As I noted in April, the first rightwing attempt to overthrow the government was driven by an alliance of big business and army veterans. The Liberty League consisted of very rich men in the 1930s who loathed FDR. They included leaders from DuPont, GM, EF Hutton, General Foods, GM, Montgomery Ward, JP Morgan, the Hearst newspapers, Lehigh University, Princeton, Yale, U.S. Steel, Standard Oil (Exxon), Chase National Bank, Goodyear, Birdseye Foods, Colgate, and surprise, insurance executives. The group was so powerful that even New York Times gave them dozens of positive front-page stories. Prefiguring today’s rightwingers, they screeched that FDR’s policies betokened "a trend toward Fascist control," and “the end of democracy." Their aim was to use WWI veterans to overthrow FDR so the fatcats could put their own man in. Their first choice to lead the charge was Douglas MacArthur, but the veterans hated him because he had crushed the Bonus Army march a year or two earlier, so they turned instead to another general, Smedley Butler, who (luckily for us all) had the good sense to blow the whistle on these loons in Congress.
Compare that to what’s going on now. Rightwing leaders are trying to reach out to both the man-in-the-street wingnut and to bankers (trying to pull all the strands of the wingnut world together), screaming that the President is an enemy to humanity and will lead us to Fascism – he should be killed or overthrown, or the red states should secede etc etc. The Bonus Army has reappeared as teabaggers. They are involving big business just like last time, and recruiting ex-military like past time, and seeking media attention just like last time.
So what if they follow the 1930s model all the way, and try to get Petraeus to be their leader?
Like Butler, he would say “no”, because he has other options. Petraeus is reportedly interested in running for President, and Republicans are paving the way, setting up websites, pushing the Petraeus idea out into the political arena, trying to steer political debate toward foreign policy and military issues…Considering their other options for 2012, I’m not surprised they’re drooling over him.
Obama would have tactical options here. First, he would want to avoid putting himself in a spot where Petraeus can come after him later on an issue in which Petraeus has actual expertise, on Afghanistan or on don’t-ask-don’t tell – so Obama’s native caution would serve him well on military policy. Then Obama would remind people that, notwithstanding any fearmonger tactics by the wingnuts, our major issues right now are economic and domestic issues, which Petraeus knows nothing about, and not guns and bombs. Having Petraeus move to CENTCOM helps Obama: Petraeus can’t stray too far from Obama’s policy, at least openly; if he defies Obama publicly like MacArthur did to Truman he will go down in flames like Mac did. Also CENTCOM is a five-year job so Petraeus would have to quit part-way through like Palin, in order to run in 2012, which would look cheesy.
But keep an eye on Petraeus. Because the Red Team is keeping an eye on him.
Once before a general served under a president in wartime and then tried to take the White House from him in an election. In 1864, Lincoln represented the people who wanted wholeheartedly to win the Civil War, and George McClellan, erstwhile general-in-chief of the northern army, represented the people who really didn’t have their hearts in it. Originally Lincoln himself thought he was doomed for the 1864 race, but then the war news took a turn for the better and people realized that Lincoln knew what he was doing and McClellan didn’t. Lincoln won by 10 points.
Two differences between 1864 and a potential 2012 race: McClellan proved himself to be a weak military leader, a problem which Petraeus would not have. And in 1864 much of the South couldn’t vote.
In addition to Petraeus’ ignorance of non-military issues, there is the simple fact that government is a profession, and so is politics. Obama has proven himself as a master of both, crafting an incredible come-from-behind victory in 2008 – the primary/caucus strategy, the speeches, the debates, the unshakeable cool in tough times – and a superb tactician in working the legislative levers to get the bills he wants. Petraeus brings none of this to the table. The popular myth, going back two centuries, is that even an inexperienced, common man like Andrew Jackson, Abe Lincoln or Harry Truman can succeed as President, but today the job is too complex and it requires a competent professional.
Eight years of Bush proved that.