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Tactics, Strategy

Continuing a trend of writing blog posts criticizing people who I'm soon going to be collaborating with (more on that later, as the kids say). By way of introducing my criticism, let me say that I really like the conclusion of Kenny Baer's latest New Republic column:

Bush and the GOP provide that vision: the terrorists are evil; democracies are good; America will defeat evil and support and spread good. It's simple, but extraordinarily compelling, especially to pro-Israel voters. Strategically, the Democratic answer to Bush's idealism can't be realpolitik (after all, these voters know that interests can change more easily than beliefs). Ideologically, it's not the answer either. Democrats have fought for generations to bring values into the practice of foreign policy, from Wilson trying to make the world safe for democracy to Truman's stand against Soviet expansion and Clinton's launching an air war to stop a genocide in the Balkans--and shouldn't allow Republicans to take that mantle. Democrats need to remember that for decades they have been able to speak to Americans' deep sense that we are a unique "city on a hill" and a "light unto the nations." Democrats must reclaim that heritage and make the case that Republicans have undermined America's moral standing (and, by extension, our security) both in the world and at home. If they do that, Democrats not only will win over security voters of all faiths and win elections, but they also could once again become the automatic choice of the chosen people.
That is what Democrats should do. But in the broader context of the column, Baer offers a very strange reason for doing it -- that this step is necessary to halt the erosion of Jewish support for the Democratic Party. All else being equal, of course, halting said erosion is a good thing. But it'd be mighty odd to orient one's entire approach to national security for that reason. Among other things, erosion of Jewish support for Democrats isn't really a huge problem. The areas where Baer sees it happening -- New York City, Northern New Jersey, some inner NYC suburbs -- just aren't vulnerable terrain. It's almost impossible to imagine a scenario where Democrats lose an election because they lost New York (which is to say that if they lose New York, they'll have lost enough other stuff that winning New York wouldn't have won the election). The reason to do what Baer suggests is that it's right on the merits.

Politics and policy aside, I think those of us who'd classify ourselves as being among the more "hawkish" brand of liberals have a media strategy problem. Roughly speaking, a lot of Democratic voters don't like us very much. What we need to do is convince more liberals that they should like us. That means spending more time trying to convince liberals of the merits of our views, and less time re-enforcing the impression that we're just opportunists searching for votes out there in some ill-defined center. Give the people a convincing argument for a plausible hawkish policy (Kosovo, for example) and plenty of liberals will come along for the party.

May 26, 2005 | Permalink

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» Iraq War Supporters and a "Serious" Democratic Foreign Policy from The Next Hurrah
By DHinMI Atrios has a nice piece in which he accuses Matt Yglesias of circling around the point about the [Read More]

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» Iraq War Supporters and a "Serious" Democratic Foreign Policy from The Next Hurrah
By DHinMI Atrios has a nice piece in which he accuses Matt Yglesias of circling around the point about the [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2005 6:22:24 PM

» The Problem with Liberal Hawks from Simianbrain
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» The Problem with Being a "Liberal Hawk" from Daniel Starr
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Comments

Yeah, his conclusion is good, but his arguments for getting there are weird. Before the election, Republicans were talking about getting far higher numbers with the Jewish vote than they did get. They were throwing numbers around like 35-40%. Pointing out that the GOP share of the Jewish vote went from about 16% in '96 to about 25% in '04 (and then Baer says something like "you can't really trust the numbers anyway because it's a small sample size") doesn't mean much, as the Republican candidate was obviously a lot stronger with the overall electorate in '04 than in '96.

Posted by: Haggai | May 26, 2005 2:29:44 PM

"Roughly speaking, a lot of Democratic voters don't like us very much. What we need to do is convince more liberals that they should like us."

I don't potentially disagree with you or him, but good luck convincing rank and file Democrats that we should be prepared to occupy half of the Arab world for much of the next generation to see that they get democracy. As far as I can tell, it's pretty much a non-starter for a great many Democrats. It's almost a moot point though, because the 2008 nominee is the one who will determine the direction of the party, not bloggers or consultants or journalists or wonks or even to a significant extent primary voters. Hillary is about the only Washington Democrat who gets what Baer and Beinart and others are saying, and as such (despite all her various negatives) is the only one with a shot at beating whatever douchebag the GOP drags out in 08. If Hillary doesn't run, or runs and loses either the primaries or the general election, the Democrats are toast (at least with respect to the White House) for the next fifteen years, or however long it takes for this mess to be cleaned up.

