In the movie Goldfinger, James Bond, about to be split in half by a laser beam, asks the villain, “do you expect me to talk?” He answers, “no Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.” Roger Kimball exclaims, “is Obama a ‘transformational figure’? You don’t know the half of it!” Michael Medved believes that “for Conservatives, Obama’s changes would be permanent and devastating”. That, my dear Mr. Bond, is the point.
Intensity of commitment has long been a decisive component of historical military strategy. It is possible to defeat a superior enemy if you can ‘outcommit’ him: take things to a level where he is afraid to follow. Napoleon did not anticipate that the Russians would burn Moscow rather than let him have it. Napoleon was defeated. Late in the Second World War the Japanese adopted the method of suicide attack, which became famous as the kamikaze. The Japanese still lost, but only because the US was many times more powerful and had the Atomic Bomb to boot. If the match were nearly equal things would have been much harder. Clausewitz observed that war is an act of force to compel the enemy to do its opponent’s will. In that equation, it is not just the quality of the force, but the quality of the will that matters. In politics, to a lesser extent, things are much the same.
If conservatives now realize that their political enemies are not simply out to win an election cycle but to effectively destroy them, the only surprising thing is that they were surprised.
Although it’s tempting to ascribe ruthlessness only to certain ideologies, it is potentially an attrbute of all “winner-take-all” world views. The continued survival of a liberal democracy implies the absence of groups which see politics as a zero-sum game. Once a significant political force decides that it — or its point of view — must dominate over all others, a social crisis becomes inevitable. Lincoln put it this way: “In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. ”
Civility in political life can only be sustained when everyone owes their basic allegiance to the larger nation and subordinates their partisan identity to it. When Joe Lieberman addressed the Republican National Convention of 2008, he referred repeatedly to this overarching loyalty as the cornerstone of political life itself.
I am here tonight for a simple reason. John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead America forward. And, dear friends, I am here tonight because John McCain’s whole life testifies to a great truth: Being a Democrat or a Republican is important, but it is nowhere near as important as being an American.
Whether that cornerstone still stands or has been replaced by other and more fundamental loyalties — to ideology, race or class — is something to be discovered. The problem with winner-take-all politics is that it always carries the risk that political victories will be turned into a period of political occupation. While there may be some doubt about what Barack Obama’s intentions may be, should he win the Presidency, there’s little doubt that for people like Ayers, Dohrn, Wright and Farrakhan, a victory in 2008 won’t be seen as “their turn”, but as their Destiny.