The Loyal Opposition

In fantasy baseball, erstwhile managers construct their best fantasy team by “drafting” current professional players. Competing fantasy managers draft from the remaining players in the same pool. Under such circumstances, fantasy mangers are likely to acquire players on their fantasy teams who in actuality compete against the favorite real teams of the fantasy managers. If during the year, the players on the fantasy team do well in actual play, the fantasy team becomes more successful. A fantasy manager is thereby placed in the awkward position of having dual interests in the outcome of any particular baseball game. Fantasy managers root for their real favorite teams to win and at the same time hope the players on their fantasy team do well. Sometimes those wishes come into conflict. Managing a fantasy baseball team can thus strain the normal bonds to one’s favorite real team.

This similar divided interest plagues the political party out of power. It is so hard to be the loyal opposition. It is not intellectually difficult to be loyal, while maintaining an honest agreement with the policies of a current Administration. However, it can put someone in the awkward position of realizing that if the country does well, then their party’s chances of reclaiming political power shrink.

Yet, most of the loyal opposition are “loyal” and would rather see their country prosper even if it means reducing political opportunities. This remains true even though sometimes, the animal spirits of competition will temporarily blind some to their true desires. It is also politically imprudent to be seen to be rooting against the country’s good fortune.

It is, unfortunately, sometimes difficult for the loyal opposition to distance themselves from those extreme elements for whom party is more important than country, for whom personal animosity toward a political adversary is a greater virtue than honesty, and for whom hunger for notoriety exceeds constraints of civility. Old political pros know how to do this; less experience ones do not. That is one reason that retired Army General Wesley Clark, a presumed moderate, failed in this bid for the Democratic nomination. Not only was his standard campaign stump speech intemperate (he repeatedly called Bush “unpatriotic”), but when given an opportunity to distance himself from Michael Moore’s assertion that Bush was a “deserter” he fumbled and stuttered and failed to do so. Clark looked so pathetic. He was struggling between two natural impulses. He did not want to forgo the red meat issue Moore uses to inflame partisans, but he also knew it was ignoble to support unsubstantiated accusations. It would have been politically wise for him to do the right thing and dismiss the charge, but the rookie politician succumbed to the temptation of excessive partisanship.

The popularity among the Left of Michael Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 9/11 runs the risk of doing to the Democratic Party as a whole what Moore did to Wesley Clark. The movie has been described, by no less a Leftie than Christopher Hitchens, as “a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness … a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of `dissenting’ bravery.” There is always such silliness on the fringes.

The real danger is that Democratic leaders have not distanced themselves from the movie or from Moore. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe gives credence to Moore assertion that Bush defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan War to help Dick Cheney’s old company, while Democratic Tom Harkin of encouraged Americans to see the film. Indeed, the fill is so factually incorrect that by even remaining silent about it constitutes an ignoble acquiescence.

It might be politically advantageous for Republicans to watch gleefully as Democrats hang their political fortunes to a person who believes that Americans are “possibly the dumbest people on the planet.” Surely mainstream Democrats do not want to explain to American voters why the Democrats’ most prominent (or at least most conspicuous) polemicist derisively believes that we Americans ”have got that big [expletive] grin on our face all the time because our brains aren’t loaded down.” Democrats should not want to be attached to a cynical analysis that the problem with the 9/11 attacks is that the terrorist struck at areas that voted for Al Gore. According to “If someone did this [9/11] to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who did not vote for him! Boston, New York , D.C., and the planes’ destination of California — these were places that voted against Bush!” Does Moore really suggest that the attack would have warranted against Dallas or Topeka or that the killing of Americans who voted for Bush might be understandable?.

However, like Democrats who might wistfully long for bad economic news or problems in Iraq but in more lucid moments dismiss this feeling as contrary to their fundamental loyalties, Republicans ought not wish for a country divided by a bitter and vicious propaganda even if it ultimately works to their political advantage.

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