Posted by: Robin the Hood | May 26, 2005 2:38:21 PM

Are you huffing paint thinner, Robing? Nominating Hilary is the only surefire way to piss away the 2008 election I can think of. Her belated hawishness will alienate liberals while her status as a female and a Clinton will ensure that the type of people who go for hawkishness aren't going to support her, especially since whoever the Republicans run is going to be running partly on Bush's leftover hawk credentials.

Posted by: Matt_C | May 26, 2005 2:44:58 PM

Somewhere, Steve Sailer is smiling.

Posted by: beowulf | May 26, 2005 2:52:31 PM

Give the people a convincing argument for a plausible hawkish policy (Kosovo, for example) and plenty of liberals will come along for the party.

Instead of looking for a convincing argument, why don't you just denounce your despicable neoconism and join those of us who are against bombing and killing people? Think about it - at least this way you won't need any sophistry whatsoever.

Posted by: abb1 | May 26, 2005 2:53:43 PM

Well, in a sane world, the Democratic answer would be obvious - just point out that Emperor Bush is naked. Torture, heavy handed, corrupt and incompetent occupations, support for Uzbekistan and Sudan, ripping up international treaties, destroying environmental protections - none of these have anything to do with idealism or being a "light unto nations". But we're not in a sane world. Those Republican voters who even acknowledge what happened at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere think it's fine and dandy. The media is debating whether torture can be justified, even for "innocent" people. Given that, I honestly don't know what the response should be. As long as this culture of fear and hysteria is going on, the only way a Democrat is going to win those votes is by being more hawkish than the Republicans. And even that might not work.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | May 26, 2005 2:58:19 PM

A couple of points about hawkishness, elections and policy. The first is that only one group can be the hawks, no matter what the other does. Being less dovish is not enough because as long as people perceives you as less hawkish than the other guy, they will choose him in a time of war or insecurity. You are a hawk related to someone else and as long as that person is more military inclined than you, you are NOT a hawk. To beat the Republicans in this subject, you need to become MORE hawkish than them and that's an alternative I don't really favor. The second point is that often it seems like the electorate favors hawkishness per se, not good policy. In this context, two political parties involved in a contest of military enthusiasm without regard for effective policy (if that's where the votes are) doesn't seem like a very good result.

Posted by: Carlos | May 26, 2005 3:01:02 PM

"Nominating Hilary is the only surefire way to piss away the 2008 election I can think of."

You're probably wrong. She's a high risk candidate for sure, but she's also the only leading Democrat who understands the historical moment, and what that means for American foreign policy. The right will demagogue her to death for sure, but she's precisely where she needs to be on foreign policy and domestic (economic and social) issues. And she's smarter and tougher than you seem to know. Plus, she wants it worse than Bill. For any other candidate, it will be nothing more than a vanity run. As for her alienating liberals, the Nation just published a piece praising her, or at least accepting the possible inevitability of her. You'll come along too. You have nowhere else to go.

Posted by: Robin the Hood | May 26, 2005 3:20:10 PM

Matthew is probably right in his post, but I'll just add one thing regarding the exerpt from Baer:

Democrats need to remember that for decades they have been able to speak to Americans' deep sense that we are a unique "city on a hill" and a "light unto the nations." Democrats must reclaim that heritage

That's going to be awfully hard. Generally, Democrats haven't believed this since Vietnam (at least). Take a poll of Democrats, asking them whether or not the United States is generally a force for good in foreign affairs, and I think you'll get a lot more Democrats saying the US is NOT a force for good.

Posted by: Al | May 26, 2005 3:22:32 PM

Politics and policy aside, I think those of us who'd classify ourselves as being among the more "hawkish" brand of liberals have a media strategy problem. Roughly speaking, a lot of Democratic voters don't like us very much. What we need to do is convince more liberals that they should like us. That means spending more time trying to convince liberals of the merits of our views, and less time re-enforcing the impression that we're just opportunists searching for votes out there in some ill-defined center. Give the people a convincing argument for a plausible hawkish policy (Kosovo, for example) and plenty of liberals will come along for the party.

