One of the best post-election articles/discussions I have come across is this diary on DailyKos entitled Understanding the South. It offers a first-person view of Southern voters, how they come to make their decisions, and what kind of politics appeals to them. It's a fascinating read, and I would categorize it as a must for anyone interested in understanding how to plan effective national political strategies, or running for office in the future (that's you, Steve Ruckman).
There are a number of interesting takeaways from the article, of which I'll highlight two:
1. We should have nominated Dean The following paragraph illustrates why I was high on Howard Dean from the beginning, and strongly believe he possesses a number of the qualities that we need to look for in future candidates:
More than anything else, Southerners value authenticity. To illustrate this, let me get a bit anecdotal and tell you about my father, whom if you remember is a card carrying, rock-ribbed conservative who listens to Rush Limbaugh nearly every single day. Anybody care to take a wild guess about who he wanted to win this election? To those who guessed George W. Bush, nice try, but no cigar. My father wanted Howard Dean to win. He liked the fact that governor said what he meant and meant what he said. He liked Dean's record with the Vermont budget. And he doesn't like George W. Bush that much, so he was eager to vote for someone else, but only if they met his criteria. Ironically enough, Howard Dean met this criteria. John Kerry, unfortunately, didn't. The 'voted for before I voted against' meme was just too damaging in my father eyes (as well as many others, I would imagine.)
As Democrats, I believe, the first step is that we need to be braver. Howard Dean had all the right opinions, and connected that with the vision to inspire. He's a real person; you listen to him and you understand what he's like. But we (or the people in Iowa) chickened out. We went with the one who looks like a President. Might I remind you: take a look at the current occupant of the White House. And Bill Clinton. And Jimmy Carter. And Ronald Reagan. Guys like Howard Dean get elected these days. If we are brave enough.
2. It can't be just a TV campaign The South, and other Republican areas, cannot be won by 30-second spots featuring the candidate. What's coming out, from this article and others, is that people just really don't understand what Democratic policies mean. Vision, like Bush's, they can understand. But policy is complicated.
Running a slick national campaign with high-dollar ads can do a little bit, but that strategy alone will never win in the South. It's not that people aren't willing to vote in their economic interests, but many are simply unaware that voting Democrat would be in their economic interest. We must get much more creative and energetic in communicating to the average voter.
So I strongly agree with the recommendation herein that it takes a long, grassroots battle beginning in local chapters and small races, to educate people on what Democrats are trying to do for them. After all, we are the ones that ARE trying to do things for lower-income people. But we can't educate them through soundbites.
Concerted Policy Needed to Solve Looming Economic Crisis
An piece in yesterday's Times nicely lays out the economic problems with the current state of affairs (high budget and trade deficits, low dollar). It likens todays situation to a similar one faced by Reagan in 1985 (difference is dollar was overvalued) and discusses how Reagan set a concerted course to improve the circumstances with proactive policy.
For the short version, print out and start reading at the top of Page 2 - the paragraph that starts "In broad schematic terms...".
Rumsfeld has got to be on his way out. When Senators from your own party including such notables as John McCain, Majority Leader Trent Lott, and future Presidential candidate Chuck Hagel all criticize and say they've lost faith in you, I think your days are numbered.
To me, the signatures on the letters to dead soldiers' families is a big deal. As one family member said, that signature means that at least for one second the Secretary was forced to think about their son/daughter. Not doing that sacred duty, which even Presidents, including Bush, have taken the time for throughout history, is an indication of the cold-heartedness of Mr. Rumsfeld.
A worthwhile read from Saturday's NYTimes on Tommy Thompson's warning of the simplicity of terrorists targeting the food supply, and how we can prevent it. The article talks about how small farms have been consolidated into megafarms, by the likes of ConAgra and Archer Daniels Midland. Any terrorist that targeted the process at just one of these megafarms could have a huge impact on a significant percentage of the food Americans eat.
The article's title bears its recommendation: "Think Globally, Eat Locally". Farmers markets and other mechanisms to support small, independent farms are the key.
Incidentally, it was the Freedom to Farm Act signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 that enabled this nightmare to come about - the ironically named bill opened up the market for oversupply and price slashing, putting many family farmers out of business, and putting the majority of our food in the hands of a few huge companies.
Senator Biden is good at articulating how I feel about this adminstration. This morning on Meet the Press, you could see in his eyes and hear in his voice the comforting disdain for the arrogance and incompetence of Bush & co. Thank God there are still some people in Washington that understand what's going on.
Text of Biden's comment in the link below.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi told Mark Shields in a column in The Washington Post that you can buy radio jammers for $10,000 to put in the trucks and Humvees in Iraq, and that they would pick up these improvised explosive devices which account for half the deaths and half the injuries. Why haven't we put these radio jammers in these vehicles?
SEN. BIDEN: Look, I just think it's part of the ideology that sort of propelled us into this war. Let's-- I'm going to get in trouble with my colleagues here, but the fact of the matter is from the very beginning, the Pentagon civilian leadership believed this could be done much cheaper, with many fewer troops and much more quickly. Almost all of the outside experts left and right said that wasn't possible. So we started off with a significant deficit. We sent young troops over there, whether we like to admit it or not, without the body armor. We sent them over without the armor for their vehicles. We sent the 1st Calvary over there without all of their mechanized divisions that they wanted to have there.
And the truth of the matter is there's been this overwhelming reluctance to acknowledge the mistakes we made or hold anyone accountable. I don't care about holding anyone accountable. But when the production lines of the two outfits that can make the kits to provide the armor for these Humvees and the Humvees are telling us that their production lines could produce a lot more than they're doing now, we act like, "Oh, no, we didn't know that."
The truth of the matter is there seems to be a reluctance within the civilian leadership of the Pentagon to acknowledge any of these things. And let me tell you something. I don't know about these guys, but when I come home from these trips in Iraq--this is my first one--I meet with the National Guard folks, I meet with the guys who have been there and come back. Almost to a person, they're proud but complainant about what that young man from Tennessee said. They don't quite understand. We just sent a Black Hawk helicopter crew over. I get calls from the wives. They wanted fabric for seats because the seats were torn. Imagine that. And this Pentagon and this president acts like, "Oh, no. They've got all they need."
This is the last thing I'll say. On your program before the election, I said to you that they were going to call for an additional 12,000 to 20,000 troops before this election came up. President, the secretary of defense, everybody said, "Absolutely not. We have all the troops we need." Day after the election, bang, 12,000 more troops. Everybody knows the truth. The truth is we have not armed these kids well enough. We have not done all we can do from those jammers right through to the armor. That's part of the reason why I believe, in addition to the war, people aren't signing up.
So, in the ongoing saga of the poisoning of the man who's trying to bring democracy to Ukraine, it turns out it was an ingredient of Agent Orange that they poisoned him with. Man, politics in Ukraine is serious business.
For soldiers, the downside of going to war is not just death. Many come home with life-altering mental problems, and are haunted by their memories that disable their ability to lead a normal life. It's another of the tragedies of war. This article from the Times includes stories of a Marine who shoots himself in the arm in the bathroom to avoid the battle, a 23-yr old from Belchertown, Mass (right next to Amherst) who hangs himself because he's troubled by the thought that he might have killed unarmed Iraqis.
I'm not a pacifist, but these are heart-breaking stories.
The latest on the Bernard Kerik story is that there may be no nanny at all, and that the story was made up to cover up the other problems Kerik had that have come to light - such as two long-term affairs, being married to two women at the same time (including one nobody knew about) for a short period in the 70s, his payments from the Taser board, etc.
Here's a good analysis from those good analyzers over at Emerging Democratic Majority on the subject of Exurbia. "Exurbs" are described as the settlements beyond the suburbs, where a large percentage of the population has been moving lately. They generally work in offices located in the suburbs, so the exurbs are their "suburbs of the suburbs". And they are generally wealthy and Republican. Think of hedge fund managers in Greenwich, CT - many work in the Connecticut suburbs and rarely come to NYC, if ever.
Just because I don't think I've linked to this site before, I'd like to point you all to Operation Truth, a website started by former Army soldier and Amherst student body president Paul Reickhoff. The site aims to be an advocate for current and former military people and seeks to get the Pentagon and the White House to be honest and upfront with the military and their families, to provide for the needs of soldiers, and correspondingly to tell the true story of what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan directly from the front lines.
Nicholas Kristof, idiosyncratic Op/Ed contributor for the NYTimes, has strong words on Vladimir Putin in today's paper.
The bottom line is that the West has been suckered by Mr. Putin. He is not a sober version of Boris Yeltsin. Rather, he's a Russified Pinochet or Franco. And he is not guiding Russia toward free-market democracy, but into fascism.
