Monday, November 22, 2004
# Posted 10:36 AM by Patrick Belton
STRENGTH WITH PRINCIPLE, AND HOW TO CREATE TRUMAN DEMOCRATS: The co-directors of the Truman National Security Project
just sent us their interesting thoughts toward how Democrats can gain public trust on security as the party of principled strength; among other things, they explore the relationship between Realism and Wilsonianism within the Democratic party, as well as the putative values gap. Since one of the directors of the Truman Project happens to be my wife, Rachel, I'm happy to include their thoughts in full here.
It’s been just two weeks since the polls closed, and Democrats have accepted that their defeat stemmed from losing the values-debate. But in the first minutes after the election, conventional wisdom served up another theory for the Democratic loss: Americans don’t trust Democrats to protect them from terror. These voting blocks were only three points apart. But these theories are in danger of becoming mutually exclusive. Instead, they need to be unified. Americans want a candidate with a strong moral vision, and a commitment to their security. For Democrats to win elections again, we must embody strength, with principle.
Values are perennially important in America, but the 2004 election turned on national security. In poll after poll, voters ranked security as a top priority. Even the “town hall” debate, billed as a domestic issues forum, focused almost entirely on foreign policy. Exit polls confirmed that 19% of voters rated terrorism a priority—and Bush had a 86% advantage among these voters. When Americans fear for their lives more than their livelihoods, the old mantra that they vote with their pocketbooks does not hold.
Yet it is hardly the fault of the Kerry team that Democrats could not win on security. Democrats face a perception problem too deep to be addressed with policies and messaging, or to be overcome in a single campaign. It is a problem of values, of the chasm within the Democratic Party between values and strength, between the Party of Idealists, and the Party of Pragmatists.
The Party of Idealists, embodied by the Howard Dean movement, talks in the ethically-based language of Democratic activists. But scarred by the post-Vietnam aversion to American power, they remain deeply uncomfortable with American national interest, and with the harder tools of foreign policy, particularly the military and intelligence communities. This vocal and visible camp scares Americans, who feel that the Democratic Party does not value their safety.
Moreover, while these individuals see themselves as upholding moral values, their first instinct is often to distrust American action. Thus, they embrace human rights—but think words like democracy and freedom are for neo-cons. They build shantytowns to protest apartheid in South Africa, but are silent when terrorists attack a school in Beslan. Their policies often end up supporting repressive regimes and undermining the values they claim to uphold—leading Americans to see our party as confused and morally rudderless.
Many of our foreign policy experts live in another Democratic Party—the Party of Pragmatists. Perhaps out of fear of being lumped with starry-eyed Wilsonians, they invoke pragmatism when attempting to convey hard-nosed strength. This cohort offers strong, sensible policies, but is deeply uncomfortable grounding these policies in values. Their realpolitik turns off our party’s base, who are led to believe that there is little difference between conservatives and Democrats on foreign policy. Meanwhile, by talking policies and methods, not values and vision, they fail to provide a coherent, overarching message that can inspire the American people.
The more our activists trumpet their moral cause, the more our experts avoid values-based language. Instead of harnessing strength and values together, Democrats see these forces in opposition. No wonder we can’t convince Americans that we have a principled and strong foreign policy!
To regain preeminence in national security, we must reunite security and values within the Democratic worldview. This belief has birthed a movement among a new generation of Democrats. We were not scarred by Vietnam. Instead, we are jointly committed to the values that make us Democrats, and to forging a foreign policy strong enough to stop the deadly, asymmetric, ideological threat of fundamentalist terrorism. In a few months, we have become a force of hundreds through word of mouth alone. We have found many mentors among those who served in previous Democratic administrations, who also see the need for a strong and principled foreign policy. We call ourselves Truman Democrats, because we believe that Truman has much to teach us on the cusp of a new age.
Truman believed that a strong foreign policy was one that combined the traditional tools of strength with values that offered hope, justice, and opportunity at home and abroad. Through such enlightened self-interest, America gained legitimacy and power, military and diplomatic strength, the ability to secure ourselves and the ability to lead others for our joint security. This was, and is, the Democratic alternative foreign policy. This is strength, with principle.
So long as we face a real threat of terror at home, national security will remain at the top of voters’ agendas. Democrats will win elections again when we can convince Americans that we value their security, and that we have a coherent, principled posture that provides a real alternative to the Republican vision. It is the time to forge a party that can lead once more. Let’s get started.
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