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November 14, 2007

The Democrats Get A Moment

I've been meaning to link to Ed Kilgore's taxonomy of Democratic national security approaches for a few days now, but am just finally getting around to it.  So here: a link.  Kilgore is very trenchant on the failed strategies Democrats use, from the diversionary efforts to, as Tom Frank once said on a panel with me, refocus "national security on economic insecurity," to the attempts to extinguish the differences and win through mimicry.  But I think Kilgore's favored alternative, which is essentially "find ways to compete with Republicans on national security without supporting their policies and positions," is a bit easier said than done.  And we're only now reaching a point where it even can be done.

The most politically salient foreign policy fact of the past few years was that no Democrat had a visceral connection to 9/11.  George W. Bush was in the White House, Rudy Giuliani running New York.  Republicans owned the immediate response, and not simply because of messaging capabilities.  The owned it because they occupied the relevant positions of responsibility.  Had Gore been president on that day, it would have been entirely different.  Democratic ineptitude played a part in their post-9/11 losses, but even a stronger, more sophisticated party would have been in the backseat.  Now that Bush's policies have proven a resounding failure, and now that foreign policy authority isn't entirely contingent on proximity to 9/11, Democrats are getting an opportunity to prove their own vision.  But they won't be able to cement anything until they occupy the White House.  Proving yourself on foreign policy requires action, not just rhetoric, and only the executive can engage in that action.  So I'd add a sixth to Ed's list -- occupying the White House and proving capable of adeptly responding to foreign policy crises.  That they didn't have the Oval office doesn't excuse Democrats' failures in the opposition, but it's part of why they've been unable to distinguish themselves on the subject.  When it comes to foreign policy, voters have a show, don't tell, attitude.

November 14, 2007 in Foreign Policy | Permalink

Comments

People don't look at policies when they determine if people are strong or weak, they look at personality. Democratic weakness on national security has been, for at least 20 years now, the product of the personal weakness of our candidates. They want to talk too much about policies, when strength is a visceral thing. You will never look like strong by following your enemy's lead, you will only look strong if you hit him and keep hitting him until you're both covered in blood.

Posted by: soullite | Nov 14, 2007 9:55:43 AM

"The most politically salient foreign policy fact of the past few years was that no Democrat had a visceral connection to 9/11."

Hmm. Even as an Edwards fan, I have to concede that Clinton has some 9/11 creds, at least in dealing with the aftermath (not to speak of that her hubby's administration left the Bushies a dire warning, that those morons simply ignored). Come to think of it, isn't it strange that Hillary didn't bring up the issue (preventing NYC from falling into depression after the attack) in her campaign so far? I seem to remember she fought hard and successfully for federal support, or are there some corpses in the cellar?

Btw, isn't Kilgore one of those goddamn awful Dem centrists? He was in the DLC, together with his good buddy, the Bull(shit) Moose, right? Not exactly a good source for progressive policies...
:-/

Posted by: Gray | Nov 14, 2007 9:55:54 AM

"The most politically salient foreign policy fact of the past few years was that no Democrat had a visceral connection to 9/11."

Hmm. Even as an Edwards fan, I have to concede that Clinton has some 9/11 creds, at least in dealing with the aftermath (not to speak of that her hubby's administration left the Bushies a dire warning, that those morons simply ignored). Come to think of it, isn't it strange that Hillary didn't bring up the issue (preventing NYC from falling into depression after the attack) in her campaign so far? I seem to remember she fought hard and successfully for federal support, or are there some corpses in the cellar?

Btw, isn't Kilgore one of those goddamn awful Dem centrists? He was in the DLC, together with his good buddy, the Bull(shit) Moose, right? Not exactly a good source for progressive policies...
:-/

Posted by: Gray | Nov 14, 2007 9:57:30 AM

Oops, sry for double posting. Firefox screwed up, or was it typepad?` :-/

Posted by: Gray | Nov 14, 2007 9:58:48 AM

Soullite nails it. Nominate somebody who seems like he could personally stomp the shit out of Osama bin Laden, and any "national security" problems melt away.

