Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times argues that today’s Democrats cannot be expected to follow in the footsteps of the Democrats of the late 1940s — i.e., define a “fighting faith” for resisting totalitarianism and thereby reclaim the party’s identity from those on the left. Why? Primarily because, unlike then, the Democrats are out of power now, and thus not able to set the anti-totalitarian agenda. In theory, of course, this is no barrier. The Republicans of the late 1940s were also out of power, but they signed on to President Truman’s anti-totalitarian program, thus ringing in an era of bipartisan foreign policy.
But Brownstein notes that the Democrats don’t agree with President Bush’s anti-totalitarian program. Brownstein seeks to justify this disagreement as consistent with the position of the Democratic party of old, noting that President Truman put greater emphasis than President Bush on economic aid. This fig leaf of an argument might pass the straight-face test if more of today’s Democrats were supportive of the economic aid Bush seeks to provide Iraq, or if Democrats were clamoring for more foreign aid in general. The real basis for Democratic opposition to Bush’s Iraqi intervention is that most Democrats don’t want the U.S. involved in Iraq, not that the president hasn’t asked for enough economic aid.
Still, Brownstein has a point — if the Democrats don’t think that fighting in Iraq is the proper way to combat terrorism, they can hardly be expected to wholeheartedly support our military action there. Similarly, if they think that the U.S. must pass a global test before it intervenes anywhere in the world, they shouldn’t abandon that position either. So too with their views on the Patriot Act, terrorist profiling, and immigration. But when the Democrats consistently favor the course of action that seems to take the softest line against terrorism, it becomes difficult to argue that the perception that they are softer than Republicans on terrorism stems from the fact that they are out of power. It seems more likely that the reason why it’s so difficult for Democrats to define a “fighting faith” for resisting totalitarianism is that they are averse to fighting and perhaps not that averse to totalitarianism.
I do agree with the title of Brownsteins’s piece, though — “Cold War Call to Action Wouldn’t Ring True for Democrats Now.”
UPDATE by BIG TRUNK: The estimable Noemie Emery comments: “The Democrats aren’t soft because they’re out of power, they’re out of power because they are soft.”
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