Saturday, January 21, 2012

What The Tea Party Needs To Learn

The tea party movement has been one of the most encouraging developments in the political arena for a long time. When I went to my first tea party rally back in 2009, I was struck by a couple of things. One was the number of people present who made comments such as, “I’ve never done anything like this before, but I just felt I had to speak out.” Another notable point was that no elected officials or candidates were invited; it was strictly an event for non-politicians. I was impressed by how peaceful, calm, and sincere it all was. After the speeches from the organizers, we threw bags of tea into the nearby creek (with a string attached so we could pull them back out and not be litterers).

Yes, the tea party types can have a “million man” march on the Mall in Washington with no violence whatsoever, or even any rude behavior to speak of, and then leave the place cleaner than when they arrived. The “Occupiers” can’t even comprehend something like that.

And the tea party has had an impact. Their voice has been heard; they have changed the debate in Washington; some of their candidates have been elected.

One of my favorite “tea party” candidates is Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina. I don’t know if she was so much a tea party candidate as a grassroots candidate, but it doesn’t matter. I heard her speak at an event in D.C. not too long ago, and her story is remarkable. When she first ran for a seat in the South Carolina legislature, she defeated a thirty year incumbent in the primary election (for which the local part bosses have never forgiven her) in a true grassroots campaign with no money, no name recognition, but a lot of passion and energy. She went on to win in the general election by the same means. She was then ostracized by the career politicians in the legislature to the point of them not even giving her an office; she had to work in the hallways. The governor also was making life difficult for her, so she decided to run for governor! And she won that one, too. One of her first actions as governor was to put in place a “report card” program where she as governor rated the performance of every member of the legislature, and published the ratings. Don’t you just love it!

In spite of these and other successes, I see the tea party movement now starting to become less effective. This is 2011, not 2009; things have changed. The people still want a new direction for the country, but they aren’t as prone to simply continue going to rallies. A new approach is needed. Anti-establishment fervor is no longer enough. The movement is maturing.

Staging rallies only gets you so far. In order to really have an impact on actual government policies, you have to be able get people elected in this new, more mature, “tea party” era. The tea party needs to move from being reactive with protests and rallies on various issues to being pro-active by getting the right people nominated and elected in the first place so we don’t have to continually pressure them into doing the right thing.

Here’s the problem with accomplishing that. There are only two ways to get someone elected, beyond local elections: 1) Via the Democrat Party, or 2) Via the Republican Party.

Don’t talk to me about a third party. Yes, there are one or two Independents in Congress, but that is the clear exception. No third party candidate has ever been elected President.

Look at some fairly recent history. In the Presidential elections of 1992 and 1996, there was a third party candidate, Ross Perot. People were so fed up with George Bush the elder (of “Read my lips. No new taxes” fame – he raised taxes after saying that) that many people, mostly Republicans, bolted to Perot. In 1992, Perot received 19% of the vote, more than any third party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party in 1912. But it was still just 19%; Perot wasn’t elected, of course. What he did was throw the election to the Democrat, Bill Clinton, who received only 43% of the vote. That was more than Bush’s 38%, so Clinton was elected. Something similar happened in 1996 when Bob Dole was the Republican candidate, although not as dramatically. The effect of third party candidate Ross Perot was to throw the election to Clinton twice.

Today, some people think Ron Paul may run as a third party candidate if he doesn’t get the Republican nomination. If so, the result will be the same- the election will be thrown to the Democrat (Obama).

No, if you want to get elected President, or to Congress other than as some sort of an anomaly, you’re going to have to do it through one of the two national political parties.

That’s what the tea party doesn’t seem to realize. You have to have a national political organization behind you; rallies and protests won’t do it. Rallies and protests can be effective in influencing the vote of some elected officials on certain issues, but those activities won’t get you elected.

The tea party needs to bring its energy, viewpoints, and conviction into the Republican Party to influence the party establishment and move them in the right direction. The tea party needs to work within the party to get good conservative candidates nominated, and then use the party resources and organization to get those candidates elected.

Jamie Radtke, a prominent tea party activist, is running for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in Virginia. She went on a bus tour throughout Southwest Virginia not too long ago. In setting up this bus tour, she or her campaign did not contact any Republican County Committee Chair or the Republican Ninth District chairman. She just completely ignored them. How does she think she will get the Republican Party behind her by snubbing the party activists? Even if she get’s the nomination, she can’t win in the general election without the part’s full support.

I understand the problem with career politicians and the complacent party establishment that wants mainly wants to go along to get along. But the way to deal with all of that is to build a fire under the establishment and/or overwhelm it, not alienate it.

The tea party also needs to understand that it matters who the nominee is. They need to put forth candidates who are astute politicians and who can appeal to non-tea party voters.

This was the problem with Sharon Angle in Nevada and Delaware Girl Christine O’Donnell. The tea party got them the Republican nominations for U.S. Senate, but then couldn’t get them elected because they were, well, poor candidates. Remember the infamous “I am not a witch” news conference of Delaware Girl?

All in all, if the tea party doesn’t get a little savvier and do a better job of using the resources of the established political parties, I fear it will lose momentum.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Another Un-won War

The last American troops have left Iraq. In his comments regarding this event, President Obama did not use any of these words: victory, mission accomplished, win, won, triumph, success, complete, or any other such words. Quite the contrary: A few months ago, Obama said he was uncomfortable with the notion of “victory” in Iraq. So our soldiers just left one day, and we now have another un-won war.