Lots of talk about the dollar lately. Probably more people, especially in Europe, know about foreign exchange rates and their economic implications than ever before.
Here's a quick summary of how it works. As the dollar continues to slide, many believe it's a positive for American businesses - their products will seem cheaper to foreigners, and foreign products will be more expensive to us, thus our exports will go up, imports down, and the trade deficit (imports minus exports) will be reduced. Reducing that gap would be a good thing because it would require the U.S. to borrow less... ie. as we send our money overseas to foreign companies, and not as much comes back, the govt. has to borrow to make up the difference. On the order of $2bn a day currently. The more we borrow, the weaker our dollar gets, and the cycle continues. Interest rate increases and inflation generally accompany increased borrowing as well.
Well, since the dollar is down 55% since Feb 02 (man - I remember when a Euro cost $0.88. Now it's $1.34), the trade deficit should have shrunk in tandem. Not so. We are still consuming increasing amounts of foreign goods. The government's weak dollar policy hasn't worked.
As I learned in college, coordinated successful economic policy isn't easy. But the Bush Administration's spiraling budget deficits (combined with talk of adding $2 trillion to privatize social security) has reduced foreign confidence in investing in America. What we need is a balanced budget. But we won't get that until we elect a Democrat (strange, but true). For now, we should insist that every initiative Bush pushes from here on is revenue-neutral or revenue-additive.
Some economists believe that the administration, while publicly professing support for a strong dollar, actually prefers the decline in the greenback's value against other currencies as a way of dealing with the country's huge trade deficit.
I consider AIDS a political problem (as well as humanitarian one), so it will get some play on this blog from time to time. The following graphic found on Yahoo really struck me:
Lesotho (that country the size of Maryland within South Africa) has 320,000 people living with HIV. Out of 1.9 million people total, or 17% of the population. The U.S.A. has 3x as many people infected with HIV (950,000 estimated), but 154x the population (293 million). The life expectancy in Lesotho is 36.
If you add up the HIV cases in the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Eritrea it equals the amount in the U.S., but their combined populations (33 million) is just over a tenth of the U.S. population.
AIDS in Africa is a problem of epic proportions, and we have to keep talking about it so our politicians start paying more attention. Many of these countries can't make progress because their entire national output is used to pay interest on the debt they've incurred from foreign governments, the world bank, IMF, etc. They can't break out of the cycle, and they're largely voiceless in the international arena.
I'll also add that if we want to spend billions of dollars saving people from tragedy in foreign countries, perhaps there are better ways to do it than bombing cities. If we diverted just $10 billion from the money spent in Iraq, we could appropriately fight AIDS in Africa for a year.
With all the talk about Bernard Kerik, it occurred to me this morning that nothing has been said (at least that I've read) about the possibility of Rudy Giuliani being nominated as Sec of Homeland Security. Why is that? After all, it was Rudy that was the "comforting", "on-the-ball" manager in the wake of 9/11, not the guy standing (mostly) silently next to him. And obviously Rudy would have more political skill and be better able to navigate the Washington scene.
So my thought was - has he told GWB that he's gunning for the Prez nomination in 2008? That's the only thing I can think of - otherwise it seems like the perfect job for him. Perhaps he's happy to make money - he recently started an investment bank. But I don't think that's the whole story. I think Rudy really believes it's his job if he wants it. Time will tell.
I'm linking to this site on the New England Journal of Medicine, which has a photo essay of doctors caring for wounded in Iraq. The pictures are gory, and awful, and I'm sure I'll get some criticism for linking to it, but when we go to war, this is what we do to young men, and we cannot hide from that fact.
Now that Kerik's out (for whatever reason), some noise is being made again around Joe Lieberman for Homeland Security Director or National Intelligence Director.
I don't like this for a number of reasons. Yes, I disagree with Joe Lieberman on foreign policy issues (he's a hawk), and yes I'd hate to lose another Dem senator, no matter who he is, because the GOP gets closer to 60 that way (Conn gov would probably appoint a Republican). But more importantly, I just don't like the idea of any Democrat joining this administration, having to say good things about them. And I especially don't like, as someone pointed out in the Kos diaries, the potential of a terrorist attack being blamed on a Democrat.
I hope Lieberman is offered the job, and publicly turns it down.
Having had the weekend to read more closely David Sirota's article, I have to say that a lot of what he says seems to be the direction most people are taking on where the Democrats go next. The values part / appealing to religious people is important. But that could be correlated with a return to the "party of the people" populism of the past. (say that 5 times fast)
I think this is the key line:
The point is to follow red-region Democrats who have diminished the electoral impact of traditional social issues by redefining the values debate on economic and class terms.
Class-based politics has its drawbacks. It's ugly. It sets up an us vs. them, where the speaker is more often "them" than "us". To solve that issue Democrats should follow the John Edwards example: every chance you can mention that you feel priveleged to be where you are, that it's because of your parents/hard work/fighting against big business/etc.
I am a Democrat because I believe government has an obligation to help the less fortunate. Despite the party's problems, we have always been on the right side of the people vs. the powerful debate. We just need to get that message out.
Bernard Kerik has withdrawn from his nomination as Secretary of Homeland Security. Supposedly because of the dreaded "nanny problem", but might he be feeling the heat that people have been putting on him lately about not being qualified intellectually and managerially for the job?
Here's an article everyone's talking about, which contains an analysis of what some winning Democrats (like the guy who won the Montana governor's mansion) are doing to win seats with populist values by appealing to a wide group of folks. Is this the key?
Slow news day today, but here's an Op/Ed from Wangari Maathai, then Kenyan who won the Nobel Peace Prize for trying to nurture Africa's environment back to health by planting trees. A very pleasant and uplifting article.
A week ago I wrote a post discussing and linking to an article in The New Republic by its president, Peter Beinart, that argued that the Democratic Party needs to eliminate from its ranks those "softs" who don't recognize the importance of the fight against totalitarianism and Iraq's specific role therein, much the same way the party in the 40s had to purge communists to win the trust of the American people.
As you'll see I expressed some reservations, and later had a good email exchange with my friend Seth (the next Bob Schrum of the Democratic Party) about it. Here's another analysis from Ruy Teixeira, who wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority, who links to others on TNR taking issue with the piece. I'll post those two articles in full in the link below.
Noam Scheiber argues that putting all the blame on the party is unfair, and that more of it should fall on the specific candidate we had, rather than the party's message. Included in his piece is a well-stated version on why I liked Dean all along:
It was one reason I thought Dean was a decent strategic choice (at least before his mid-winter gaffe-fest). My feeling was that the party was dysfunctional: You had to win the support of liberals to win the nomination, but what you had to do to win their support basically made you unelectable. The trick, in my mind, was to appeal to liberals in the least substantive (and therefore least damaging) way possible. In Dean, I saw someone who appealed to liberals stylistically--with his angry, anti-Bush screeds--while remaining substantively pretty moderate.
I disagree somewhat with Scheiber's assessment of the 2008 candidates. The most pragmatic democrats will first and foremost want someone who is decisive and strong-willed (Hillary works there). And rather than moving closer to the center (where TNR firmly resides), I think it's more important for the party to remove the stain from liberalism by showing what liberal values mean to working people. But that's another post...
In the second piece (full text in link below), John Judis makes some good points, including the fact that a Dem Party full of Joe Liebermen is likely to make people like me go elsewhere. He also takes Beinart (and Bush) to task for proposing a "neo-imperial" foreign policy. I wholeheartedly agree. I understand that we feel we are doing the right thing for the world by pushing democracy. But if the tables were turned, and Saudi Arabia or Iran had the world's best military, and they strongly believed that the world was better off as a calyphate, would that give them the right to make war at will to convert to that system? See the following quote:
The United States cannot allow a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda, with apocalyptic aims, to kill its citizens; nor could it allow a regime like the Taliban to harbor terrorists. But the United States also has to recognize the roots of Al Qaeda in the cauldron of the Middle East--not in its poverty or destitution, but in its troubled relations to the West, for which the West itself bears some responsibility. Invading and occupying Iraq was exactly the wrong thing to do.
And further, a much-better restatement of the argument I made to Seth:
Should we be engaged, as Peter suggests, in a "global campaign for freedom"? America should always stand for freedom--although not the Republicans' Wal-Mart variety--but what we ought to do about it depends on historical circumstances. No one is suggesting, I hope, that the United States invade or break relations with China because it is still a communist oligarchy. And the Middle East is, if anything, an even more problematic region for advocates of global democracy. Genuine democracy, and not simply a transient, jerry-rigged electoral process erected atop sectarian chaos, will eventually come to that region, but it will be through the initiative of the people themselves, not through the imposition of a hostile power.
