The River

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Election Game

If the election is a game, the Republican team has the sole ability to make up the rules, and change them when needed. The game is “America at War.” The objective is to make America safe. The contest is a debate on whether Republicans or Democrats should lead America through its war to a new land of “security.” Although the winner is decided through voting by the public on a predetermined day, both players understand that the decision is heavily influenced by a panel of media personalities, who are employed by a small group of billionaires. The billionaires favor the Republican agenda, but that is not allowed as a point of contention. However, the Democrats are allowed a portion of newspaper editors and columnists, bumper stickers, web sites, books, and ad buys.

It’s early in the contest. The Democratic team has already fired its most potent weapon – a four-day, hoopla-filled meeting on the national media stage, known in the parlance of the game at the Democratic National Convention. By the rules the party understands, its job during this meeting was to show the citizens – whose role in the game is to pick up on clues from the media as to how they should vote – that it is a strong and united party capable of making war, which it agrees is how one brings about American safety. Although it’s not explicitly stated in the rules, the Democratic team believes it must project an image of concern for the environment and the poor, elderly and otherwise socially disadvantaged, because that is what it has always done. Consequently, they have devised a strategy in which they emphasize their war experience and war strategy nuance – a key advantage, they feel – but remind voters of their core “beliefs.”

In past games, when rules were less strict and the media panel held more of an advisory role, these traits served the Democrats well. In the new game, “America at War,” these “soft” concerns could be a liability, as they may undermine the “strong warrior” image that is a key to winning the game. It depends on the media panel, and the Democrats thus far seem incapable of reading the members.

The Republicans, being “in good” with the media panel, have no such problems. The two – Republicans and their media – seem to click in a way the other team is blind to. Both have an undying love for this game, no doubt because they invented it and endlessly tinker with the rules. That the game continues to drift away from the notions of fair play is not a concern for the Republicans; such a concern, they feel, is for weak teams, such as their opponents. This new iteration of the game is all about power, the power to strike at Republican-defined, if not created, enemies. This power to make war around the globe, the public is to understand, is what allows them to continue to shop in relative safety for the inexpensive goods advertised in the media.

Well before the game began, the Republicans instituted a key new rule: American power is its own justification. It is beyond lesser notions of fair play, laws of men, and reason. It is a power worthy of worship for it is the source of freedom and a moral, orderly society. Fallible mortals, which includes all but the President, are incapable of comprehending the glory of American power. Republicans are but humble servants of this greatest of all authorities.

The contest revolves around the public response to this new rule, and other rules that have been agreed upon in secret and are only felt. Managing the response is the key challenge for both teams. The rules themselves, as has been stated, are off limits to all but the Republican team braintrust.

This week, the Republicans fire their four-day salvo across the bow of public opinion, the Republican National Convention. They are expected to exploit the “American power” rule and the “America at War” theme to the fullest advantage. They will attempt to project an image of benevolent stewards of this awesome power, which only they “have the stomach” for.

In laying the ground for this worship-filled event, the Republicans launched sophisticated “whisper and innuendo” attacks on the opposing team leader, the better to highlight their strong, unclouded, and “scandal-free” leader.

The Democrats, seemingly locked in the past, responded with indignation. They have yet to learn that power is never indignant. When a team demands and is denied, its power projection abilities are significantly wounded. The Democratic team, and its leader, while understandably the underdog, have once again been outmaneuvered. They are losing ground, while their opponents ready their biggest weapons.

The media panel is, of course, expected to give the Republican convention high marks. By the time it is over, the Democrats should have a better handle on the contours of the game.

The real test they must face, according to independent observers, is this: Are they capable of staring down mutually assured destruction?

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