My late father, J.C. Offutt, once asked me, “How did a man like that ever get to be President?” He was referring to the first of the three Nixonian-Republicans – Richard Nixon himself. Later he could have said the same about the other two: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Dad retired when his business failed during the first deep recession of Reagan’s 1980s, and he was amazed that the “Teflon President” continually remained popular in spite of his notorious eight-year “reign of error.” In 2000, after Clinton and Gore had steered us through our best economic period in more than 30 years (now – in the last 40 years), he was dismayed that anyone was seriously considering voting Republican. However, Mr. Bush was crowned President by a partisan 5-4 Supreme Court vote. My father was spared our resulting nightmare because he passed away on January 23, 2001, at the age of 87. The rest of us need to remember how we got stuck with the sorriest excuse for a president we’ve ever had. The future of our country requires that we not make the same mistakes again.
A large part of the blame belongs to Al Gore, the Democratic candidate in 2000 who should have won in a landslide. In fairness, it must be said that he received more popular votes than Bill Clinton in each of his two victories in 1992 and 1996. Mr. Gore also received more popular votes than Mr. Bush, only to come up short in the states’ electoral votes. So what went wrong?
Vice President Gore failed to deliver Tennessee’s 11 electoral votes. If he had, the highly suspicious vote count in Gov. Jeb Bush’s Florida and Ralph Nader’s third party candidacy would not have mattered. With Tennessee but without Florida, Gore would have won the electoral vote and the presidency 278 to 260! Without either Tennessee or Florida, he barely lost the electoral vote 271 to 267. At the very least, any presidential candidate must be expected to carry his own state. Fortunately, there is no reason to believe that Barack Obama will lose Illinois. If Hillary turns her campaign around and gets the nomination, she will carry New York and maybe Arkansas, which has embarrassingly gone Republican in the last two elections.
Also, Mr. Gore made the disastrous decision not to use Bill Clinton in his campaign. Gore was no doubt angry over Clinton’s lying about Monica Lewinsky. Nevertheless, Pres. Clinton was still popular among many voters, who appreciated his era of American respect abroad, economic prosperity at home, efficient government operations, and fiscal responsibility that was paying down the interest on the exorbitant Reagan-Bush national debt. Many voters still remembered the senseless Republican shutdown of the government in late December 1995 and the ridiculous and malicious impeachment trial in 1998.
However, Barack Obama will very likely be the 2008 Democratic nominee. If he is, he won’t find it easy to use Mr. Clinton. The former President has not been neutral during the primaries, and ultimately he did more harm than good to his wife’s campaign. Also, Mr. Clinton’s presence on the campaign trail could continue a resurrection of what I call the Republican Party-news media coalition that hates all things Clinton. We’ve seen it re-emerging throughout Hillary’s primary campaign. Regardless, Mr. Clinton’s judicious appearances can remind voters of the differences between his administration and that of Bush-Cheney’s, which has performed unconstitutional activities, fiscal incompetence, administrative irresponsibility, and military adventurism. Mr. Clinton did lie about having sex “with that woman,” but the Bush Administration lied a documented 935 times to mislead us into Iraq and result in 4000 American deaths. That’s a huge difference!
The Election of 2004 was won by Bush-Cheney largely with the malevolent use of two Nixonian-Republican staples: the use of fear and the Big Lie. They continued their lies about the connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein in Iraq and even convinced many voters that only Republicans wanted to protect us against terrorism. They also “swift-boated” John Kerry, a decorated veteran from the Vietnam War. In 1971 after Kerry left the service and became an anti-war activist, Nixon wanted to discredit him. Charles Colson, who headed Nixon’s unofficial “Department of Dirty Tricks,” selected John O’Neill to challenge Kerry’s war record. Days after Kerry’s nomination for president in 2004, the former naval officer O’Neill was trotted out again – this time with the so-called “Swift-boat Veterans for Truth.” Although the vets who actually served with Kerry denied O’Neill’s allegations, enough doubt was created among the voters to have the desired negative effect on Kerry’s campaign. This year’s Democratic nominee must be ready to respond to each Republican Big Lie on the SAME DAY the lie is issued – just as Bill Clinton’s campaign did in 1992 – and continue responding until the lie is dormant!
We recently witnessed Mitt Romney’s use of fear and the Big Lie when he suspended his presidential race. He claimed that if he continued his campaign and prevented John McCain from launching an early national campaign, he would “make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, (he) simply cannot let (his) campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.” Republican strategists will do whatever it takes to create doubts about Mr. Obama and drive up his negative ratings. No attack against him during the primaries will compare with what’s to come: Roger Ailes, the head of FOX “News,” and Karl Rove, the “architect” of W’s victories, are masters of “dirty tricks” operations; and they enjoy what they do.
Between now and Election Day, any screwball, suicidal terrorist has it within his power to allow the Nixonian-Republicans to re-play their traditional fear hand against the American people. If something catastrophic does happen, we can’t allow it to stampede us into electing another Republican as President. That would mean a continuation of the ruinous policies of the renegade Bush-Cheney cabal and further degradation of our constitutional system. Don’t forget, al Qaeda’s attack on the Twin Towers was the best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party and specifically to Bush-Cheney. It allowed them to use their fear ploy for the first time since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Regardless, once again I should remind you that the outrageous rumor that the fiendish al Qaeda mastermind is being hidden on a ranch in Crawford, Texas, is totally without foundation. The idea that Osama bin Laden is living there in a lavish, underground bunker with a video crew and cave-like sound stage is utterly preposterous. Even the most devious, diabolical, and secretive presidency in American history couldn’t keep something like that under wraps for more than six years.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published March 7, 2008,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.