Ed Kilgore, in the course of a long discussion, refers rather derisively to the idea that “some Democrats sincerely believe that their party’s acceptance of, say, a private-sector role in health care or a legitimate U.S. national security role in the Middle East, leaves voters with no real choice and no real excitement over the outcome.” Since that somewhat resembles a straw man version of one thing I argue in my book, I thought I might as well put forward a non-straw version of it.
The argument I would make on this score is simply that your policies need to bear some relationship in scale to your message. If you want to go to the voters with the idea that George W. Bush’s plan for endless war in Iraq is a disaster, then your Iraq policy shouldn’t involve the war in Iraq continuing endlessly on a slightly smaller scale. That’s not to say that the parties need to articulate Big Differences on all the issues — the current iteration of Bush’s North Korea policy is pretty sound, and I saw Ed Schultz on TV the other day getting into trouble precisely because he wanted to pretend he had some big disagreement with it when really it would be smarter to just admit that Bush belatedly came around to the right idea and argue about something else.
But when you do want to articulate Big Differences, you need to spell that out. In particular, I take it that the Democratic nominee in 2008 is going to want to argue that she or he would rectify the disastrous state of America’s foreign policy whereas the Republican nominee would not. But given that George W. Bush won’t actually be running for office, to make that argument plausible you need to argue that there is some broad, systematic, ideological disagreement between the parties on foreign policy. The emphasis on incompetence made sense as a 2004 election message, but Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani both have much stronger claims to managerial expertise than do Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. If you want to argue for Clinton or Obama, you need to argue on the basis of their ideas and that means you need to articulate what the difference is in a reasonably clear way.