Here, here. strong national security credentials are not only an election winner, but the best position on its merits. That does not mean pre-emption is necessarily a great doctrine, but strong national security benefits everyone, especially Dems. If Kerry had done only marginally better among the 40% or so of people who listed Iraq, terrorism, or national security as there number one concern in 2004, he would have won in a popular landslide and a marginal electoral landslide. This does not mean we should do it strictly for political reasons (though I think you would be hard pressed to find a Dem who has won the Presidency without going to the right of his opponent on national security issues - Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, anyone?) since strong security and hawkish foreign policy (combined with a respect for international institutions to an extent) are the best positions. Period.

Posted by: Joe Smith | May 26, 2005 3:23:34 PM

"you need to become MORE hawkish than them and that's an alternative I don't really favor."

The domestic policies of the Republicans are so catastrophic, so utterly evil and disastrous, that I don't a moral person should have much difficulty. It is a stark choice:thousands of young American men dying overseas or tens of thousands of children and the elderly dying at home. You no longer have the choice of peace and prosperity;you now have the choice of peace or prosperity.

We need massive tax increases:they will not be easily sold as funding social programs and paying down debt. But as the fair cost of a moral war, they can be enacted. We need jobs;we need big research(alt energy);we need investment. We need a liberal Cold War level mobilization;we need the 50s again.

In addition, a Democrat hawkishness would probably cost less civilian and innocent lives overseas, and be vastly more effective in actually accomplishing something.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 26, 2005 3:24:34 PM

> You're probably wrong. She's a high risk candidate for
> sure, but she's also the only leading Democrat who
> understands the historical moment, and what that means
> for American foreign policy.

Hmmm - Hillary elected in '08 over protests of all Radical Right luminaries. Economy and world tank in '09-'11. Jeb Bush elected in '12 for 2 terms. "Thanks Karl". "No problem Barbara [the elder]".

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 26, 2005 3:24:36 PM

I beive that all younger voters...say under 35...are generally more hawkish than those over 35, including for liberals and progressives.

Posted by: Deborah White | May 26, 2005 3:29:42 PM

Why are Democrats so dumb and Republicans so smart? The United States is not France or Sweden and never will be. The equation for America is simple:

Big gov't=big defense=big welfare state=Democratic dominance.

The Repubs have been moving bases and defense industry into Red states for thirty years deliberately to take this option away from the Democrats.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 26, 2005 3:33:47 PM

It's important to remember that the reason the Republicans are seen as hawks is NOT because they're willing to fight wars. It's because they have spent years asserting that they don't CARE about the rest of the world and that American Politicians SHOULDN'T CARE about the rest of the world.

The values stuff (liberty, freedom, etc abroad) isn't what's important to most Americans. Sure, they WANT that to happen, and they're willing to spend SOME money for it, but that's NOT why they supported the Iraq war. Opposition to the Iraq war was also not grounded primarily in Pacifism, but instead in a belief that the war was bad for America.

With the Iraq war, the Republican Party did a great job of threading the needle:
(1) they presented a supposed threat to American wellbeing, which was always the primary justification for the war;
(2) they presented a pro-democracy argument / long-term vision thing that allowed the Press and Elites which were already favorable to them for their Domestic Policy to hang their support on something more substantial.

The nature of the Democratic Base is that it includes numerous groups that either care about people abroad or think they care about people abroad more than the general Country or the other elites do. We'll never be the hawks because people will never think our politicians are willing to allow the rest of the world to burn just for our own wellbeing. So, the way to win the foreign policy arguments is to win over the Press and Elites to our Domestic Policy. Once they're on board with those, they'll be far more critical of the Republican foriegn policy.

Posted by: MDtoMN | May 26, 2005 3:37:21 PM

The second point is that often it seems like the electorate favors hawkishness per se, not good policy. In this context, two political parties involved in a contest of military enthusiasm without regard for effective policy (if that's where the votes are) doesn't seem like a very good result.

I agree, but smart, effective, hawkish policies are possible, as Matt said Kosovo is a good example. What we did there was morally right, politically smart, and good policy. The same way going into Dafur now would be and Iraq could have been but wasn't because of the Bush Administration's hubris. I believe that almost any other administration - D or R - could have been both hawkish and effective on this point. Being more hawkish doesn't simply mean invading more countries for specious reasons, but having smarter effective policies that respect security concerns.

Posted by: Joe Smith | May 26, 2005 3:37:25 PM

I must've missed something. We're not fellating Israel enough?

