Cross-posted at Daily Kos
As I watch the latest Republican surge, from Madison to DC and beyond, I feel a sharp twinge of déjà vu going back to the last GOP takeovers, in 1995 and 2000 – and to the start of the Iraq War in 2003. In each case, the strategy was similar – a massive, quick assault designed to be so overwhelming that the enemy didn’t know what hit them. It’s aimed to leave the target – in this case, us – confused, disoriented, demoralized, in a chaotic state and unable to respond effectively in time.
There’s a name for this strategy – it’s called “Shock and Awe.” And it’s important to take a deep breath and consider not only what our adversaries are trying to achieve but their strategy for doing so.
The difference between how Repubs and Dems launch their campaigns to govern is truly striking. Democrats tend to come into office with a few major priorities (like health care reform), and focus intensely on achieving those while making incremental, quiet progress on a range of other issues. And, as the health care debate proved, we tend to be deliberative – not exactly lightning-quick.
Compare how the Republicans come charging out of the gate, attacking everything we hold dear immediately, simultaneously, overwhelmingly and unapologetically.
The budget that came out of the Republican House is like a chain saw massacre of good government – slashing EPA by one-third, eliminating Americorps, cutting the Peace Corps, banning implementation of climate change rules, preventing any funding of Planned Parenthood, slicing up FDA, blocking implementation of health care reform, ending federal support for public broadcasting, killing high speed rail, stopping the economic recovery dead by laying off thousands of federal workers – and those are just a few examples. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s trail balloon to destroy the collective bargaining rights of government workers also will unquestionably float all the way to Washington if not stopped and popped ASAP.
If you want to better understand why Repubs are taking this approach, you might want to read the treatise that served as the basis for the Iraq War military strategy, “Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance” by Harlan Ullman and James Wade, Jr.
The doctrine traces back to the great military strategist Clausewitz, for whom “‘Shock and Awe’ were necessary effects arising from application of military power and were aimed at destroying the will of an adversary to resist.” The goal, in other words, is to overpower and shock your opponent so completely that you don’t have to worry about them fighting back. It’s about using force to achieve not only traditional military aims, but also to effect such a profound psychological impact on the enemy as to take them out of battle prematurely.
Ullman and Wade use such examples as the Nazi blitzkriegs, US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Roman Legions’ use of force against rebellious provinces, and more, tallying the strengths and weaknesses of each, in terms of cost, speed, level of cruelty, political implications and other factors.
Bottom line: this approach means not hesitating and not holding back – throwing everything you’ve got at your adversaries until they’re convinced that fighting back is hopeless. So, no, you can’t expect the GOP to just go after one issue at a time at a snail’s pace allowing us to oppose them at our pace, battle by battle. Nope – they’re going for broke, and we have to answer this blitzkrieg with all we’ve got too.
So how to oppose such an onslaught? I’d like to hear others’ thoughts on this – including those who know a thing or two about military strategy – but here are a few of my own:
1) Recognize that they’re messing with your mind – and don’t let them. Psychological warfare won’t work if you don’t let them get through to your psyche. This is not the time for pity parties where we bemoan how ineffective Democrats are and feel sorry for ourselves. Nor is this the time to turn on one another, pointing fingers and laying blame. We need to simply face their massive onslaught with clear eyes and minds, and stand up to it.
And as we continue to see in the streets of the Middle East, nothing disrupts the plans of autocrats as much as ordinary people who refuse to be either shocked or awed. Few things are as exhilarating as standing up to a bully and winning. And it helps remembering that we’ve done it before – as in the last time the Gingrich patrol shut down our government. Now is the time to hold our heads up with pride and defend our rights and our values, like the brave souls doing just that in Wisconsin.
2) Fight both the individual battles and the larger war. The Republican “Shock and Awe” budget strategy is to strike EVERY Democratic constituency at once, with the goal of throwing them all into confusion – and ideally pitting them against each other. They want to see the environmentalists defending their turf against abortion rights advocates against advocates for the elderly – etc. Each of us fighting the others for our ever-shrinking piece of the pie – now there’s an outcome they would love.
In fact, we do need to fight over the many horrible policy decisions encompassed in this budget proposal. But we need to do so as a coalition, each piece of which must take its turn to highlight unacceptable riders and cuts while supporting others in solidarity. Together we need to agree on some bottom lines – e.g., no objectionable policy riders, period. There will be cuts in the end, but we need to scale them back from insane, job-killing levels to reasonable degrees that the economy, the environment, public health, and the disadvantaged can absorb.
Fighting the larger war also means striking at the basic assumptions at the core of the Republican onslaught. This budget proposal represents Herbert Hoover economics at a time when we are just starting to emerge from the Great Recession. Budgets do need to be balanced, but in a balanced way, focusing primarily on the big pieces – entitlement reform and the military-industrial complex. And including increasing taxes and/or eliminating massive tax loopholes for the wealthy and multinational corporations whom you and I don’t need to subsidize.
3) Find their Achilles heel – which in this case, I think, is the fact that people will miss key government services when you take them away. Indeed, the current approach to government is unsustainable, built upon years of politicians telling their constituents that they can have ever more from the government while paying ever less in taxes. But while people take for granted what they get from government, that doesn’t mean they don’t value it and won’t fight to protect it. We just need to let them know what’s happening and what’s at stake.
What if your local water authority has to stop measuring the levels of heavy metals and sewage in your drinking water? What if your local bus and train systems have to reduce maintenance and increase worker shifts, thereby reducing safety? What if those crumbling roads, bridges, sewers and utility lines in your area won’t get fixed after all? What if Grandpa’s Social Security check gets delayed, or stops coming? What if NPR and PBS go dark, leaving the field to the sensational, misleading voices of Fox and other big media corporations? What if millions of youngsters lose the opportunity for national service at Peace Corps or Americorps? What if fewer inspectors are around to check meat supplies for E. coli? What if the expansion of health insurance to millions of uncovered citizens is stopped? What if essential research on issues from cancer to climate change is cancelled?
The tea partiers may hold firm in the face of the uproar over all of above, but a lot of independents will peel off in the process. So, in the face of all the firepower the Republicans are directing at us right now, we need to, not scatter, retreat, or give up – but fight back hard, in solidarity, and with spirit. Don’t be shocked, and don’t be awed. But do get busy – calling your Congressmen and Senators, sending letters to the media, blogging and commenting everywhere, and tracking the situation so you know where the battle is heading and when it’s time to take to the streets, like the people of Egypt, and to demand to be heard.