Feel free to discuss in the comments
by Noam Scheiber
The major debate going on in the Democratic Party these days is over how much blame to assign John Kerry for his defeat in November versus how much to assign the party itself. The implications are obvious: If the party simply nominated an uncharismatic and unlikeable standard-bearer, we can fix the problem by nominating someone more likeable next time around. But if the party needs a fundamental overhaul, then even a highly charismatic, highly skilled candidate won't save Democrats from themselves in 2008.
In this week's TNR cover story, my boss, Peter Beinart, puts the blame for Kerry's loss squarely on the party. He argues that Democrats lost the election because they failed to convince the country they had a compelling agenda for winning the war on terror, or that this agenda was their highest priority. (It's an assessment I completely agree with.) Peter further argues that there are structural forces within the party that prevent it, or its candidates, from fully embracing national security issues--namely, the party's reflexively dovish left-wing, best epitomized by Michael Moore and MoveOn.org, which he dubs "softs." Peter writes, "Two elections, and two defeats, into the September 11 era, American liberalism still has not had its meeting at the Willard Hotel"--the meeting where anti-Communist liberals decided that the struggle against totalitarianism would be the central struggle of cold-war liberalism. He concludes that "the hour is getting late," by which I take him to mean that Democrats will not regain their political footing until they put the fight against Islamo-fascism at the center of their agenda.
It's on this last point that we disagree. There's no question that today's softs are a problem for Democrats, especially among certain constituencies. (While reporting a piece about Republican outreach to Jewish voters this summer, I heard over and over--even from liberal Jews--that Kerry's reasonable-sounding positions on Israel and the war on terror were being overshadowed by the views of the party's liberal wing on these issues.) There's also no question Peter is right in his long-term prescription. It's hard to imagine Democrats staying competitive as a national party over the next several decades without making national security their central focus--at least not if Islamic terror ends up defining American politics during that time, which we have every reason to believe will be the case. All of that said, I don't see any evidence that the current structure of the Democratic Party prevented John Kerry from winning in 2004, or that it will prevent the party from winning the presidency in 2008--maybe not even in 2012. Peter was, I think, much too hard on the party and much too easy on Kerry.
Where Peter goes wrong is in his analysis of Kerry's victorious primary campaign, which he attributes largely to Kerry's vote against the $87 billion supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan in October 2003. It's certainly true that the Kerry camp felt it had to oppose this funding, given the hold of the party's liberal wing on the nomination process, and given Howard Dean's obvious success at wooing this wing. What's not at all clear is that Kerry's vote actually paid any political dividends for him. Kerry continued to languish far behind Dean in key primary-state polls for some six weeks after the vote. And when Kerry finally did reemerge as a contender in Iowa (and therefore in the larger nomination fight), it wasn't because he'd managed to out-liberal Dean. It was because he'd managed to out-sane him--or at least out-electable him. (And, you could argue, because he'd opted out of the public finance system and started spending millions of his own money.)
A series of gaffes--the biggest being Dean's comment that Saddam Hussein's capture hadn't made America any safer--highlighted Dean's flaws as a candidate. Meanwhile, as Dean imploded, Kerry played up his record of sober, steady leadership and his national security bona fides. He said the country faced a "dual danger": "On one side is President Bush, who has taken America off on a road of unilateralism and ideological preemption. On the other side are those in my own party who threaten to take us down a road of confusion and retreat." At campaign rallies, Kerry told supporters he knew a thing or two about aircraft carriers "for real"--an allusion to George W. Bush's tawdry USS Lincoln landing in May 2003--and that if Bush wanted to make the election about national security, he had three words for him: "Bring it on." The Democratic rank and file ate it up.
The sudden change in the dynamics of the primary race was probably best epitomized by the unofficial Kerry campaign slogan at the time: "Dated Dean, married Kerry." The flirtation with Dean had been a highly satisfying fling, but, when it came time to vote, Democrats wanted someone who could win, not someone who touched them in their Bush-hating erogenous zones. Exit polls of the Iowa caucuses showed Kerry's come-from-behind victory to be almost entirely a function of his perceived electability. In the end, it's likely that a vote in favor of the $87 billion would have actually enhanced Kerry's appeal rather than alienated liberals. At the very least, it's hard to argue that it would have undermined his campaign.
In Peter's (and the Kerry campaign's) defense, I also thought the Democratic base--and its liberal, antiwar reflexes--would be extremely influential in selecting the Democratic nominee. It was one reason I thought Dean was a decent strategic choice (at least before his mid-winter gaffe-fest). My feeling was that the party was dysfunctional: You had to win the support of liberals to win the nomination, but what you had to do to win their support basically made you unelectable. The trick, in my mind, was to appeal to liberals in the least substantive (and therefore least damaging) way possible. In Dean, I saw someone who appealed to liberals stylistically--with his angry, anti-Bush screeds--while remaining substantively pretty moderate. (Dean was more moderate than his reputation even on Iraq. He'd usually concede that, now that we were there, we had to stick around until we'd stabilized the country, because to cut and run would create an even bigger disaster.)
In retrospect, we were all too pessimistic. A heartbreakingly close 2000 election and three years of chafing under Bush had made Democratic primary voters incredibly pragmatic. They valued winning much more than they valued ideological purity, as they eventually demonstrated by nominating Kerry. In fact, had Peter and I (and the rest of the DC commentariat) been paying attention, we'd have realized just how pragmatic the Democratic base really was. One telling example: Michael Moore--Peter's archetypal "soft"--endorsed Wesley Clark several months before the Iowa caucuses. Clark's candidacy actually attracted a lot of support from Hollywood liberals and from the liberal elements of the blogosphere even though, as Peter notes, he promised to make the war on terror the focus of his campaign. Liberals didn't care. They saw Clark as a guy who could beat Bush at his own game. (Though it should be pointed out that Clark opposed the war in Iraq--at least on most days.)
And, of course, all this was doubly true by the time of the general election, by which point the desire to beat Bush was so intense Kerry was actually raising money at a faster clip than the president. Much of that money came from small donors over the Internet--the same group that had fueled Howard Dean's primary campaign. Even more astounding, Bush's colossal bungling of the war in Iraq had become so apparent, that, far from demanding a withdrawal, many liberals began attacking Bush from the right. "In early 2002 the Bush administration, already focused on Iraq, ignored pleas to commit more forces to Afghanistan," Paul Krugman complained in a September 14 column. "In the buildup to the Iraq war, commanders wanted a bigger invasion force to help secure the country. But civilian officials, eager to prove that wars can be fought on the cheap, refused. And that's one main reason our soldiers are still dying in Iraq." The column was warmly received, among other places, on Daily Kos, probably the most influential liberal blog around.
Peter is right that, even during this time, interest in national security among the Democratic rank and file was low (though the polling data he cites doesn't capture the obvious hostility to the Bush administration's Iraq policies). But the Democratic base was so pragmatic in its determination to oust Bush that Kerry could have gotten away with proposing a truly dramatic foreign policy initiative--say, a get-tough policy on Iran, possibly culminating in a military strike--without suffering more than a handful of defections. Making proposals like this a central theme of his campaign would have jarred swing voters out of the presumption that Kerry and the party were chronically suspicious of exercising military power. And it would have done much to reshape the views of swing voters on any number of issues, from Iraq to terrorism to proliferation. That Kerry didn't exploit the leeway liberals gave him is a reflection of his weakness as a candidate, and of his own hyper-cautious, excessively realist worldview.
The irony is that, now that Bush has won reelection, this apparent paradox on the American left--it is programmatically and rhetorically ideological but politically pragmatic--will only be heightened. The left will become even more shrill in its denunciations of Bush and even more worried about the damage the administration is inflicting on the country. But, at the same time, it will become even more convinced of the need to elect a Democratic president in 2008 (and maybe a Democratic congress before then). How do we know? So far, the only two prescriptions to emerge from Democrats' post-election round of self-flagellation have been that the party should move closer to the center on national security and on values (I happen to think the two are actually connected). Almost no one, not even on the far left, has suggested that the next Democratic nominee run further to the left in 2008 than Kerry did in 2004. (To the contrary, Hillary Clinton's stock among likely Democratic primary voters has plummeted since the election, as even liberal Democrats realize the party is unlikely to win running someone with such a liberal reputation.) The upshot is that the Democratic primary candidates in 2008 will have even more leeway to run to the center on security and values than Kerry did this year. Should they choose not to take advantage of that leeway, it will be another historic error--and much less excusable than this year.
