Monday January 3 2005
A QUESTION DEMOCRATS MUST ANSWER:
Yesterday Adam Nagourney looked at the difficulty Democrats are having in coming to a consensus about why John Kerry lost on November 2.

Everyone Nagourney quotes in his article seems to have at least some grasp of the dynamics of this year's race and has come to some conclusions about the loss. Well, almost everyone:

"I don't subscribe to any of these notions that we have to examine our conscience as to who we are," Ms. Pelosi said. "We know who we are. We know what we stand for. We'll make it clearer in the non-presidential election year what the differences are between the Democrats and the Republicans."

This is the sort of head-in-the-sand, "thank you sir, may I have another" attitude that frankly should scare a lot of Democrats to death. It's the reason they've been reduced to being the minority party for the foreseeable future.

Yet as Ron Brownstein noted in a related piece yesterday, this hasn't prevented an all out battle among the left's intelligentsia for the soul of the Democratic party. To oversimplify: On one hand there is the "progressive" American Prospect crowd (Kuttner, Meyerson, Sirota, et al) who want to focus primarily on domestic issues and a theme of economic populism - also known as class warfare. On the other hand there is the "centrist" DLC/New Republic crowd (Reed, From, Beinart, et al) who argue that Democrats won't get anywhere unless they first pass the national security test with the American people.

Theoretically, progressives will take a position on national security that is similar in many respects to the one John Kerry took this year: they'll say they will fight terrorism and protect America (largely through investment in homeland security) but they will continue to oppose the War in Iraq, as well as any future military action taken without the approval of the United Nations. Perhaps it will play differently with the public four years from now, but the inherent contradictions in this position didn't make it very convincing at all this year - even coming from a decorated military veteran.

Beinart's centrist vision on national security certainly sounds better in theory, but arguing Democrats should adopt a "Cold Warrior" mentality toward the current War on Terror is much easier said than done. The real problem for Democrats is rooted almost entirely in the their continuing inability to move beyond the experience of Vietnam.

The anti-military, peace-at-all-costs mentality which infiltrated the party in the late 1960's and early 1970's has finally grown to maturity and solidified to the point where not even an event as dramatic as September 11, 2001 causes much more than a ripple among the party elite and the activist base.

The question that Americans want Democrats to answer with clarity is this: when and where is the use of military force justified in the war against terrorism?

After September 11 President Bush set forth a clear doctrine giving the American people answers to those questions. It's an aggressive policy and many people disagree with it, but at least it's something they can see, touch, and feel.

Democrats, on the other hand, have sent the country very mixed signals since 9/11. This year John Kerry did little to help - indeed, he may have even hurt - the cause of clarifying the party's position on the use of American military force in the world.

When part of the Democratic base doesn't believe military action in Afghanistan was justified, or when leaders of the Democratic party were wholeheartedly in favor of military action in Kosovo without UN approval but were against the first Gulf War or are opposed to the current War in Iraq, Americans have every right to wonder what they're thinking and be skeptical of their judgment.

As a follow up to "A Fighting Faith" I'd love to see Peter Beinart tackle the job of putting forth a doctrine that would articulate, as best as possible, the principles that would guide Democrats in considering the use of American military force in the future. At least then the public could understand, rather than guess, what a centrist Democrat would be committed to with regard to national security. If they want to return to the majority any time soon, it's a question the Democrats simply have to answer. - T. Bevan 9:30 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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