Unfortunately, we don't have anybody like that. Hillary is maybe the closest, especially after years of GOP propaganda about how much of a heartless bitch she is, which I think is going to bite them in the ass in a major way.

The alternative is to try to bring things back to normal, when "national security" wasn't a major issue in presidential elections (remember when the first Bush tried to run for reelection on his foreign policy experience?).

Posted by: Jason C. | Nov 14, 2007 10:12:57 AM

"The alternative is to try to bring things back to normal, when "national security" wasn't a major issue in presidential elections"

Exactly! It's the economy, stupids! Just wait for the great depression of 2008...

Posted by: Gray | Nov 14, 2007 10:21:12 AM

I think you probasbly need top be clearer about the definition of "democratic ineptitude" - I suspect that what Ezra means is that "if they'd handled post-9/11 better they could have won in 2002 or 2004" and I'm not sure that's true (I'm also not sure, at this point, that it makes much difference - coulda shoulda woulda). I think everyone has a visceral connection to 9/11, and while I think several key leadership positions on that day were held by Republicans, that's oversimplifying the problem. I think Bush/Rove spent several post 9/11 years exploiting people's fears, and fear is a wild card that's hard to control. If I think Democrats could have done more to help climb under those fears and help people see that they weren't real (and I do), I also think fear is irrational and rationality only solves but so much. What I think Republicans have never handled well is the grief that has followed 9/11 - their dismissals of memorials, their coldness to the widows and families who don't automatically tow the GOP line... these things, I think, are what's hurt. Democrats do compassion well, and I think, frankly, its our visceral connection to 9/11. Republicans on 9/11 saw a terrorist attack on our soil that needed to be avenged; I think Democrats saw a tragedy that should never happen again. There are similarities there... but it's not the same thing. I think one of our best cases now is to say "we tried it their way... perhaps it's time to try something else."

Posted by: weboy | Nov 14, 2007 10:30:25 AM

If Dems had been in charge on 9/11, the overwhelming narratve would have been about their incompetence, and how they let such a horriying event even occur, how they could not possibly be trusted to protect American Lives.

You don't believe me? Go look up who is now the governer of Louisiana and why. Perhaps it is a blessing that nobody remembers Hillary Clinton was in town that day.

The day the Democrats stand up to Republicans is the day the public will grant them National Security creds.

Posted by: NEliberal | Nov 14, 2007 10:37:42 AM

"If Dems had been in charge on 9/11, the overwhelming narratve would have been about their incompetence, and how they let such a horriying event even occur, how they could not possibly be trusted to protect American Lives."

If Clinton would have had a third term,this wouldn't have happened. Remember, his administration was aware of the danger. They left the Bush gang a dire warning that Al Quaeda was up to soemthing. But the morons ignored that and didn't step up security one little bit. As we all know now, the information was already there before 9/11, ready to be found by anyone who would have cared to connect the dots. This dog won't hunt, 'NEliberal' (huh! Deliberately camouflaging your party affiliation?)

Oh, and btw, Blanco didn't win because many of her voters where scattered all over the US after Katrina, as we all know very well. Take your effing spin and shove it up yours.
:P

Posted by: Gray | Nov 14, 2007 11:02:07 AM

"Now that Bush's policies have proven a resounding failure,..."

Unfortunately, Ezra, the 2008 election is most likely to be contested with a decidedly non-trivial percentage of the electorate either flatly disagreeing with the above comment; or else quite willing to acsribe blame for said failures somewhere other than the GW Bush Administration.