One reason to suspect they won't repeat that mistake is that, as Peter points out, the Democratic elite--both the party's foreign policy establishment and its top layer of consultants and strategists--is either hawkish or functionally hawkish (in that it recognizes the political imperative of campaigning as a hawk). The combination of a hawkish elite and a highly pragmatic base probably ensures that the next Democratic nominee will make national security a central theme of his campaign. If you don't believe me, just look at the Republican Party. While it's true, as Peter says, that rank-and-file Republicans are far more concerned with national security than rank-and-file Democrats, it's a stretch to argue that there's much of a constituency in the GOP for the "near-theological faith in the transformative capacity of U.S. military might" that Peter attributes to Bush and Dick Cheney. (After all, the party includes a lot of Midwestern and Southern isolationists who'd just as soon devote the money we're spending in Iraq to tax cuts or agricultural subsidies.) Neoconservatism has been an almost entirely top-down project in the Republican Party to date. But that hasn't made it any less successful politically.
That said, even if it's possible to get by with a hawkish elite and a pragmatic or indifferent base, I agree that it's a lousy strategy for the long term. For one thing, you can't count on the base staying pragmatic forever. For another, when it comes to policy (as opposed to politics), tensions between the desires of the base and the desires of the party elite tend to surface pretty quickly. Had John Kerry won in November, he would have eventually had to choose between opening firehouses in Baghdad and opening those firehouses in Detroit, and that decision could have provoked a nasty intramural fight. (Or, maybe worse, not provoked a fight.) Finally, the tensions between a party's grassroots and its elite over policy tend to create big political opportunities for the opposition party--something we already see on the Republican side. As Peter points out, there's a huge tension between the GOP base's infatuation with tax cuts and the White House's commitments to Iraq and to fighting the war on terror. (Now if only the Democrats would exploit it...)
Ultimately, then, the debate between me and Peter comes down to timing: Peter wants to begin purging the softs and restructuring the Democratic Party today, the implication being that the party can't win again until that happens. (Though Peter would probably concede that things will get worse before they get better.) My advice would be to move more gradually. I'm convinced we can win the White House in 2008 with no top-to-bottom overhaul, just a better candidate and a smarter campaign. At that point, the job of restructuring the party along the lines Peter recommends would become much easier, since a Democratic president would be able to point to a tangible reward for his emphasis on national security (i.e., the White House)--and since, as Peter points out, it's probably easier to reinvent your party when you're in power than when you're powerless (since you can actually enact your desired policies--and reap the rewards from them in terms of public opinion. You can also punish dissidents more effectively.). One could argue that a debate over timing isn't really a debate at all. But it turns out that, in politics, timing is everything. Just ask Howard Dean and John Kerry.
Purpose Driven by John B. Judis
Post date: 12.08.04
There are two points that I strongly agree with in Peter Beinart's recent cover story on the Democratic Party. First, I agree that Kerry's difficulties stemmed to a great extent from his failure to articulate a clear and consistent foreign policy, particularly on the Iraq war. Kerry's equivocation reflected on his character and his ability to extricate the United States from its worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. Second, I agree with what is implicit in Peter's essay: that the Democrats lacked an animating moral purpose, particularly in comparison with Bush and the Republicans. Peter would endow the party with one by adopting a new crusade against terror in imitation of the older crusade against communism; my own feelings on where the Democrats' can find a moral purpose are more in line with historian Eli Zaretsky's take on the subject. But I think on these two points, Peter is generally right and has performed an important service.
As for our areas of disagreement: First, I don't favor his political prescriptions. Initiating factional warfare with, or even purging, everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman will not create a viable Democratic Party. Okay, that may be an exaggeration of what Peter prescribes, but there are clear echoes in his essay of Ben Wattenberg's Coalition for a Democratic Majority, which tried to do something similar after the 1972 Democratic defeat by creating a party centered around Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. The voters didn't buy it, and they won't buy Peter's party either.
Peter also misunderstands MoveOn.org and the various other Internet-based groups that have sprung up in the last five years. They are not an old-fashioned militant left but part of a college-educated post-industrial center-left politics that was developing under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. One of their big issues was the deficit, hardly a left-wing concern. They became identified with "the left" because they were early and prescient opponents of the Iraq war--a position that can no longer simply be identified with the left and that is not a reason to criticize them. Sure, they shouldn't have participated in marches with the Workers World Party, but these new movements are organized by people who don't have long political pedigrees. If anything, they are the best hope for a new moral vision that will animate the Democrats.
It's difficult in a short space to lay out where I disagree with Peter's foreign policy, which is implicit in the piece and not fully explained. For starters, though, I don't accept the comparison between the Cold War and the "war on terror." The Bush administration has used an extraordinary disaster, the September 11 attacks, to justify a politics of fear and a neo-imperial foreign policy. Al Qaeda was the outgrowth--decadent and deranged, to be sure--of the centuries-old conflict between the West and Islam, and particularly of its post-1880s phase, in which the Arab and Islamic countries of the region were dominated, formally and informally, by the British and French and later the Americans. The version of nationalism that arose in response to this domination often took religious--that is, Islamic--form. With Al Qaeda, it has taken an almost entirely religious, messianic form.
That older imperial conflict has still not faded in the Middle East, as it has in, say, much of Asia--and it won't fade as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not equitably resolved and as long as the United States, now the main Western power in the region, is closely identified with autocratic regimes in the Gulf and in Egypt. The Bush administration's war of choice against Iraq and its uncritical support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have only reinforced and deepened the problem.
The United States needed to respond to the September 11 attacks, as it also needed to respond to attacks going back to 1993. But the Bush administration's undifferentiated concept of a war on terror (which Peter himself has criticized) elevated one part of the response to the whole. The United States cannot allow a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda, with apocalyptic aims, to kill its citizens; nor could it allow a regime like the Taliban to harbor terrorists. But the United States also has to recognize the roots of Al Qaeda in the cauldron of the Middle East--not in its poverty or destitution, but in its troubled relations to the West, for which the West itself bears some responsibility. Invading and occupying Iraq was exactly the wrong thing to do. Now the United States needs to find a way to multilateralize and minimize our presence in Iraq, normalize our relations with Iran, and put our full weight behind the resumption of the peace process, regardless of who wins the Palestinian election. The rhetoric of the war on terror--and the comparison with the Cold War--blinds us to these imperatives.
Should we be engaged, as Peter suggests, in a "global campaign for freedom"? America should always stand for freedom--although not the Republicans' Wal-Mart variety--but what we ought to do about it depends on historical circumstances. No one is suggesting, I hope, that the United States invade or break relations with China because it is still a communist oligarchy. And the Middle East is, if anything, an even more problematic region for advocates of global democracy. Genuine democracy, and not simply a transient, jerry-rigged electoral process erected atop sectarian chaos, will eventually come to that region, but it will be through the initiative of the people themselves, not through the imposition of a hostile power.
John B. Judis is a senior editor at TNR and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
I agree that the nine states Bush won by single digits are very attainable, but I think we should steer clear of "targeting" them in the way he describes. Sure, we'd love to "pump resources into state parties and concentrate advertising and voter registration efforts there", but isn't that where we got off track last election - by focusing on a specific-state strategy and losing out on the overall vision?
Wouldn't it be preferable to try to articulate a broad vision that incorporates people everywhere so we need to do less targeting, and more convincing about what liberal principles mean.
Update: I heartily agree with this idea:
For example, to help parents juggle the demands of work and raising their kids, Democrats ought to champion paid parental leave policies as well as flextime arrangements with employers. But they should also talk more about reducing teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births, which have led to an expansion of single-parent families beset by poverty, welfare dependence, and other social ills.
And this one:
Just as religious advocates of the "Social Gospel" infused early 20th century progressivism with moral fervor, Democrats should couch their social initiatives in the language of faith and morality. The sad truth is that since Clinton's departure, Democrats have had little to say about growing poverty and inequality in America. Surely, they are moral issues no less than abortion and gay marriage, and they give Democrats an opportunity to speak unambiguously of right and wrong.
Howard Dean spoke at GW on the Future of the Democratic Party.
Here's a transcript of his remarks.
Personally, I wish he'd articulated a little better what liberalism is all about - commitment to helping others, but I thought it was a fair speech. Here's one quote that was on the right track:
The pundits have said that this election was decided on the issue of moral values. I don't believe that. It is a moral value to provide health care. It is a moral value to educate our young people. The sense of community that comes from full participation in our Democracy is a moral value. Honesty is a moral value.
As I said in this post a few days after the election, I'm pretty high on Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia and consider him a top-5 candidate if he decides to run for Prez.
Indications now are starting to come out that he might skip the Senate race against George Allen in 2006 to run for the White House in 2008. He's very popular in Virginia, which would definitely help out the Democrats in that state particularly and potentially the rest of the rural South.
