December 14, 2004


Cold War Call to Action Wouldn't Ring True for Democrats Now
(Ronald Brownstein, December 13, 2004, LA Times)
In a provocative cover article this month, New Republic Editor Peter Beinart argues that today's Democrats should follow the example of Reagan (then a centrist Hollywood Democrat), Roosevelt (the former first lady), Reuther (the great labor leader) and other prominent activists who founded Americans for Democratic Action in 1947, largely to build a Democratic constituency for opposing the spread of communism during the Cold War.

The ADA's formation was a turning point for Democrats because it strengthened a "vital center" committed to resisting expansion by the Soviet Union while many on the left (led by Henry Wallace, Franklin Roosevelt's former vice president) still minimized the threat. [...]

Beinart's biggest complaint is that in the war on terrorism, Democrats have allowed themselves to be defined more by what they oppose than what they support. "When liberals talk about America's new era, the discussion is largely negative — against the Iraq war, against restrictions on civil liberties, against America's worsening reputation in the world," he writes.

Democrats, he says, must find a positive agenda that can convince the country that the party will combat Islamic terrorism as staunchly as the post-World War II ADA centrists resisted Soviet communism.

Beinart is surely right that in this uneasy new era, as at the height of the Cold War, Democrats are unlikely to win the White House unless voters trust the party to protect them. But he glosses over the principal reason the ADA generation could articulate a positive foreign policy agenda more easily than Democrats can today.

When the ADA was formed, a Democratic president, Harry S. Truman, was developing America's strategy against the spread of Soviet communism. Although Truman didn't neglect military might, his vision of "containment" put much greater emphasis on economic aid (through the Truman Doctrine for Greece and Turkey and the Marshall Plan for Europe) and international alliances (NATO). Truman made it easier for the ADA to embrace a positive agenda, because he set a course for the Cold War most Democrats could support.

Today it is Republican President Bush deciding the strategy in the war on terrorism. And by invading Iraq, especially amid so much international resistance, he has set a direction that most Democrats consider counterproductive. That has created a debate that guarantees the "largely negative" Democratic reaction Beinart laments.

The war in Iraq is now the principal political battleground in the war on terrorism. Since so many Democrats reject Bush's decision to invade — or at least the way he has conducted the war — it is inevitable that the party is being defined more by its opposition to his choices than by its own alternatives.

If a Republican had been elected president in 1948 by promising to roll back Soviet control of Eastern Europe through military invasion, the ADA generation probably would have been defined primarily by opposition to the administration's direction too.
Indeed, Joe Stalin was saved by the Great Depression, which put Democrats-- friendly to the basic concept of his regime--in power in the '30s and '40s. He was unfortunate in the accidental presidency of Harry Truman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 14, 2004 5:46 PM

Brownstein just doesn't get it. The defense of the nation is infinitely more important than partisan bickering. He sounds like some scribbler for a French newspaper circa 1936 complaining that standing up to Hitler when he remilitarized the Rhineland would involve cooperating with the Socialists and had to be avoided at all costs, even if it put Nazi soldiers on the French border.

The Democrats simply have to go to some variant on the Marshall Plan, although monetary grants to OPEC members and their clients will be a tough sell. Otherwise, they will be trapped fighting the Vietnam war and can check into the Natural History Museum right between the Whigs and the Giant Sloth.

Posted by: Bart at December 15, 2004 9:23 AM

The Democrat seem to think that everyone else simply stupid and can be easily conned by manipulating language. Sorry, fellows, it's all over, and we're not turning back. You got an artificial boost because of the Vietnam era draft, but we're never going to make that mistake again. This is a nation of bourgiosie, and a nation of cultural White men*. Until you understand that you have no chance.

*Culturally, our women think like men, and our racial minorities think like White men. It could not be otherwise. "Feminists" and various separatists pretend that this is not so, but their actions tell another story.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 15, 2004 10:36 AM