Monday, September 04, 2006
In Search of a Democratic Foreign Policy
Justin Logan’s post last week on the American Prospect online edition addresses the continuing struggle by the Democratic Party to formulate a post-September 11 foreign and national security policy. Concluding his analysis of the divide between Democratic Party grass-roots activists, who are fiercely critical of all aspects of the Bush administration’s foreign and national security policy and seem to largely favor a rapid end to American involvement in Iraq, and Democratic Party policy makers and intellectuals, who are also critical of Bush and Co. yet still fairly hawkish on Iraq and national security, Logan warns that, “The danger is that casting a ballot for a Dem in ’08 will yield a reheated, squishier version of the Bush doctrine.” This is a silly conclusion. Can anyone see President Hillary Clinton invading Syria, a la the Bush doctrine’s call for preventive war? However, Lamont’s broader (implicit) point, that Democratic Party leaders are not wholly responsive to activist concerns about foreign and security policy, is trenchant. In fact, this is a fundamental problem that Democrats have yet to solve. Traditionally, Democratic Presidential hopefuls have responded by talking tougher than Republicans, like John F. Kennedy in 1960. However, Kennedy had the luxury of talking tough about the Soviets while still appealing to Democratic voters on domestic progressive issues, like fighting poverty and addressing civil rights issues. Plus, the fact that Democratic voters were not nearly as critical of Republican foreign and national security policy prescriptions left Kennedy plenty of room to take a hawkish national security stance. Party leaders today must appease a base that is animated first and foremost by its rejection of some or all of the Bush administration’s foreign and national security policy. Current Democratic grass-roots voters seem to either take progressive domestic policies as a given or place secondary importance on them. Party leaders must therefore address the following conundrum: how do they reconcile the concerns of this base with the need to craft policy positions that appeal to centrist Democrats, independents and even some Republicans? Republican reaction to leftist Ned Lamont’s recent defeat of centrist Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary offers a case in point. Conservatives gleefully highlighted Lamont's victory as proof that Democrats are out of touch with the concerns of mainstream voters. Democrats dismissed such talk and still speak of regaining the House and possibly the Senate in November’s mid-term elections. However, their success in November and in 2008 will rest in no small part on their ability to craft a message that gets its base to the voting booth and appeals to centrists.