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Declining Dems


So after all the attacks on the president’s efforts to hunt terrorists,
the Democrats’ poll numbers are down. Unsurprising. This is no passing
thing either. The Democrats will never shake this image of weakness. It’s
set in stone, and for exactly the right reason: the Democrats really are
weak on national security issues. Everyone knows that the party’s base is
pacifist. They want the war on terror to just disappear so that attention
will turn back to domestic issues. Ironically, had the Democrats embraced
Lieberman’s policies, we would probably be focused on domestic issues right
now. Consensus on foreign policy would force politics back to the areas
where the Democrats believe they are strong. It’s the smartest strategy
for the Dems, but they can’t pull it off because their base really is
caught up in the Vietnam syndrome.

I think this will probably kill the chances of Hillary–or any other
Democratic presidential nominee. But let’s say that a Democrat really does
become the next president. At that point, I think we’d have to expect a
serious split in the party over security issues, and/or the rise of a
Nader-like Green party. Remember, it was Clinton’s presidency that kicked
off Nader’s challenge. Any Democratic president capable of sustaining a
tough terror policy (and politics will demand that) is going to push the
left side of the party into opposition. Triangulation was a lot easier
back when there was little at stake beyond minor domestic
initiatives. Triangulation on national security policy in an environment
this polarized will very possibly split the Democrats. Again, this problem
will probably prevent a Democrat from even being elected president. But
even if a Democrat wins, the party’s difficulties will have just begun.

There are arguments against this scenario. If president Bush has already
reduced troop strength in Iraq by 2008, and if there are few other serious
security problems on the horizon, then a Democratic president might not be
forced to make polarizing choices on security policy. And tough policies
authored by a Democratic president will rouse less opposition from the left
than the same policies would if they came from a Republican. Still, given
the intensity of Dean-wing pacifism and the likelihood of polarizing
security policy choices, the ability of any Democratic president to hold
his party together is now in doubt.


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