March 25, 2003

War is its own argument…

So, you’re a Democrat and a candidate for President of the United States. The country is fighting a war under the leadership of a popular Republican president. How do you campaign in that environment?

According to this article in The New York Times: very carefully.

I think it is unreasonable to suppose that the Democrats should suspend their campaign. I agree with Joe Lieberman’s assertion that it would “…be kind of a victory for our enemies if we suppressed our political process in response to a war…” There are certainly lots of issues to discuss that have little to do with the war but a great deal to do with the daily lives of all Americans. It’s still the economy, stupid.

There’s also an important practical consideration:

Nowhere is the question of what is appropriate more pressing than on the subject of fund-raising, which has been proceeding at an energetic pace. Next Monday is the cutoff for donations that presidential candidates can include in their fund-raising reports with the Federal Election Commission for the first quarter of the year. The amount each raises is an early measure of candidates’ political viability.

That last statement is true only because that’s how the press covers the political process, and successful early candidates promote that coverage out of political advantage. Early money equals viability. Early viability equals increased, serious coverage. In this regard, the candidate who suspends campaigning would be foolish indeed.

So we have a conundrum: How does one campaign and not appear to be criticizing the President it a way that might turn off voters? Interestingly, this question is related to last week’s rhetoric quiz.

In the end, the war will be its own argument. I don’t think it’s even necessary for the candidates to discuss it except to express solidarity with the troops and general hopes for a positive resolution.

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