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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Post-Election Grand Strategy for Bipartisan Consensus

The best time for bridge-building being the weeks after a presidential election, now is not a good time to make nice toward Republicans. All good Dems should instead be creatively visualizing an ’08 landslide of historic proportions, after which we will know just how much opposition support is needed.
Nonetheless, a couple of impressively-credentialed Big Thinkers over at Foreign Policy, Charles Kupchan and Peter Trubowitz, have an article “Grand Strategy for a Divided America” that merits a thoughtful read by Dems concerned with post-election strategy. They are especially-sharp on defining the ideological divisions between the parties. For example:

The ideological overlap between the two parties is thus minimal, and the areas of concord are superficial at best. Most Republicans and Democrats still believe that the United States has global responsibilities, but there is little agreement on how to match means and ends. And on the central question of power versus partnership, the two parties are moving in opposite directions — with the growing gap evident among the public as well as political elites.
…In a March 2007 Pew Research Center poll, over 70 percent of Republican voters maintained that “the best way to ensure peace is through military strength.” Only 40 percent of Democratic voters shared that view. A similar poll conducted in 1999 revealed the same partisan split, making clear that the divide is not just about Bush’s foreign policy but also about the broader purposes of U.S. power. The Iraq war has clearly widened and deepened ideological differences over the relative efficacy of force and diplomacy. One CNN poll recorded that after four years of occupying Iraq, only 24 percent of Republicans oppose the war, compared with more than 90 percent of Democrats. As for exporting American ideals, a June 2006 German Marshall Fund study found that only 35 percent of Democrats believed the United States should “help establish democracy in other countries,” compared with 64 percent of Republicans. Similarly, a December 2006 CBS News poll found that two-thirds of Democrats believed the United States should “mind its own business internationally,” whereas only one-third of Republicans held that view.
…According to the December 2006 CBS News poll, 52 percent of all Americans thought the United States “should mind its own business internationally.” Even in the midst of impassioned opposition to the Vietnam War, only 36 percent of Americans held such a view. Inward-looking attitudes are especially pronounced among younger Americans: 72 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds do not believe that the United States should take the lead in solving global crises.
…According to one widely used index (Voteview), Congress today is more politically fractious and polarized than at any time in the last hundred years.

In sum, say the authors:

Democratic and Republican lawmakers now hold very different views on foreign policy. On the most basic questions of U.S. grand strategy — the sources and purposes of U.S. power, the use of force, the role of international institutions — representatives of the two parties are on different planets….With the Republicans opting for the use of force and the Democrats for international cooperation, the bipartisan compact between power and partnership — the formula that brought liberal internationalism to life — has come undone.

Democracy Arsenal’s David Shorr agrees with much of the article, but sees a problem with pinpointing the center :

The first mistake is that staw-iest of straw men: liberals who purportedly believe that all of the world’s problems can be resolved through diplomacy and cooperation, and force is unnecessary. To be fair, the supposed shoot-first-ask-questions-later cowboys of the Right are also a constituency whose numbers are routinely inflated. And this is precisely the point, we need to stop and ask just who is this sensible center that people are always talking about?
Political analysis always seems to paint the center as a set of independents who stand above and apart from partisanship. In other words, partisans largely align with “the base” and its extreme views. But if that’s the case, then bipartisan consensus can’t really be very bipartisan. Consensus can only be found among the plague-on-both-their-houses independents. If I’m correct, though, that many voters who are aligned with the parties share moderate and balanced approaches, then the consensus extends significantly beyond the independents.

Kupchan and Trubowitz have more to say about specific areas where seeds of bipartisan consensus can be sown and offer a range of interesting proposals that deserve serious consideration by Party strategists.

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