His challenge is definitely to raise his national profile - I've never heard him talk and I'm sure 80+% of the country don't recognize the name. Candidates like this really have to get working now if they want to challenge Hillary.
"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?" Wilson asked. A big cheer arose from the approximately 2,300 soldiers in the cavernous hangar who assembled to see and hear the secretary of defense.
Donna Brazile, head of Gore's campaign, on the DNC Chair It's all about the grassroots, which is why Howard Dean should be the choice. He has shown his commitment to building the party long-term, by seeding candidates for local races. All politics is local.
Wash governor Gary Locke on the state of the Democratic party Doesn't say much, except that Democrats need to listen to people and talk about their problems. While it would of course be wise for the DNC chair to talk to governors, that runs the risk of articulating a nuanced platform that tries to catch as many of the pet-problems in as many states as possible, rather than starting with the broad vision - eg. reward work not wealth - and finding how that fits in with specific problems.
The NY state government actually did something positive, reducing the ridiculous Rockefeller drug laws for low-level offenders. Although I think they still left sentences too high and didn't give judges enough discretion, it's really the first real thing that's come out of Albany in forever, and it only took a decade to get done. New York currently has the harshest penalties for low-level drug offenders.
A Sensible Voice on Social Security TG for the (temporary) return of Paul Krugman. The "crisis" is dramatically overstated by Republicans seeking to reduce a government program.
The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year.
Red-Diaper Babies David Brooks cites a worrying trend that most of us know intuitively - Republicans have more babies.
Soldiers get Screwed Fast-loan lenders around military bases totally rip off soldiers' families.
Not so Reassuring The U.S.'s Strategic Oil Reserve only covers 2 months of imported oil consumption.
Good Leadership Needed on the Dollar Jeff Garten, dean of the Yale School of Management (and the Barefoot Contessa's well-fed husband), writes to compel Presidential leadership on solving the currency situation as the Dollar continues to devalue. Suggests postponing or repealing part of tax cuts, and postponing social security reform until we have the deficit under control. Democrats should HAMMER Bush on these issues - his managment of the debt/deficit borders on negligence.
Got an email from Eliot Spitzer saying that he will be making an announcement about his "political future" at some point today on his website: http://www.spitzer2006.com
Looks like the governors race is officially starting.
Update: It's official.
I will run for Governor of New York in 2006. I believe I can be a very good governor and I think the people of this state will be pleased by the job I do as governor.
I bring people together whether they like it or not and we tackle complex problems – not with band-aid solutions, but with major reform and real change. We did it in the financial industry and other sectors and we can do it in government.
The Pentagon Defense Science Board released a report, quoted and discussed at DailyKos that contains some pretty upsetting information about America's perception in the Muslim world, and some no-holds-barred criticism on the Bush Administration's handling of foreign policy situations:
There is consensus in these reports that U.S. public diplomacy is in crisis. Missing are strong leadership, strategic direction, adequate coordination, sufficient resources, and a culture of measurement and evaluation. America's image problem, many suggest, is linked to perceptions of the United States as arrogant, hypocritical, and self-indulgent. There is agreement too that public diplomacy could be a powerful asset with stronger Presidential leadership, Congressional support, inter-agency coordination, partnership with the private sector, and resources (people, tools, structures, programs, funding). Solutions lie not in short term, manipulative public relations. Results will depend on fundamental transformation of strategic communication instruments and a sustained long term, approach at the level of ideas, cultures, and values.
One of the statements that annoys me most, which many of my friends say frequently, is that Hillary Clinton would get beaten soundly if she ran for President in 2008. Everyone talks about how some people hate her so much, and that might be true, but no one can ever explain why. If you're among the Hillary-haters, I'd love for you to post a comment explaining why. I'd also like to point out that many (more) people hate George Bush, and he is a two-term President.
Anyway, I'm the opposite - I think she's great. And I think she's got a shot at being President. The Times wrote an article on it this morning - which included the factoid that her advisers are considering skipping re-election in 2006 to focus on 2008 (clearly a challenge either way).
I'm in her camp for now. While I'm open to other candidates, I think she's one of the most qualified, and I always prefer to think about qualifications for the job before politics, hoping that America will eventually choose the best person rather than the most likeable.
So some NY state Republicans are talking to billionaire Thomas Golisano, who's run for governor as an independent and lost three times, about running on the GOP ticket if Pataki decides not to run again. The AP says many Republicans have been "highly critical of the direction of the party in the wake of the November election in which Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer scored a record re-election win and the GOP majority in the state Senate was eroded. ...Many GOP leaders are concerned about retaining the governorship...." Yeah, I'd be concerned too.
MATTHEWS: How old were you when you chose to be heterosexual?
FALWELL: Oh, I don't remember that.
MATTHEWS: Well, you must, because you say it's a big decision.
FALWELL: Well, I started dating when I was about 13.
MATTHEWS: And you had to decide between boys and girls. And you chose girls.
FALWELL: I never had to decide. I never thought about it.
Perhaps a lot of people in the country don't care who the Homeland Security secretary is, or listen much to what he says, but as a New Yorker I care and I listen. So I have to say that the pick of Bernard Kerik, former NYC police chief, as well as today's announcement of an increase in funds to high-target cities, get my approval, from a keeping NYC safe perspective.
Kerik, however, must also do a lot more than Tom Ridge to ensure domestic security - including better safety of nuclear facilities, increased inspections of shipping crates, increased immigration policing and airport detection.
Thanks to my attorney-at-law friend Seth for sending this article from The New Republic (full text in link below), which argues that the left should look to the anti-communist movement embraced by Democrats in the late 1940s as a model for how to rework liberalism today. It says that Democrats need to embrace the fight against totalitarianism as a primary tenet, rather than ceding it to the Right in favor of emphasis on domestic issues.
I'm dubious about one of the underlying themes - the implication that the majority of Democrats agree with MoveOn and Michael Moore's 2002 criticism of fighting the war on terror (the Taliban). I think most Democrats, even most members of MoveOn like myself, agree with that move, but not in the reckless, somewhat indiscriminate military overthrow of dictators.
I'm also skeptical of TNR in general. They are a very centrist publication (endorsed Leiberman) that I don't think represents my politics.
Nevertheless, the purpose of this blog is to expand our knowledge base, and these types of articles are educational.
AN ARGUMENT FOR A NEW LIBERALISM.
A Fighting Faith
by Peter Beinart
Post date: 12.02.04
Issue date: 12.13.04
n January 4, 1947, 130 men and women met at Washington's Willard Hotel to save American liberalism. A few months earlier, in articles in The New Republic and elsewhere, the columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop had warned that "the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction." Liberals, they argued, "consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West." Unless that changed, "In the spasm of terror which will seize this country ... it is the right--the very extreme right--which is most likely to gain victory."
During World War II, only one major liberal organization, the Union for Democratic Action (UDA), had banned communists from its ranks. At the Willard, members of the UDA met to expand and rename their organization. The attendees, who included Reinhold Niebuhr, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Reuther, and Eleanor Roosevelt, issued a press release that enumerated the new organization's principles. Announcing the formation of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the statement declared, "[B]ecause the interests of the United States are the interests of free men everywhere," America should support "democratic and freedom-loving peoples the world over." That meant unceasing opposition to communism, an ideology "hostile to the principles of freedom and democracy on which the Republic has grown great."
At the time, the ADA's was still a minority view among American liberals. Two of the most influential journals of liberal opinion, The New Republic and The Nation, both rejected militant anti-communism. Former Vice President Henry Wallace, a hero to many liberals, saw communists as allies in the fight for domestic and international progress. As Steven M. Gillon notes in Politics and Vision, his excellent history of the ADA, it was virtually the only liberal organization to back President Harry S Truman's March 1947 decision to aid Greece and Turkey in their battle against Soviet subversion.
But, over the next two years, in bitter political combat across the institutions of American liberalism, anti-communism gained strength. With the ADA's help, Truman crushed Wallace's third-party challenge en route to reelection. The formerly leftist Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) expelled its communist affiliates and The New Republic broke with Wallace, its former editor. The American Civil Liberties Union (aclu) denounced communism, as did the naacp. By 1949, three years after Winston Churchill warned that an "iron curtain" had descended across Europe, Schlesinger could write in The Vital Center: "Mid-twentieth century liberalism, I believe, has thus been fundamentally reshaped ... by the exposure of the Soviet Union, and by the deepening of our knowledge of man. The consequence of this historical re-education has been an unconditional rejection of totalitarianism."
