Forget 1960, this one’s gonna be like ’76

Everyone seems to want to compare the 2008 election to 1960. I guess the analogy is that, if Democrats can make 2008 a referendum on Iraq, just as John F. Kennedy made 1960 about America falling behind in the Cold War, then victory is in the bag. Jennifer Ruben made the case  in the New York Observer on Tuesday: It has ...

602130_070502_jfk_05.jpg
602130_070502_jfk_05.jpg

Everyone seems to want to compare the 2008 election to 1960. I guess the analogy is that, if Democrats can make 2008 a referendum on Iraq, just as John F. Kennedy made 1960 about America falling behind in the Cold War, then victory is in the bag. Jennifer Ruben
made the case
 in the
New York Observer
on Tuesday: It has been over 45 years since John F. Kennedy campaigned against Richard Nixon, an inveterate anticommunist with impressive foreign-policy credentials, on the 'missile gap'.... It has taken over four decades, but the time may once again have come for the Democratic Party to run on defense and foreign policy.... It's 1960 all over again.

Let's set aside for a moment the fact that Kennedy was as wrong about the missile gap as George W. Bush was about WMDs in Iraq. In the end, I'm fearful the better analogy might be to 1976. All of the candidates in the field so far—from both sides of the aisle—look more like foreign-policy lightweights such as Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter than they do John F. Kennedy.

I'll get to the Republicans in a later post. For now, what I want to know is: What foreign policy, exactly, do the Democrats plan to run on in 2008?

Everyone seems to want to compare the 2008 election to 1960. I guess the analogy is that, if Democrats can make 2008 a referendum on Iraq, just as John F. Kennedy made 1960 about America falling behind in the Cold War, then victory is in the bag. Jennifer Ruben
made the case
 in the
New York Observer
on Tuesday:

It has been over 45 years since John F. Kennedy campaigned against Richard Nixon, an inveterate anticommunist with impressive foreign-policy credentials, on the ‘missile gap’…. It has taken over four decades, but the time may once again have come for the Democratic Party to run on defense and foreign policy…. It’s 1960 all over again.

Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that Kennedy was as wrong about the missile gap as George W. Bush was about WMDs in Iraq. In the end, I’m fearful the better analogy might be to 1976. All of the candidates in the field so far—from both sides of the aisle—look more like foreign-policy lightweights such as Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter than they do John F. Kennedy.

I’ll get to the Republicans in a later post. For now, what I want to know is: What foreign policy, exactly, do the Democrats plan to run on in 2008?

Until yesterday, I thought the policy was withdrawal from Iraq, an idea that resonates with the Democratic base, many independents, and an increasing number of Republicans. But it took Democrats about 12 hours from the time of Bush’s veto to drop their insistence on a timeline for bringing troops home. That didn’t look very Kennedy-like to me. But it didn’t stop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from trying to remain indignant, saying, “But make no mistake: Democrats are committed to ending this war.”

But how? Sure, as Blake’s post suggests, upcoming appropriations bills will provide some opportunities. But what’s to say Bush won’t veto those too, and that he won’t still have the votes to block an override? And after the troops have come home, the terrorist threat won’t have gone away—merely modifying terminology won’t change that. What’s the Democrats’ plan for keeping Americans safe?

I’m hardly the first to ask this question. When the Democrats took control of Congress, I remembered a 2004 article by Peter Beinart—who, like Kennedy, is a liberal hawk— in which he posited that the fundamental failure of the Democrats is their inability to formulate a foreign policy consisting of anything other than criticisms of Bush:

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.

Beinart has gotten many things wrong, particularly when it comes to Iraq and the war on terror. But here he’s got a point. And three years later, the Democrats still haven’t convinced the U.S. public that they are anything but “not Bush.” Is that good enough to win? We’ll find out in 2008.

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