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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Nation Articles Mull National Security, Hillary and Dems Future

The June 6th issue of The Nation, now online, has a pair of articles of interest to Dems seeking a winning strategy in the ’06 and ’08 elections.
Eric Alterman’s “Cowboys and Eggheads” succinctly lays bare the Dems’ “conundrum” in formulating a foreign policy that resonates in a positive light to average Americans. Drawing from recent articles in The American Prospect, the Wall St. Journal and think tanks, Alterman ventures a disturbing thought:

Liberal Democrats today are faced with an unhappy paradox. The most significant factor in John Kerry’s defeat was that, according to exit polls, 79 percent of voters who said terrorism or national security determined their vote chose the chickenhawk over the war hero. Though they agreed with the Democrats on most issues–and agreed, by a 49 to 45 percent margin, according to election day exit polls, that the Iraq War had made us less, not more, secure–a majority of voters still felt safer with the idea of George W. Bush minding the store. Based on the evidence, it is almost a perfectly irrational reaction to reality….making sense on foreign policy is not enough. It may actually be a net negative. As Bill Clinton famously explained, Americans prefer a President who appears “strong and wrong” to one who seems right but looks weak.

Not a lot for Dems to be optimistic about there, but Alterman, a media critic and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, does note growing discontent about U.S. policy towards Iraq, and the Administration’s inability to formulate a credible policy towards Iran and North Korea as trends that may help Dems in the future.
On a more upbeat note, Greg Sargent’s “Brand Hillary” provides an engaging portrait of a Democratic politician (and ’08 front-runner in recent polls), who is expanding her credibility with constituencies Dems lost in ’04. Sargent, a contributing editor to New York Magazine, sources her upward arc in opinion polls:

Clinton’s evolving approach–call it Brand Hillary–is sincerely rooted in her not-easily-categorized worldview, but it’s also a calculated response to today’s political realities. In effect, she’s taking her husband’s small-issue centrism–its trademark combination of big but often hollow gestures toward the center, pragmatic economic populism and incremental liberal policy gains–and remaking it in her own image, updating it for post-9/11 America with an intense interest in military issues…For all the consternation on the left about Clinton, her approach depends less than her husband’s did on using the left as a foil. Instead it relies on two fundamental ingredients: She projects pragmatism on economic issues, and she signals ideological flexibility on social issues. This latter tactic is not, as is often argued, about appeasing the cultural right. It’s about appealing to moderates in both parties.

What makes Hillary Clinton’s “centrist” approach interesting is that it is tempered by her 95 percent ADA rating (By comparison, Sargent notes that John Edwards scored a 60 in his last ADA rating). Sargent wonders if the Dems “real problem” on national security “is not just the quality of their ideas, but that moderates simply won’t listen to them.” Senator Clinton, as Sargent makes clear, is determined to be heard.