April 13, 2006

Modern Democrats And War

Liberal Columnist David Corn has a piece posted at TomPaine.com in which he looks at what he sees as political similarities between 2008 and 1968. Essentially, he says that the potential leading candidates for the Democratic Nomination in two years - Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold & John Edwards resemble those of '68 - Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy.

While I think the comparison is more than a bit of a stretch, the overall comparison may be apt in that modern Democrat Presidential candidates tend to splinter their party in wartime. Unlike Democrats in the early part of the 20th century - FDR against the Nazi's and Japanese and Truman against the Soviets - who united their party against a common enemy, the modern Democrats are fighting with themselves to decide exactly who the enemy is. In both 1968 and today, the leading faction decided that the enemy is not foreign, but rather domestic. For the today's anti-war Democrats, the enemy is actually Republicans (the Bush Administration) and Democrats with strong positions on National Security (Sen. Joe Lieberman).

While normally Corn and I agree on...well, almost nothing, he has one observation that I can buy into:

"There are, obviously, distinctions between 1968 and now. Hillary Clinton is not a commander-in-chief in charge of a tragic war (or the No. 2). There is yet no sizeable antiwar movement, as there was in 1968, for Feingold to use as a base. Edwards is not the vacillator that Kennedy was—although like Kennedy, he does raise poverty as an issue. But it sure seems possible that the Iraq war—if Bush does not achieve his complete victory there in the next two years—has the potential to dominate the Democratic contest and to split the party, as the Vietnam war did in 1968.

For now, the party is repressing those potential differences. Look at the Democrats’ recently released "Real Security" platform. Iraq is covered on page three of the three-page statement. And the plan offers little: "ensure" 2006 is a year of "significant transition" to full Iraqi sovereignty and of "responsible redeployment of U.S. forces"; "insist" that Iraqis make political compromises to unite their country and defeat the insurgency; "strongly encourage" allies and other nations to play a "constructive role." That's not much. The plan says nothing about what should be done if the problem in Iraq is not a self-contained insurgency but a civil war—or something close to it. Should the United States keep 130,000 troops in the middle of a sectarian conflict? Should it pick a side?

Clinton is straddling, not leading, and much of the leadership of her party is essentially doing the same. That might help Democrats in the coming congressional elections by providing on-the-ropes Republicans with little to attack. Then again, it might not. But the conflicts and dilemmas posed by the Iraq war will probably persist. If so, Democrats could find that their biggest challenge is not the Republicans but themselves."

In 1968, Vietnam was tearing apart the Democrat party but it was also tearing the country apart as well. That isn't the case today. In their fervor, the anti-war Democrats are misjudging their reading of the electorate. There's a huge difference between being pessimistic about the current operations in Iraq and a popular uprising to end them at any cost. If the netroots are counting on the later, then they're in for a huge disappointment.

While the anti-war Democrats will not be taking to the streets during their 2008 convention the way they did in Chicago in 1968, their influence will probably be just as significant. Only instead of nominating a Hillary Clinton as their Hubert Humphrey they may very well nominate a Russ Feingold or an Al Gore as their version of the Democrats' 1972 nominee, George McGovern. If this turns out to be the case, don't be surprised if history repeats itself - with a Republican ending up in the White House.

Posted by: Gary at 10:44 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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