Thursday, September 02, 2004

Form Follows Function

Dick Morris describes the divisions in Democratic Party platforms over national security issues in an NY Post article. Using Ramussen data, he observes that "Bush voters are united on virtually all the questions that divide the Kerry vote. So Bush can advance his agenda with impunity while taking aim at Kerry voters who are antagonized by their candidate whenever he has to choose a position." Morris proceeds to cite several instances.

One example: Rasmussen asked if Iraq was a part of the War on Terror or a distraction from it. Republicans overwhelmingly said it was integral — by 79-14. But Democrats were divided. Half said it is a distraction — but 36 percent felt it was a key part of the war effort. So what is Kerry to say? Either way, he loses votes. And if he waffles, he strengthens his reputation for flip-flopping. ...

Who is winning the War on Terror? Republicans say we are, 77-10. Democrats divide almost equally, with 33 percent saying America is winning and 42 percent saying the terrorists are gaining the upper hand. So how is Kerry to characterize the war? Say it's a success — and alienate 42 percent of his vote — or call it a failure — and drive away 33 percent?

Morris examines the question from the vantage of a pollster and political adviser, which is his profession. But the more fascinating historical question is why the two parties should have evolved so differently. One possible reason is that the Democrats are more a coalition than a consistent point of view, the proverbial "Big Tent" defined by nonmembership in the the other party. At first glance, this would appear refute the conventional wisdom that the Democrats are the party of the Left but on closer examination better explains how the Left came to thrive in this ecology. The characteristic of coalitions, or "national united fronts" as they are known abroad, is that they can be more easily manipulated by a minority cadre of activists. That was historically true of Bolshevik-led movements and may be why the Islamic extremists can dominate the agenda of Islam, which unlike Roman Catholicism has no hierarchical clerical structure. If ideological extremism has a natural home, it will be in the midst of the lost.

The Republican mystery is deeper still because unlike the Democrats they were not (if one excludes neoconservatives) believed to have any articulated ideology. To some extent, one became a Republican before joining the party. But however that may be, as Dick Morris demonstrates, America has entered the 21st century with two parties: one with a remarkably united vision of what it wants and the other searching for an answer -- after it searches for the question.

The Republican clarity of purpose may in fact be the reason why they have been able to use what Hugh Hewitt  calls swarm tactics so effectively.  He describes the Internet cloud of enemies which has descended on the John Kerry campaign in terms of John Arquilla's netcentric combat theories (Belmont Club has referred to Arquilla in previous posts): the hits keep coming faster than Kerry can coordinate a defense. Quoting Arquilla, Hewitt says:

"Swarming is a seemingly amorphous but carefully structured, coordinated way to strike from all directions at a particular point or points, by means of a sustainable 'pulsing' of force and/or fire, close-in as well as from stand-off positions. It will work best -- perhaps it will only work -- if it is designed mainly around the deployment of myriad small, dispersed, networked maneuver units. The aim is to coalesce rapidly and stealthily on a target, attack it, then dissever and redisperse, immediately ready to recombine for a new pulse. Unlike previous military practice, battle management is now mainly about 'command and decontrol,' as networked units all over the field of battle (or business, or activism, or terror and crime) coordinate and strike the adversary in fluid, flexible, nonlinear ways."

In an earlier, low tech era, this phenomenon was referred to in the German Army as "saddle orders". Because the general principles of the campaign were so well understood by lower-level commanders, Guderian and Rommel could redirect subordinates and trust them to do the "right thing", that is, act consistently within the agreed strategic framework. They could give orders from the "saddle". In contrast, the French High Command had to laboriously consider its reaction to each threat. It was this kind of confidence in the Age of Sail which enabled Nelson to break the French line at Trafalgar. Nelson's captains had served together so long they were like a basketball team that could blind-pass to each other, so that his pre-battle signal consisted simply of "England expects every man to do his duty". Both the German Army of 1940 and Nelson's fleet of 1805 were inferior to the enemy in materiel and numbers. But it did not matter. The surprise of 2004 may be that the Mainstream Media, like the Chars of the French Army or the sailing wonders of  Villeneuve, will not matter at all.