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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Memo to Dems: Don’t Blur Distinctions

Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis has an instructive riff on the Dodd-Gingrich debate on Sunday’s Meet the Press. On one level, it was an odd pairing — a ‘second-tier’ Democratic candidate who has one of the more impressive resumes in the field vs. an all-but announced Republican, who is arguably one of his party’s most creative strategists. First, thanks to Russert for giving the nation more of an in-depth, head-t-head look at somebody besides the front-runners. But Scher picked up on something important that concerns all Dems who are faced with debating Republicans:

Dodd didn’t say anything that was abhorrent. But he missed an opportunity to frontally challenge and decimate the neocon “World War III” foreign policy vision offered by Newt, and clearly contrast that fundamentally flawed vision with his own alternative.
…Dodd chose to blur distinctions by saying he agrees with Newt about “the war on terror.” In fact, he doesn’t…Dodd sees the difference between terrorists that must be opposed and isolated, and distasteful but rational state governments where the possibility of successful diplomacy not only exists, but can help advance democratic reform and weaken terrorist threats.
It’s a fundamental difference that should be clarified and brought into the open.
If Dodd squarely put his vision up against Newt’s, showing the moral and pragmatic superiority of his vision, that could have turned heads and helped him break out of the second-tier.
Instead, by blurring distinctions, Dodd made some decent points that will soon be forgotten.

Dodd’s longevity in the Senate indicates he is no slouch when it comes to winning elections and making needed distinctions, and generally he is one of the Democrats’ better debaters. But this presidential race is being run in the middle of an elective war that many believe is the worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history. Now is not a good time to rely on subtle distinctions. Sher’s point is well-taken.