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Saturday, September 11, 2004
 
THE FALLACY OF THE DEMOCRATS NEED TO BE "TOUGH":
Presidential campaigns always conform to established narratives. Republicans have to demonstrate that they are compassionate and not heartless, Democrats must demonstrate that they are strong and tough, and that they are not big-spending liberals. Each candidate is at times accused of being too ideological, and too captive to his base, and at other times is accused of being a flip-flopper, a wobbler, of cynically "moving to the center" for the general election.

I guess it is easier to use one or more of these prefabricated narratives than it is to actually figure out what makes the candidates tick or to say anything original about them. But the problem is, these narratives are not only lazyman's journalism-- they are also often wrong.

Consider, for instance, the problem that the Democrats are supposedly "weak" on defense issues. It probably started as part of the disgraceful Republican meme in the 1940's that liberalism and communism were one and the same, and thus the liberals could not be trusted to protect this country. So let's look from the 1940's out and see what we can see about Democrats and defense issues:

1948: Truman-- defense issues probably helped him, as he was associated with the successful conclusion of World War II and the dropping of the atomic bombs, which was widely popular.
1952: Truman declines to seek reelection because the Korean War was so unpopular. The Korean War is, along with Vietnam, the classic "Democrat War", to use Bob Dole's phrase from 1976. Truman was clearly trying to show he was as anti-communist as the Republicans. Instead, he got us into a quagmire that took 50,000 American lives and ended in stalemate. Adlai Stevenson is the Democratic nominee aganist Eisenhower, runs primarily on domestic issues, and loses to a war hero whom no Democrat could have likely beaten.
1956: Stevenson faces Eisenhower again, Ike still wildly popular, same result.
1960: Kennedy vs. Nixon. Kennedy argues that there was a "missle gap", and that Eisenhower and Nixon were insufficiently hawkish in the Taiwan Strait and in Cuba. Kennedy wins a close election. Defense issues helped Kennedy.
1964: Johnson vs. Goldwater. Actually, this is a fascinating election because Johnson won it by posing as a dove. (He rewarded the electorate for their votes, of course, by escalating the disastrous hawkish policy that Ike and Kennedy started in Vietnam.) He attacked Goldwater as "trigger happy" and ran the famous "Daisy commercial" which insinuated that a vote for Goldwater was a vote for nuclear war.
1968: Johnson, like Truman before him, doesn't run for reelection because of the unpopularity of the Vietnam War. Democrats could have nominated anti-war Eugene McCarthy but instead nominate Hubert Humphrey, who was compromised by his role in the pro-Vietnam War Johnson Administration. Humphrey barely loses to Nixon, who runs on a promise to get us out of Vietnam. Again, the more dovish candidate wins the election (and again, after posing as a dove, the winner proceeds to escalate the Vietnam War).
1972: McGovern is a big anti-war candidate, but he is also completely incompetent (convention speech in wee hours of morning, Vice-Presidential candidate taken off ticket after it turns out he had been in psychotherapy). Loses to Nixon despite Nixon's unpopularity.
1976: Carter promises a foreign policy based on human rights, isn't particularly hawkish or doveish. Beats Ford, who was crippled by Republicans' association with Watergate scandal.
1980: Carter seen as ineffective President; Reagan was unbeatable anyway. Greatest politician in my lifetime.
1984: Mondale was seen as too liberal, but again, he wasn't beating Reagan anyway.
1988: Dukakis gets bashed on for posing in that tank, but it should be remembered that he was trying to look more tough, not less tough, by doing that. He gets beat by Bush 41, who was running as Reagan II.
1992: Weird election. Ross Perot splits the vote. Clinton ran as a hawk, saying that he would be tougher on China than Bush 41 had. On the other hand, Bush 41 trumpeted what was then seen as success in the first Gulf War.
1996: Clinton vs. Dole. Again, both of them run fairly hawkish campaigns. Clinton wins.
2000: Gore trumpets his role in Bosnia and Kosovo war policies. Bush runs as a dove, promising a more "humble" foreign policy. Bush wins.

So let's see: in 1948 and 1960, out-hawking the Republicans helped Democrats. However, in 1964, 1968, and 2000, the more dovish candidate won. The only elections where Democrats were probably hurt by being doves were elections they were going to lose anyway-- the two to Reagan, and McGovern's incompetent campaign in 1972.

So why, exactly, was John Kerry's vote for the Iraq war seen as such an asset by the Democratic Party establishment in this election cycle? Especially since: (1) it makes it impossible for Kerry to properly and effectively criticize the war that he voted to support, and (2) it is perfectly clear that it was a political vote, an attempt to protect Kerry's electoral prospects if the war went well (all one has to do is look at Kerry's previous doveishness (including on the question of Saddam Hussein in 1991) to see this).

If the Democrats lose this election, they will have gotten what they deserved. Parties without any balls to stand up and oppose bad policies deserve to lose.


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