' rights; respect for the Supreme Court and its inherent fairness -- in the 2000 election. And Democrats, to their credit, have not responded in kind by trying to undermine Bush's presidency by raising phantom scandals and prying into his private life. They have in fact made a great show of rallying behind him during the national crisis of Sept. 11. Instead of trying to negate the results of the election forced upon them by the Scalia five, they have waited.
2004 is about reclaiming our democracy from the people who have stolen it from us -- not just in Florida in 2000, but in Texas and California too. And, yes, about punishing them politically for the deed. This isn't hate, Mr. Brooks. This is justice.
Conservatives may not relish facing the music. But they better prepare for it.