To Win In 2008, Bayh And Warner Adopt DLC's "Get Tough, Not Angry At Bush" Mantra
The centrists in the party, through the Progressive Policy Institute, had their say today on why the Democrats need to forego payback and investigations next year, and instead show voters that they are just as tough as Republicans when it comes to fighting terrorists.
Tell that to Russ Feingold.
Will Marshall of the PPI moderated an event today put on by the PPI for our friends at the Democratic Leadership Council, at which the two likely 2008 candidates from the center-right of the party, Evan Bayh and Mark Warner, got a chance to show Democrats the way towards respectability on national security and foreign policy, at least in the DLC’s mind.
Tough-on-terrorism Democrats urged their party on Tuesday to put foreign policy ahead of political retribution in the fall elections, underscoring a divide between the party's hawks and doves that could frame the 2008 presidential campaign.
"Simply lashing out in anger at the current administration doesn't accomplish what we want," said Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (news, bio, voting record), a likely candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Well, thanks for that Senator Bayh, but I don’t think anyone on the center-left thinks that being angry at Bush is enough to reclaim power. Only people on the right in the party use that straw man to attack the left, just like the Republicans do.
Bayh accused the president of mishandling Iran and North Korea while weakening U.S. alliances and the nation's armed forces. He said the war in Iraq has been "tragically, tragically" mismanaged.
Ah, so it wasn't wrong, just mismanaged.
Warner leveled the same charges, and noted that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden remains free nearly five years after the Sept. 11 attacks. He chastised Bush strategist Karl Rove for accusing Democrats of clinging to a pre-Sept. 11 mind-set.
"I was the first person elected in this country after 9/11," said Warner, who was elected governor in November 2001. "I don't need to be lectured by Karl Rove ... about what is needed to keep this country safe."
Warner said the key for Democrats is to represent a muscular foreign policy that respects and supports U.S. troops; deploys diplomatic, economic, and when necessary, military assets against U.S. enemies; rises to the challenge of global competition; and unites friends and divides enemies — "not the reverse," which he complained Bush has done.
Yet, there seemed to be limits to how far Warner would go. He told reporters afterward that while he hopes the Iraq war is successful, he would consider pulling U.S. troops out if the country did not make progress in coming months on democracy and security.
"I think you don't take that off the table," he said when asked about troop withdrawal.
Bayh said Democrats must be viewed as the party that reaches out to allies, improves intelligence, cuts funding to terrorists and make the United States less dependent on oil.
He said Democrats lost elections in 2004 because voters considered the party weak on foreign policy.
Despite poor approval ratings for Bush and his party, Democrats "still have a hurdle to cross with the American people in convincing them that we can be both tough and smart," Bayh said.
While voters favor Democrats on most domestic policies, "they are not going to trust us with those things if they first don't trust us with their lives," the Indiana senator said.
Well, fair enough I suppose. It is good for the party to have these debates in the open so that voters know the party is diverse and made up of thoughtful people on the center-right, and not just the bogeymen that Fox News parodies every day.
But it seems that both Bayh and Warner are too preoccupied with giving Bush a pass on his record and taking the “let’s move on and talk about the future” approach towards 2008. Both seemingly want to skip the primaries, ignore the base, and proclaim their electability in the general election by simply showing voters they like NASCAR and can be just as tough as Bush but not as stupid. That is the typical, “me-too” DLC response that we have come to expect, but it is true that the party needs to address national security and values in a more effective way than it has in the past.
But I would feel better about such advice from the center-right inside the party if they showed the slightest concern for accountability. To Warner and Bayh, talking about Bush’s record and holding him accountable for his mistakes is nothing more than “lashing out in anger” and political retribution. It is a club they use with gusto against the bad nasty liberals in the party like Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean, while the DLC types want to look more like Republicans with (D’s) next to their names and for whom accountability and anger are beneath them.
We’ve been down this road before. If the center-right types like Bayh and Warner want to show themselves to be the answer for the party’s alleged problems on national security in a post-9/11 world, they will also have to appreciate the need for accountability. While they are at it, they can tell us how passé anger and accountability are if Russ Feingold called for censure months ago when Bush was at 37% and now he is at 31%, with no apparent damage to either Feingold or the party’s fortunes as a whole.