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Archive for September, 2010

The Problem With War Elephants

Posted by Bob Kohm on September 15, 2010

War elephants enjoyed a short vogue in the military history of the Mediterranean World , most famously in Hannibal’s Crossing. The very smell of the snorting, thrashing mountains of military might scared the hell out of even seasoned battle horses and caused outright panic amongst tightly ordered battle-lines from Sicily to Persia. Elephants held the potential to be a tremendously powerful weapon in an era where victory depended on maintaining a common front, but for all its power it had a major problem. The problem with the war elephant was that it was a danger to everyone on the field, not just the army putatively controlling it– war elephants released on the battlefield were as likely to inspire panic or trample holes through friendly lines as they were those of the enemy.

Ring a bell?

The GOP, party of the elephant, has for the past two years deployed to political battlefields its own snorting, thrashing mountain of militancy and might– the Tea Party. With the end of the 2008 campaign, it became clear that there was an undercurrent of serious dismay in American politics that the newly out of power GOP needed to tap into in order to regain political traction. After an orgy of disparagement against then-Governor Palin by the RNC regulars, it similarly became apparent that Ms. Palin had an uncommon staying power on the battlefield and that she would not be easy to corral. The logical thought was to energize and, more importantly, weaponize that staying power by connecting it to the undercurrent of anti-government feeling that was already present. The Republican War Elephants had been enlisted.

When the 2009 Congressional Session broke for its traditional summer recess, the GOP released its war elephants onto the battlefield. Across the nation the usually dull array of town hall meetings were set and held in home districts, but with one difference this year– they would be discussing an extremely expensive health care bill that had been demagogued by Sarah Palin and others in the newly emerging Tea Party movement as “socialist” and “unAmerican”. Into this fray were spurred the elephants, trampling headlong into town hall meetings nationwide, shouting down the speakers, panicking the supporters of the plan and the general populace with bellows of “Death Panels”. While the elephants were upon the field no order could be maintained, no line could hold. It was impossible to refute them for the sheer fact that their energy and their volume drowned out any response either in the meetings or in the media.

At the time, the war elephant looked the perfect weapon for the RNC. They made the mistake that so many generals from the Persian Wars to the Punic Wars had made before them– they thought that they could control their elephants. As we’ve come to see, they were wrong.

The 2010 midterm elections are the most critical battlefield the GOP has fought upon in more than a decade, facing the prospect of continued Democratic rule for the next six years if they fail to make an inroad into the President’s party’s control of the House & Senate. It is a year where a disciplined assault on the Democrats should produce large scale wins for the Republicans and, indeed, it appeared that the GOP was on course to precisely that goal in the spring. Bad things started happening, though– first in isolated incidents in places like Nevada, but then more frequently in spots the nation over. The war elephants of the Tea Party continued to break loose upon battlefields where their use was never intended and the panic they spread reached far beyond the Democrats in the lines and struck deep into the heart of the GOP establishment. Over the past few days we’ve seen Republicans all but abandon their hopes for a Senate takeover with the elephantine demonstrations of the Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint endorsed O’Donnell campaign in Delaware, culminating in the destruction of the GOPs party line in last night’s primary. New York GOP stalwart Rick Lazio was trampled into paste by Carl Paladino in the Gubernatorial Primary. In New Hampshire and even more chaotic battle of the elephants has broken out, with Jim DeMint backed Ovide Lamontagne still looking as though he might defeat Sarah Palin backed Kelly Ayotte in a case of elephants crashing into each other and giving the Democrat, Rep. Paul Hodes, bolstered hopes of picking up the retiring and oh so establishment Judd Gregg’s seat. With Sharon Angle off in the deserts of Nevada explaining why Social Security should be dismantled and Rand Paul continuing to be a gaffe factory (albeit a poll leading one) in Kentucky, the unpredictability and, more importantly, uncontrollability of these elephants unleashed by the GOP may prove once again why uncontrollable beasts are so dangerous to bring onto the battlefield; they are the embodiment of the law of unintended consequences.

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