Today, three years after September 11 brought the United States face-to-face with a new totalitarian threat, liberalism has still not "been fundamentally reshaped" by the experience. On the right, a "historical re-education" has indeed occurred--replacing the isolationism of the Gingrich Congress with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's near-theological faith in the transformative capacity of U.S. military might. But American liberalism, as defined by its activist organizations, remains largely what it was in the 1990s--a collection of domestic interests and concerns. On health care, gay rights, and the environment, there is a positive vision, articulated with passion. But there is little liberal passion to win the struggle against Al Qaeda--even though totalitarian Islam has killed thousands of Americans and aims to kill millions; and even though, if it gained power, its efforts to force every aspect of life into conformity with a barbaric interpretation of Islam would reign terror upon women, religious minorities, and anyone in the Muslim world with a thirst for modernity or freedom.
When liberals talk about America's new era, the discussion is largely negative--against the Iraq war, against restrictions on civil liberties, against America's worsening reputation in the world. In sharp contrast to the first years of the cold war, post-September 11 liberalism has produced leaders and institutions--most notably Michael Moore and MoveOn--that do not put the struggle against America's new totalitarian foe at the center of their hopes for a better world. As a result, the Democratic Party boasts a fairly hawkish foreign policy establishment and a cadre of politicians and strategists eager to look tough. But, below this small elite sits a Wallacite grassroots that views America's new struggle as a distraction, if not a mirage. Two elections, and two defeats, into the September 11 era, American liberalism still has not had its meeting at the Willard Hotel. And the hour is getting late.
The Kerry Compromise
The press loves a surprise. And so, in the days immediately after November 2, journalists trumpeted the revelation that "moral values" had cost John Kerry the election. Upon deeper investigation, however, the reasons for Kerry's loss don't look that surprising at all. In fact, they are largely the same reasons congressional Democrats lost in 2002.
Pundits have seized on exit polls showing that the electorate's single greatest concern was moral values, cited by 22 percent of voters. But, as my colleague Andrew Sullivan has pointed out ("Uncivil Union," November 22), a similar share of the electorate cited moral values in the '90s. The real change this year was on foreign policy. In 2000, only 12 percent of voters cited "world affairs" as their paramount issue; this year, 34 percent mentioned either Iraq or terrorism. (Combined, the two foreign policy categories dwarf moral values.) Voters who cited terrorism backed Bush even more strongly than those who cited moral values. And it was largely this new cohort--the same one that handed the GOP its Senate majority in 2002--that accounts for Bush's improvement over 2000. As Paul Freedman recently calculated in Slate, if you control for Bush's share of the vote four years ago, "a 10-point increase in the percentage of voters [in a given state] citing terrorism as the most important problem translates into a 3-point Bush gain. A 10-point increase in morality voters, on the other hand, has no effect."
On national security, Kerry's nomination was a compromise between a party elite desperate to neutralize the terrorism issue and a liberal base unwilling to redefine itself for the post-September 11 world. In the early days of his candidacy, Kerry seemed destined to run as a hawk. In June 2002, he attacked Bush from the right for not committing American ground troops in the mountains of Tora Bora. Like the other leading candidates in the race, he voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq. This not only pleased Kerry's consultants, who hoped to inoculate him against charges that he was soft on terrorism, but it satisfied his foreign policy advisers as well.
The Democratic foreign policy establishment that counseled the leading presidential candidates during the primaries--and coalesced behind Kerry after he won the nomination--was the product of a decade-long evolution. Bill Clinton had come into office with little passion for foreign policy, except as it affected the U.S. economy. But, over time, his administration grew more concerned with international affairs and more hawkish. In August 1995, Clinton finally sent nato warplanes into action in Bosnia. And, four years later, the United States, again working through nato, launched a humanitarian war in Kosovo, preventing another ethnic cleansing and setting the stage for a democratic revolution in Belgrade. It was an air war, to be sure, and it put few American lives at risk. But it was a war nonetheless, initiated without U.N. backing by a Democratic president in response to internal events in a sovereign country.
For top Kerry foreign policy advisers, such as Richard Holbrooke and Joseph Biden, Bosnia and Kosovo seemed like models for a new post-Vietnam liberalism that embraced U.S. power. And September 11 validated the transformation. Democratic foreign policy wonks not only supported the war in Afghanistan, they generally felt it didn't go far enough--urging a larger nato force capable of securing the entire country. And, while disturbed by the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, they agreed that Saddam Hussein was a threat and, more generally, supported aggressive efforts to democratize the Muslim world. As National Journal's Paul Starobin noted in a September 2004 profile, "Kerry and his foreign-policy advisers are not doves. They are liberal war hawks who would be unafraid to use American power to promote their values." At the Democratic convention, Biden said that the "overwhelming obligation of the next president is clear"--to exercise "the full measure of our power" to defeat Islamist totalitarianism.
Had history taken a different course, this new brand of liberalism might have expanded beyond a narrow foreign policy elite. The war in Afghanistan, while unlike Kosovo a war of self-defense, once again brought the Western democracies together against a deeply illiberal foe. Had that war, rather than the war in Iraq, become the defining event of the post-September 11 era, the "re-education" about U.S. power, and about the new totalitarian threat from the Muslim world that had transformed Kerry's advisers, might have trickled down to the party's liberal base, transforming it as well.
Instead, Bush's war on terrorism became a partisan affair--defined in the liberal mind not by images of American soldiers walking Afghan girls to school, but by John Ashcroft's mass detentions and Cheney's false claims about Iraqi WMD. The left's post-September 11 enthusiasm for an aggressive campaign against Al Qaeda--epitomized by students at liberal campuses signing up for jobs with the CIA--was overwhelmed by horror at the bungled Iraq war. So, when the Democratic presidential candidates began courting their party's activists in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2003, they found a liberal grassroots that viewed the war on terrorism in negative terms and judged the candidates less on their enthusiasm for defeating Al Qaeda than on their enthusiasm for defeating Bush. The three candidates who made winning the war on terrorism the centerpiece of their campaigns--Joseph Lieberman, Bob Graham, and Wesley Clark--each failed to capture the imagination of liberal activists eager for a positive agenda only in the domestic sphere. Three of the early front-runners--Kerry, John Edwards, and Dick Gephardt--each sank as Howard Dean pilloried them for supporting Ashcroft's Patriot Act and the Iraq war.
Three months before the Iowa caucuses, facing mass liberal defections to Dean, Kerry voted against Bush's $87 billion supplemental request for Iraq. With that vote, the Kerry compromise was born. To Kerry's foreign policy advisers, some of whom supported the supplemental funding, he remained a vehicle for an aggressive war on terrorism. And that may well have been Kerry's own intention. But, to the liberal voters who would choose the party's nominee, he became a more electable Dean. Kerry's opposition to the $87 billion didn't only change his image on the war in Iraq; it changed his image on the war on terrorism itself. His justification for opposing the $87 billion was essentially isolationist: "We shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in our own communities." And, by exploiting public antipathy toward foreign aid and nation-building, the natural building blocks of any liberal anti-totalitarian effort in the Muslim world, Kerry signaled that liberalism's moral energies should be unleashed primarily at home.
Kerry's vote against the $87 billion helped him lure back the liberal activists he needed to win Iowa, and Iowa catapulted him toward the nomination. But the vote came back to haunt him in two ways. Most obviously, it helped the Bush campaign paint him as unprincipled. But, more subtly, it made it harder for Kerry to ask Americans to sacrifice in a global campaign for freedom. Biden could suggest "a new program of national service" and other measures to "spread the cost and hardship of the war on terror beyond our soldiers and their families." But, whenever Kerry flirted with asking Americans to do more to meet America's new threat, he found himself limited by his prior emphasis on doing less. At times, he said his primary focus in Iraq would be bringing American troops home. He called for expanding the military but pledged that none of the new troops would go to Iraq, the new center of the terror war, where he had said American forces were undermanned. Kerry's criticisms of Bush's Iraq policy were trenchant, but the only alternative principle he clearly articulated was multilateralism, which often sounded like a veiled way of asking Americans to do less. And, because he never urged a national mobilization for safety and freedom, his discussion of terrorism lacked Bush's grandeur. That wasn't an accident. Had Kerry aggressively championed a national mobilization to win the war on terrorism, he wouldn't have been the Democratic nominee.
Kerry was a flawed candidate, but he was not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem was the party's liberal base, which would have refused to nominate anyone who proposed redefining the Democratic Party in the way the ADA did in 1947. The challenge for Democrats today is not to find a different kind of presidential candidate. It is to transform the party at its grassroots so that a different kind of presidential candidate can emerge. That means abandoning the unity-at-all-costs ethos that governed American liberalism in 2004. And it requires a sustained battle to wrest the Democratic Party from the heirs of Henry Wallace. In the party today, two such heirs loom largest: Michael Moore and MoveOn.
