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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

National Security and Risk

Third Way and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner have recently conducted a survey of public attitudes on national security issues that should be a bright red blinking light for Democrats.
The bad news is that the ancient “credibility gap” between Ds and Rs on national security issues has reemerged during this presidential campaign. The good news is that is can be reduced or erased if Democrats continue to show they are willing to use military force when necessary, support the military in its essential roles, and have a “smart but tough” strategy for defending the country. And the present opportunity for Democrats is that Americans are open to the argument that Republicans, including John McCain, have “reckless” views on national security issues. Here’s the key paragraph from the study:

As suggested by the most effective political ads from the past—from the “daisy ad” against Barry Goldwater, to the ads showing images of Michael Dukakis in a tank—the central question when it comes to national security is usually “which party represents the greater risk?” To change the historic perceptions about Democrats and Republicans for the first time since Vietnam, Democrats must win that argument. They must prove that they are just as tough as Republicans—unblinking in their willingness to use every tool at their disposal, including force, to protect the country. But now Democrats also have an opportunity to prove that Republicans pose a greater risk on security by defining their own approach as smart and contrasting the approach of Bush-era Republicans as reckless and out of touch.

In the end, this issue represents a subset, and perhaps the most important subset, of the election’s key question: at a time when Americans are very unhappy with their governance, who offers the best chance for “responsible” change: the supposedly “mavericky” Republican ticket that actually maintains the domestic and national security policies of the current administration? Or Democrats who have learned the key lessons about their own past political weaknesses, and the real-life failures of the GOP?

4 comments on “National Security and Risk

  1. cvh1789 on

    What about emphasizing how our military presence in Iraq has hurt us at home and in the long run? Commercials with those generals from the convention. Barry McCafferty.
    Remind people that when Katrina hit, the Louisiana National Buard was in Iraq [get the numbers].

  2. JRBehrman on

    It is hard for me to see how Democratic office-seekers I support are supposed to signal “responsible change” by capitulating to and collaborating with the very authors of catastrophe in the other and our own party. That is especially true when it comes to what people know to be and actually experience as zero-sum matters, not as “win-win” pabulum from policy peddlers or “hold harmless” protectionism from a plainly ineffectual Congress.
    Those zero-sum matters include a defense budget, which is mostly pork and obsolescence.
    They certainly include the constant compounding of losses piled up by improvident lenders with a huge lobby and keys to the Treasury. CRIME PAYS VERY WELL INDEED!
    They surely include Congressional perks, which are doled out in Congress on the basis of (a) rain-making, (b) seniority, and (c) interest-group connections in that order, with nothing but obloquy for either original or actually courageous members.
    So, if everybody and everything in Washington is going to be “win-win” or, at least, “hold harmless”, how do Democratic leaders, actual or would-be, signal any “responsible change” at all?
    What are the “tells” we, as petit jurors that our lawyer-legislators pander to, can look for?
    Most voters do not live in the juvenile fantasy world of military costumes and chicken-hawk posturing of the Thatcherites, Darbyites, and Trotskyites in the White House. But, they do not have any respect either for the hand-wringing pity party that “supports the troops” with the self-serving military budget “priorities” and endless tribute for foreign creditors and blackmailers our foreign lenders and borrowers alike hire as lobbyists.
    We have universal video-game playing now, not universal military training or even a well regulated militia. Still, most voters do live in a savage world of economic zero- and negative-sum games or, in some cases, a childish world of whining for comfort food and recognition. In any case, few of us walk away fabulously wealthy from “public-private partnerships” we just looted or act as the lawyer, lobbyist, or apologist for.
    We out here have no Congressional benefits, pensions, and entourages. So, we wonder about and resent cowardly politicians whose only concept of risk is truth-telling, sexual exploit, or failure to comply with the rules of legal graft.

  3. Brian Gaerity on

    I really like GQR’s work. It’s refreshingly fact-based, dispassionate and insightful. Excellent recommendations for policy and communication. My only comment on this particular report is that whatever national security posture the Democrats take, it must be authentic, organic and fit into a overall Democratic “brand.” As good as these recommendations are, they can’t just be talking points. (I love the irony of a recommendation based on a poll that reveals Democrats are disliked for using polls…).

  4. TheDemocraticQB on

    To me it’s simple; David Plouffe should focus his campaign strategy around these talking points.
    -John McCain still has the cold war mentality. We need a leader who is open to new approaches and innovative strategies….Strategies that will make our Country safer, better our relationships with foreign allies and ultimately, restore our reputation throughout the World. BARACK OBAMA IS THAT LEADER.
    -The modern World needs a unifier and not a divider and war monger like McCain. Obama will sit down with friends and enemies while McCain will take the Bush-Cheney approach; have “talks” with no one, alienate your allies and conduct foreign policy in a reckless and arrogant way. The mess we are now experiencing is a result of the Bush-Cheney policies that McCain WANTS TO CONTINUE.
    -Finally and MOST IMPORTANTLY; Obama was a Freshman Senator who had the courage to stand up to the President, Republicans and even many of his own colleagues and OPPOSE the War in Iraq. In 2002, Obama said we should focus ALL OF OUR EFFORTS on capturing Bin Laden and finishing the war with al-qaida. This type of foresight
    should signify to all his readiness to be our President.


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