It's a issue of fundamental strategy, not tactics, IMO: as long as the bedrock principle of US foreign policy remains a sort of benign neo-imperialism (i.e., We are the permanent Good Guys, and foreign countries that we invade and occupy owe us a debt of gratitude for "liberating" them in the name of "freedom" and "democracy") - anyone (especially Democrats) who dare to question the correctness of this view are simply going to lay themselves open to charges of "weakness". And, sadly, the Bloody Shirt of 9/11/01 still has a lot of waves left in it.


Posted by: Jay C | Nov 14, 2007 11:07:37 AM

Gray,

I don't think NE liberal was agreeing with the hypothetical media narrative s/he posed, but rather stating the fact of the matter -- the media had it out for Clinton and likely would have lambasted him if the events of 9/11 had occured on his watch. He would not have received the same "we must dutifully rally around the Pres. in a time of war" response that Bush did. IOKIYAR is alive and well.

And while Blanco did loose in large part of because of the scattering, I wouldn't be surprised if the IOKIYAR double standard wasn't involved there as well.

Anyway, soulite and NEliberal's points stand -- the way for the Dems. to be perceived as strong on national security matters is for them to stand up to the GOP.

Posted by: DAS | Nov 14, 2007 11:09:47 AM

But the morons ignored that and didn't step up security one little bit.

If stepping up security is a big plus and you are willing to push this, how does the Democrats reluctance to secure the border and in particular, Hillary's support of Spitzer's failed attempt to give drivers licenses to illegal aliens fly?

It seems that if you play up the need for security, you're shooting yourself.

Posted by: El viajero | Nov 14, 2007 11:14:40 AM

If you want to take a page out of your enemies book and become successful -- look to the example of Ronald Reagan. Running on a platform of negativity will always be a way to lose. Leaders need to present hope and a positive solution to the people they lead. Indeed, there is not much more that a leader can do than present a positive vision for what should be. It may prove to difficult to pull off, but this means that Bush bashing needs to end now. He is a lame duck and is not the opponent. Dems must now start presenting a positive solution for Iraq, Afghanistan and terrorism that stands on its own and cease whining about the "worst president ever."

Posted by: DCPI | Nov 14, 2007 11:18:59 AM

"If stepping up security is a big plus..."

Blah blah. Shifting the goalposts again, Traveler? Would you pls answer first if you agree that Bush could have prevented 9/11? Than we can talk about border security...

Posted by: Gray | Nov 14, 2007 11:23:57 AM

"Running on a platform of negativity will always be a way to lose."
No. People only say they hate negativity, but in reality, they love it. Why else the massive public interest in negative publicity, like OJ, Paris, Brittany, and those highly popular talk shows featuring really horrible morons? People love it when someone gets a good bashing. Even in politics. ->Bush vs. Kerry 2004.

And since only Ron Paul really distanced himself from Bush's policy, it's inevitable to beat Bush, too, in order to kick republican asses.

Posted by: Gray | Nov 14, 2007 11:30:38 AM

Gray: Take the advice or ignore it, but I am confident it is the simplest and best advice the Dems could now take. Going negative on your specific opponent is indeed necessary in the final stage of an election, but it needs to be a secondary thrust tied to an optimistic vision for the FUTURE. No one likes a candidate whining and crying over milk spilled in the past, and at this point Bush IS spilled milk as far as his opponents should be concerned. So, BTW is Iraq. The invasion cannot be undone, Bush cannot be reelected. Find a positive solution to talk about. Then, when you know your opponent, point out his negatives, then talk some more about a positive vision. Oh yes ... keep it all simple too. Forget about "framing" and the other nonsense ... it makes you guys sound disingenuous and belittles the people you want to lead. People sniff that out.

Posted by: DCPI | Nov 14, 2007 11:54:35 AM

Would you pls answer first if you agree that Bush could have prevented 9/11?

I don't honestly know if Bush could have prevented the attack.

Posted by: El viajero | Nov 14, 2007 12:09:52 PM

It makes no difference to the next election whether Bush could have prevented 9/11. It happened. Iraq happened. What is the Dems vision for the post 2009 world? That is what is at issue. Keep the vision simple and hopeful and you may win. Make it pessimistic and complex and you likely lose.

