Friday, June 13, 2003

Democrats Need a Serious Voice on National Security

Bloggers like businesspundit consistently echo what smart Democrats already know. Swing voters who aren't partisan and aren't angry like President Bush because he is considered strong on national security. They say that Bush is willing to deploy troops to Syria or wherever if that country steps out of line, and that protects us back here. And that makes them feel good. But it underscores a deeper point that the eventual nominee will have to tackle: Americans do not trust Democrats on national security.

Fighting this misperception isn't easy. The number of terrorist incidents has declined dramatically in 2002, and we won a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's hard to describe why we aren't safer. It's even harder to describe that the Bush administration is terribly remiss on terrorism (they did zero on terrorism before 9/11), and that Clinton - whose efforts stopped FOUR major Al Qaeda attacks organized to take place on the millenium - actually was very hard on it. One line from a GOP congressman suggests the difference between the parties. In mid-90s, during the battles over the government shutdowns, one GOPer said 'I trust Hamas more than I trust my own government.' Hamas, of course, is the hard-line terrorist organization bombing Israelis pretty consistently over the years. That the Republicans are trusted and Democrats are not is, in a word, crazy. But it's a fact.

Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, John Edwards - these are all good men. But they have no credibility on national security whatsoever. John Kerry not only has credibility because of his wartime experiences, he is attacking the Republicans where they are most vulnerable: OIL. Americans know that our dependence on oil is the cause of massive security problems, and they also know that Bush is in hock to oilmen. So John Kerry's plan for oil independence isn't only smart policy, it's good politics. It's in fact one of the only ways to attack the Republicans effectively on national security. You can scream and shout about how the Republicans are liars or thieves or hacks or whatever, but that's not going to work among anyone except those who already believe this stuff. Saddam was a bad guy, and Americans won't exonerate him on the basis of narrow legalism about Weapons of Mass Destruction, however deceptive the pretense for war. Three Presidents badmouthed him constantly and pointed out Iraq as a strategic threat to the US, and you don't reverse that perception, nor should you. It is a fair perception.

John Kerry is finding other ways to attack the Republicans on national security. Oil is part of it. National service is part of it. Having a real veteran in the White House who has the gravitas to make life and death decisions, that's part of it too.


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