In 1950, the journal The New Leader divided American liberals into "hards" and "softs." The hards, epitomized by the ADA, believed anti-communism was the fundamental litmus test for a decent left. Non-communism was not enough; opposition to the totalitarian threat was the prerequisite for membership in American liberalism because communism was the defining moral challenge of the age.
The softs, by contrast, were not necessarily communists themselves. But they refused to make anti-communism their guiding principle. For them, the threat to liberal values came entirely from the right--from militarists, from red-baiters, and from the forces of economic reaction. To attack the communists, reliable allies in the fight for civil rights and economic justice, was a distraction from the struggle for progress.
Moore is the most prominent soft in the United States today. Most Democrats agree with him about the Iraq war, about Ashcroft, and about Bush. What they do not recognize, or do not acknowledge, is that Moore does not oppose Bush's policies because he thinks they fail to effectively address the terrorist threat; he does not believe there is a terrorist threat. For Moore, terrorism is an opiate whipped up by corporate bosses. In Dude, Where's My Country?, he says it plainly: "There is no terrorist threat." And he wonders, "Why has our government gone to such absurd lengths to convince us our lives are in danger?"
Moore views totalitarian Islam the way Wallace viewed communism: As a phantom, a ruse employed by the only enemies that matter, those on the right. Saudi extremists may have brought down the Twin Towers, but the real menace is the Carlyle Group. Today, most liberals naïvely consider Moore a useful ally, a bomb-thrower against a right-wing that deserves to be torched. What they do not understand is that his real casualties are on the decent left. When Moore opposes the war against the Taliban, he casts doubt upon the sincerity of liberals who say they opposed the Iraq war because they wanted to win in Afghanistan first. When Moore says terrorism should be no greater a national concern than car accidents or pneumonia, he makes it harder for liberals to claim that their belief in civil liberties does not imply a diminished vigilance against Al Qaeda.
Moore is a non-totalitarian, but, like Wallace, he is not an anti-totalitarian. And, when Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Tom Daschle flocked to the Washington premiere of Fahrenheit 9/11, and when Moore sat in Jimmy Carter's box at the Democratic convention, many Americans wondered whether the Democratic Party was anti-totalitarian either.
If Moore is America's leading individual soft, liberalism's premier soft organization is MoveOn. MoveOn was formed to oppose Clinton's impeachment, but, after September 11, it turned to opposing the war in Afghanistan. A MoveOn-sponsored petition warned, "If we retaliate by bombing Kabul and kill people oppressed by the Taliban, we become like the terrorists we oppose."
By January 2002, MoveOn was collaborating with 9-11peace.org, a website founded by Eli Pariser, who would later become MoveOn's most visible spokesman. One early 9-11peace.org bulletin urged supporters to "[c]all world leaders and ask them to call off the bombing," and to "[f]ly the UN Flag as a symbol of global unity and support for international law." Others questioned the wisdom of increased funding for the CIA and the deployment of American troops to assist in anti-terrorist efforts in the Philippines. In October 2002, after 9-11peace.org was incorporated into MoveOn, an organization bulletin suggested that the United States should have "utilize[d] international law and judicial procedures, including due process" against bin Laden and that "it's possible that a tribunal could even have garnered cooperation from the Taliban."
In the past several years, MoveOn has emerged, in the words of Salon's Michelle Goldberg, as "the most important political advocacy group in Democratic circles." It boasts more than 1.5 million members and raised a remarkable $40 million for the 2004 election. Many MoveOn supporters probably disagree with the organization's opposition to the Afghan war, if they are even aware of it, and simply see the group as an effective means to combat Bush. But one of the lessons of the early cold war is scrupulousness about whom liberals let speak in their name. And, while MoveOn's frequent bulletins are far more thoughtful than Moore's rants, they convey the same basic hostility to U.S. power.
In the early days after September 11, MoveOn suggested that foreign aid might prove a better way to defeat terrorism than military action. But, in recent years, it seems to have largely lost interest in any agenda for fighting terrorism at all. Instead, MoveOn's discussion of the subject seems dominated by two, entirely negative, ideas. First, the war on terrorism crushes civil liberties. On July 18, 2002, in a bulletin titled "Can Democracy Survive an Endless 'War'?," MoveOn charged that the Patriot Act had "nullified large portions of the Bill of Rights." Having grossly inflated the Act's effect, the bulletin then contrasted it with the--implicitly far smaller--danger from Al Qaeda, asking: "Is the threat to the United States' existence great enough to justify the evisceration of our most treasured principles?"
Secondly, the war on terrorism diverts attention from liberalism's positive agenda, which is overwhelmingly domestic. The MoveOn bulletin consists largely of links to articles in other publications, and, while the organization says it "does not necessarily endorse the views espoused on the pages that we link to," the articles generally fit the party line. On October 2, 2002, MoveOn linked to what it called an "excellent article," whose author complained that "it seems all anyone in Washington can think or talk about is terrorism, rebuilding Afghanistan and un-building Iraq." Another article in the same bulletin notes that "a large proportion of [federal] money is earmarked for security concerns related to the 'war on terrorism,' leaving less money available for basic public services."
Like the softs of the early cold war, MoveOn sees threats to liberalism only on the right. And thus, it makes common cause with the most deeply illiberal elements on the international left. In its campaign against the Iraq war, MoveOn urged its supporters to participate in protests co-sponsored by International answer, a front for the World Workers Party, which has defended Saddam, Slobodan Milosevic, and Kim Jong Il. When George Packer, in The New York Times Magazine, asked Pariser about sharing the stage with apologists for dictators, he replied, "I'm personally against defending Slobodan Milosevic and calling North Korea a socialist heaven, but it's just not relevant right now."
Pariser's words could serve as the slogan for today's softs, who do not see the fight against dictatorship and jihad as relevant to their brand of liberalism. When The New York Times asked delegates to this summer's Democratic and Republican conventions which issues were most important, only 2 percent of Democrats mentioned terrorism, compared with 15 percent of Republicans. One percent of Democrats mentioned defense, compared with 15 percent of Republicans. And 1 percent of Democrats mentioned homeland security, compared with 8 percent of Republicans. The irony is that Kerry--influenced by his relatively hawkish advisers--actually supported boosting homeland security funding and increasing the size of the military. But he got little public credit for those proposals, perhaps because most Americans still see the GOP as the party more concerned with security, at home and abroad. And, judging from the delegates at the two conventions, that perception is exactly right.
The Vital Center
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. would not have shared MoveOn's fear of an "endless war" on terrorism. In The Vital Center, he wrote, "Free society and totalitarianism today struggle for the minds and hearts of men.... If we believe in free society hard enough to keep on fighting for it, we are pledged to a permanent crisis which will test the moral, political and very possibly the military strength of each side. A 'permanent' crisis? Well, a generation or two anyway, permanent in one's own lifetime."
Schlesinger, in other words, saw the struggle against the totalitarianism of his time not as a distraction from liberalism's real concerns, or as alien to liberalism's core values, but as the arena in which those values found their deepest expression. That meant several things. First, if liberalism was to credibly oppose totalitarianism, it could not be reflexively hostile to military force. Schlesinger denounced what he called "doughfaces," liberals with "a weakness for impotence ... a fear, that is, of making concrete decisions and being held to account for concrete consequences." Nothing better captures Moore, who denounced the Taliban for its hideous violations of human rights but opposed military action against it--preferring pie-in-the-sky suggestions about nonviolent regime change.
For Schlesinger (who, ironically, has moved toward a softer liberalism later in life), in fact, it was conservatives, with their obsessive hostility to higher taxes, who could not be trusted to fund America's cold war struggle. "An important segment of business opinion," he wrote, "still hesitates to undertake a foreign policy of the magnitude necessary to prop up a free world against totalitarianism lest it add a few dollars to the tax rate." After Dwight Eisenhower became president, the ADA took up this line, arguing in October 1953 that the "overriding issue before the American people today is whether the national defense is to be determined by the demands of the world situation or sacrificed to the worship of tax reductions and a balanced budget." Such critiques laid the groundwork for John F. Kennedy's 1960 campaign--a campaign, as Richard Walton notes in Cold War and Counterrevolution, "dominated by a hard-line, get-tough attack on communism." Once in office, Kennedy dramatically increased military spending.