Posted by: sglover | May 26, 2005 3:39:38 PM

Matthew Yglesias:

'...compromises are counterproductive. They give vulnerable Republicans the cover they need to vote for measures of questionable popularity, and they make it harder to run against vulnerable members in '06 or '08. If the Republicans propose something that's worth supporting on the merits it would be wrong, of course, to opportunistically oppose it. But until they do (and I'm not holding my breath) the only thing to do is to vote "no," say why you're voting "no," and prepare to win some elections. The pressure needs to be on the moderate and vulnerable Republicans. Either they face down their own leadership in the caucus room, or else they face the music from the voters back home when they cave to the hard-right agenda.'

This is perfect!!!
Thank you Matt.

Posted by: Jennifer | May 26, 2005 3:41:48 PM

...smart, effective, hawkish policies are possible, as Matt said Kosovo is a good example.

Kosovo policy was smart? effective? Are we on the same planet?

Posted by: abb1 | May 26, 2005 3:47:28 PM

Well Al, that's why you're such a putz. I think all of us believe that America is generally a force for good, and we are upset about many specific instances when we have not been.

And Matthew, come out for jobs, fair trade, meaningful programs that bring us to alternative energy, and a deeper appreciation for the environment we leave to our kids, and maybe we'll listen to you when you say we have to invade Iraq and that it is not for oil.

Posted by: jerry | May 26, 2005 3:54:26 PM

I'm getting cynical about this topic. I think the Dems should propose an invasion of the Falkland islands and see how that plays.

Posted by: praktike | May 26, 2005 3:55:27 PM

The reason to do what Baer suggests is that it's right on the merits.

Matt, if one was not predisposed to favor Israel, what in that nation's record would suggest that a hawkish U.S. foreign policy designed to advance/protect its interests was "right"?

Israel is hardly a "city on the hill" to most people in this world. That perception is different in this country, but few of those reasons are related to the morality of Israel--or us--taking over the Middle East.

I could argue more thoroughly, but the Baer article is for TNR subscribers only.

Posted by: bobo brooks | May 26, 2005 3:56:50 PM

"I beive that all younger voters...say under 35...are generally more hawkish than those over 35, including for liberals and progressives."

Actually, the greatest concentration of support for the war in Iraq was among second-wave boomers (born in the 1950s) and first wave generation xers (born in the 1960s), although cohorts of these two groups have dramatically different worldviews (2nd wave boomers tend to be more populist/nationalist, and 1st wave xers tend to be more conservatarian/pragmatist [think Andrew Sullivan]). Second wave xers (which includes me) tend to be more left-libertarian, voted for Kerry, opposed the war and have more classically isolationist-pragmatist instincts, and first wave millenials (born in the 1980s) also voted for Kerry, opposed the war, but have a more internationalist outlook.

Posted by: Robin the Hood | May 26, 2005 3:57:32 PM

"Kosovo policy was smart? effective? Are we on the same planet?"

As opposed to letting Milosevic displace 800,000 Kosovars and kill >10,000? Wise up. We'd seen the intent of the Serbian state over the previous 8 years. If you wanted more Srbernica's, go ahead and wave your wee "No war" flag and feel smug about choosing inaction and impotence.

Posted by: Urinated State of America | May 26, 2005 4:00:09 PM

Some elements of a sane, reasonable policy for hawkish liberal democrats:

- An increase in defense spending, particularly for the army (more troops, countering the obvious and costly-in-lives-and-enlistments Rumsfeld approach) and for the navy (smaller, more flexible warships with less of the vulnerability of carriers).

- Much stronger control over illegal immigration (which the Bushies don't want to tackle because of their corporate ties), coupled with a robust foreign worker program and legalization of illegal aliens if certain criteria are met. Automatic legalization for any illegal alien completing a tour of duty in the armed forces.

- Written rules governing conduct toward detainees, including prohibitions against torture.

- Willing rather than reluctant use of diplomacy and sanctions, making it clear the military option exists but only as a last resort, vs. the Bush approach of war as a first resort with diplomacy as a cover.

- Much stronger pressure on China to in turn pressure North Korea on the bomb, and making it clear that if necessary we are willing to assist Japan and South Korea with their own nuclear deterrent.

- Making it clear Iran will not be permitted to go nuclear without the most serious consequences.

- Much greater support and use of local proxies instead of American soldiers on the ground.

- Not last and not least, a massive and sustained effort to rid ourselves of dependence on mideast oil.

Posted by: Czapnik | May 26, 2005 4:00:41 PM

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