This is a real problem. There are consequences to un-won wars, just as there are consequences when we win.

Let’s look at real examples from United States history that show the consequences of wars that were won and those that were not.

The last war that America won decisively was World War II (WWII). Both Germany and Japan surrendered unconditionally.

For Japan, this happened only after the Japanese Navy was completely destroyed and the American’s were totally defeating the Japanese on Pacific island after island in ferocious, all-out, scorched earth, bloody fighting on their way to an assault on the Japanese mainland (which it was estimated would have resulted in hundreds of thousand of casualties on both side). The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki eliminated the need for that mainland invasion, but only after the Japanese emperor stepped in and overruled the Japanese military, which wanted to fight on.

In Europe, it was a ground and air war. We all know about D-Day, the longest day, which Eisenhower agonizingly delayed for three days due to weather, and then gave the go-ahead even though the weather was still marginal at best because he couldn’t keep all of those masses of ships and troops waiting offshore any longer. It was the largest amphibious assault in history. After the success of D-Day, it was on to Berlin. On the way, there was the Battle of the Bulge, the last major land battle in Europe, which came close to being a disaster for the Allies, but we held on. The German Air Force (the much vaunted Luftwaffe) had been eliminated, and we were relentlessly pounding military and industrial sites from the air with impunity. The Red Army was closing in from the East. Finally, Hitler realized it was over and committed suicide (with his mistress, Eva Braun). After the war, Germany was a pile of rubble.

It was total victory for the U.S. and it’s allies, and total defeat for Germany and Japan. What have been the long-term consequences of this war that we won decisively? Today, Germany is Europe’s strongest economy, Japan is a major world economy, they have high standards of living, their people are well off, they are modern not third world countries, and both are our good friends. On a personal note, I worked for a company that did forty percent of its business in Japan, and I traveled there many times.

Let’s look at another example of the consequences of a war that was decisively won, the Civil War. I am a Civil War history buff; I must have read two dozen books about the Civil War, the events that lead up to it, and its aftermath. The devastation of this war is incomprehensible to people today. Generals routinely lost a quarter or a third of their army, and lived to fight another day. Lincoln knew that he couldn’t just win battles, but that he had to destroy the rebel army in totality. Lee knew that his only chance for victory was to score some big win on northern territory early on that would be psychologically devastating, hence Antietam and Gettysburg. Toward the end, General Sheridan saw the Shenandoah Valley as the breadbasket of the Confederacy by which the Confederate Army was fed. He laid waste to it, saying that he wanted a crow flying from end to end to find not one kernel of grain, and he pretty much succeeded. The only reason Lee and Jackson didn’t do similar things was because they never got the chance.

In the end, the number of casualties was appalling: over six hundred thousand killed and over one million killed, wounded, or missing in action, at a time when the total population of the country was thirty-one million. It took a hundred years for the economy in the southern states to fully recover.

The Union won decisively, and what have the long-term consequences been? The United States of America that we see today.

Now what about the consequences of wars that we got into but didn’t win?

We’ll start with Korea. We did not win that war, by any account. It was a negotiated truce. North Korea was left intact, and it has been a nightmare for the North Koreans and the world ever since. The North Korean people live under an extremely oppressive regime and are virtually starving to death while the country’s ruling dictator and his select few live in immense luxury. Consider one little factoid: The recently deceased Kim the elder apparently liked good brandy, and reportedly spent $850,00 on it in one year, while his people starved. And then there is that matter of the nuclear weapons that North Korea may have. What will happen if this unstable, rogue country ever gets them for sure and the means to deliver them? This is all the result of a war that America got into but didn’t win.

How about Vietnam? Fifty-seven thousand Americans died in that war plus many thousands more that were wounded or missing in action. We didn’t win that one either; as with Iraq, we just left one day. The consequences: The North Vietnam communist regime took aver South Vietnam, the very thing we were fighting to prevent. Our soldiers died in vain.

Consider Iran. In 1979, Iran disregarded all international norms and occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking a number of the embassy’s staff, U.S. citizens, prisoner. This was an act of war, because centuries-old international law grants diplomats immunity from arrest and regards an embassy to be that country’s sovereign territory. Respect for those principles is considered by all countries to be the most basic tenet of international relations. If an embassy is taken over or otherwise violated, it is equivalent to a similar act on that country’s homeland. Fifty-two Americans were held hostage by Iran after the embassy take-over for 444 days (a few others were released earlier). In the face of this clear act of war, President Carter dithered. After several months, he authorized a military rescue mission that failed miserably. The hostages were held for several more months before finally being released after Reagan was elected President.

The consequence of our failure to recognize Iran’s actions for what they were, an act of war, and to deal with Iran accordingly is that we are still to this day being threatened by Iran’s dangerous behavior. We know the Iranians were supporting terrorists in Iraq, leading to the deaths of American soldiers. Iran has said it wants to wipe one of our strategic allies, Israel, off the map. Iran is trying to go nuclear. Recently, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes a large portion of the worlds oil.

And how about those soldiers that left Iraq recently? The only reason they were there in the first place is because we didn’t win the first Gulf War with Iraq in 1991. In that one, we pushed Iraqi forces out of Kuwait (which they had invaded), declared victory, and left the Saddam Hussein regime in power in Iraq. The rest is history.

There is an unmistakable lesson to be learned from these wars that were won or not. Since the United States is a major world power, there are significant consequences to the outcome of any armed conflict that we undertake. Winning brings good things; losing or just giving up brings more problems that only get worse as the years go by.