Such a critique might seem unavailable to liberals today, given that Bush, having abandoned the Republican Party's traditional concern with balanced budgets, seems content to cut taxes and strengthen the U.S. military at the same time. But subtly, the Republican Party's dual imperatives have already begun to collide--with a stronger defense consistently losing out. Bush has not increased the size of the U.S. military since September 11--despite repeated calls from hawks in his own party--in part because, given his massive tax cuts, he simply cannot afford to. An anti-totalitarian liberalism would attack those tax cuts not merely as unfair and fiscally reckless, but, above all, as long-term threats to America's ability to wage war against fanatical Islam. Today, however, there is no liberal constituency for such an argument in a Democratic Party in which only 2 percent of delegates called "terrorism" their paramount issue and another 1 percent mentioned "defense."
But Schlesinger and the ADA didn't only attack the right as weak on national defense; they charged that conservatives were not committed to defeating communism in the battle for hearts and minds. It was the ADA's ally, Truman, who had developed the Marshall Plan to safeguard European democracies through massive U.S. foreign aid. And, when Truman proposed extending the principle to the Third World, calling in his 1949 inaugural address for "a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas," it was congressional Republicans who resisted the effort.
Support for a U.S.-led campaign to defeat Third World communism through economic development and social justice remained central to anti-totalitarian liberalism throughout the 1950s. Addressing an ADA meeting in 1952, Democratic Senator Brien McMahon of Connecticut called for an "army" of young Americans to travel to the Third World as "missionaries of democracy." In 1955, the ADA called for doubling U.S. aid to the Third World, to blunt "the main thrust of communist expansion" and to "help those countries provide the reality of freedom and make an actual start toward economic betterment." When Kennedy took office, he proposed the Alliance for Progress, a $20 billion Marshall Plan for Latin America. And, answering McMahon's call, he launched the Peace Corps, an opportunity for young Americans to participate "in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."
The critique the ADA leveled in the '50s could be leveled by liberals again today. For all the Bush administration's talk about promoting freedom in the Muslim world, its efforts have been crippled by the Republican Party's deep-seated opposition to foreign aid and nation-building, illustrated most disastrously in Iraq. The resources that the United States has committed to democratization and development in the Middle East are trivial, prompting Naiem Sherbiny of Egypt's reformist Ibn Khaldun Center to tell The Washington Post late last year that the Bush administration was "pussyfooting at the margin with small stuff."
Many Democratic foreign policy thinkers favor a far more ambitious U.S. effort. Biden, for instance, has called for the United States to "dramatically expand our investment in global education." But, while an updated Marshall Plan and an expanded Peace Corps for the Muslim world are more naturally liberal than conservative ideas, they have not resonated among post-September 11 liberal activists. A new Peace Corps requires faith in America's ability to improve the world, something that Moore--who has said the United States "is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe"--clearly lacks. And a new Marshall Plan clearly contradicts the zero-sum view of foreign aid that undergirded Kerry's vote against the $87 billion. In their alienation over Iraq, many liberal activists seem to see the very idea of democracy-promotion as alien. When the Times asked Democratic delegates whether the "United States should try to change a dictatorship to a democracy where it can, or should the United States stay out of other countries' affairs," more than three times as many Democrats answered "stay out," even though the question said nothing about military force.
What the ADA understood, and today's softs do not, is that, while in a narrow sense the struggle against totalitarianism may divert resources from domestic causes, it also provides a powerful rationale for a more just society at home. During the early cold war, liberals repeatedly argued that the denial of African American civil rights undermined America's anti-communist efforts in the Third World. This linkage between freedom at home and freedom abroad was particularly important in the debate over civil liberties. One of the hallmarks of ADA liberals was their refusal to imply--as groups like MoveOn sometimes do today--that civil liberties violations represent a greater threat to liberal values than America's totalitarian foes. And, whenever possible, they argued that violations of individual freedom were wrong, at least in part, because they hindered the anti-communist effort. Sadly, few liberal indictments of, for instance, the Ashcroft detentions are couched in similar terms today.
Toward an Anti-Totalitarian Liberalism
For liberals to make such arguments effectively, they must first take back their movement from the softs. We will know such an effort has begun when dissension breaks out within America's key liberal institutions. In the late '40s, the conflict played out in Minnesota's left-leaning Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, which Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy wrested away from Wallace supporters. It created friction within the naacp. And it divided the aclu, which split apart in 1951, with anti-communists controlling the organization and non-communists leaving to form the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee.
But, most important, the conflict played out in the labor movement. In 1946, the CIO, which had long included communist-dominated affiliates, began to move against them. Over fierce communist opposition, the CIO endorsed the Marshall Plan, Truman's reelection bid, and the formation of nato. And, in 1949, the Organization's executive board expelled eleven unions. As Mary Sperling McAuliffe notes in her book Crisis on the Left: Cold War Politics and American Liberals, 1947-1954, while some of the expelled affiliates were openly communist, others were expelled merely for refusing to declare themselves anti-communist, a sharp contrast from the Popular Front mentality that governed MoveOn's opposition to the Iraq war.
Softs attacked the CIO's action as McCarthyite, but it eliminated any doubt about the American labor movement's commitment to the anti-communist cause. And that commitment became a key part of cold war foreign policy. Already in 1944, the CIO's more conservative rival, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had created the Free Trade Union Committee (ftuc), which worked to build an anti-totalitarian labor movement around the world. Between 1947 and 1948, the ftuc helped create an alternative to the communist-dominated General Confederation of Labor in France. It helped socialist trade unionists distribute anti-communist literature in Germany's Soviet-controlled zone. And it helped anti-communists take control of the Confederation of Labor in Greece. By the early '60s, the newly merged afl-cio was assisting anti-communists in the Third World as well, with the American Institute for Free Labor Development training 30,000 Latin American trade unionists in courses "with a particular emphasis on the theme of democracy versus totalitarianism." And the afl-cio was spending a remarkable 20 percent of its budget on foreign programs. In 1969, Ronald Radosh could remark in his book, American Labor and United States Foreign Policy, on the "total absorption of American labor leaders in the ideology of Cold War liberalism."
That absorption mattered. It created a constituency, deep in the grassroots of the Democratic Party, for the marriage between social justice at home and aggressive anti-communism abroad. Today, however, the U.S. labor movement is largely disconnected from the war against totalitarian Islam, even though independent, liberal-minded unions are an important part of the battle against dictatorship and fanaticism in the Muslim world.
The fight against the Soviet Union was an easier fit, of course, since the unions had seen communism up close. And today's afl-cio is not about to purge member unions that ignore national security. But, if elements within American labor threw themselves into the movement for reform in the Muslim world, they would create a base of support for Democrats who put winning the war on terrorism at the center of their campaigns. The same is true for feminist groups, for whom the rights of Muslim women are a natural concern. If these organizations judged candidates on their commitment to promoting liberalism in the Muslim world, and not merely on their commitment to international family planning, they too would subtly shift the Democratic Party's national security image. Challenging the "doughface" feminists who opposed the Afghan war and those labor unionists with a knee-jerk suspicion of U.S. power might produce bitter internal conflict. And doing so is harder today because liberals don't have a sympathetic White House to enact liberal anti-totalitarianism policies. But, unless liberals stop glossing over fundamental differences in the name of unity, they never will.
Obviously, Al Qaeda and the Soviet Union are not the same. The USSR was a totalitarian superpower; Al Qaeda merely espouses a totalitarian ideology, which has had mercifully little access to the instruments of state power. Communism was more culturally familiar, which provided greater opportunities for domestic subversion but also meant that the United States could more easily mount an ideological response. The peoples of the contemporary Muslim world are far more cynical than the peoples of cold war Eastern Europe about U.S. intentions, though they still yearn for the freedoms the United States embodies.
But, despite these differences, Islamist totalitarianism--like Soviet totalitarianism before it--threatens the United States and the aspirations of millions across the world. And, as long as that threat remains, defeating it must be liberalism's north star. Methods for defeating totalitarian Islam are a legitimate topic of internal liberal debate. But the centrality of the effort is not. The recognition that liberals face an external enemy more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush should be the litmus test of a decent left.
Today, the war on terrorism is partially obscured by the war in Iraq, which has made liberals cynical about the purposes of U.S. power. But, even if Iraq is Vietnam, it no more obviates the war on terrorism than Vietnam obviated the battle against communism. Global jihad will be with us long after American troops stop dying in Falluja and Mosul. And thus, liberalism will rise or fall on whether it can become, again, what Schlesinger called "a fighting faith."
Of all the things contemporary liberals can learn from their forbearers half a century ago, perhaps the most important is that national security can be a calling. If the struggles for gay marriage and universal health care lay rightful claim to liberal idealism, so does the struggle to protect the United States by spreading freedom in the Muslim world. It, too, can provide the moral purpose for which a new generation of liberals yearn. As it did for the men and women who convened at the Willard Hotel.