Posted by: DCPI | Nov 14, 2007 12:18:39 PM

Gray is probably right. Nobody likes to say it, but I really doubt there would have been a successful terrorist attack if Clinton or Gore had been president. They were already in the mix, and already concerned about this issue. Bush could have cared less.

And El, yes. Increased security for a very short period of time would have been vastly preferred to the total gutting of the constitution we have seen over the last 7 years. We no longer observe entire amendments to the constitution, and everyone pretends that nothing is wrong.

And seriously, are you suggesting that negative politics don't work? Have you been asleep for the last few decades?

Posted by: soullite | Nov 14, 2007 12:26:52 PM

I'd like to think Gore wouldn't have responded with "thanks you've covered your ass" or whatever when informed about the threat of an Al Qaeda attack.

Posted by: Ron | Nov 14, 2007 12:31:44 PM

"Going negative on your specific opponent is indeed necessary in the final stage of an election, but it needs to be a secondary thrust tied to an optimistic vision for the FUTURE."

Ok, agreed, this sounds quite different, DCPI. And I want to add, the best method is to outsource the mudslinging. The candidate himself should have clean hands.

Posted by: Gray | Nov 14, 2007 12:49:48 PM

soullite: Of course, pointing out the negatives of your opponent does contribute to a win but it cannot win against an opponent with a credible, simple and optimistic vision unless you also offer a credible, simple and optimistic vision. Negative campaigning is a tactic to be used during the last months prior to an election after one has established ones bona fides as a leader -- which means providing an optimistic path to a better future, not cataloging the ills of the world.

At this moment (Nov 2007), the Dems have no idea who their opponent will be. This is the time to provide a positive vision to excite and motivate people. People vote for a candidate with a positive and easily understood vision for the future. Leadership is not about doing, it is about motivating. Negative messages do not motivate.

Remember, Bush is a lame duck. What he did does not matter in the next election. If the Dems stay focused on pointing out Bush's negatives at the expense of creating a positive vision for the future, they will lose. Whoever the Republican candidate is will have an easy time painting the Dems as negative when he goes into negative campaign mode next summer.

That is the core reason why both Gore and Kerry lost. Bush should have been easy to beat both times, but both Gore and Kerry failed acted like chicken littles and not leaders.

Optimisim, BTW, is more important in the area of national defense than any other policy area. If the Dems are to be seen as capable on national defense they must present an optimistic, forward looking role for America that stands behind the country and the people who give their lives in its name. Failing that, they will not be credible.

Posted by: DCPI | Nov 14, 2007 12:55:26 PM

The natural patriotic impulse toward national solidarity on foreign policy more than reinforces what you say about holding office.

The risk of attacking Bush as a traitor is high, but declining rapidly.

The real opportunity for Democrats is that 2009 is a rare opportunity to actually change American foreign policy dramatically, and to brand the Republicans as disloyal, corrupt and incompetent.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Nov 14, 2007 1:29:11 PM

If Clinton was so ontop of the threat what exactly did they do besides leave a "DIRE" warning on the kitchen counter when they left? 8 years in office Clinton did nothing to stem the threat of Al Quida, and your falling over each other to insist they had no responsibility for it, that's why Liberals are considered weak on national defence. You just don't get it.

Note to Bush huge freakin threat from Osama, we haven't taken any action in 8 years but see if you can't solve the problem in the next 7 months, good luck BC.

Posted by: Nate O | Nov 14, 2007 1:33:52 PM

8 years in office Clinton did nothing to stem the threat of Al Quida, and your falling over each other to insist they had no responsibility for it, that's why Liberals are considered weak on national defence.

While true, that's not the only reason. They also block every attempt to secure the borders. They are willing to risk our security to appease certain groups that they believe might vote for them. Security for power.

Posted by: El viajero | Nov 14, 2007 1:42:07 PM

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