Talking the Talk

Here’s a column I did about how depressing the little Clinton-Obama tête-a-tête on who’s ready to wage the politics of national security was:

Meanwhile, for the purposes of the campaign I’d certainly like to believe that faced with a choice between a Republican decorated war hero and veteran senator, and a Democratic ex-first lady and junior senator, both of whom supported the invasion of Iraq, both of whom became early critics of Donald Rumsfeld’s conduct of the occupation, and both of whom support long-term American military engagement in Iraqi affairs, that the American people will come down on Clinton’s side. But I pay attention to this stuff. I know that Clinton’s an open-minded person who takes advice from a wide circle of people and may well conduct an excellent foreign policy once in office. I also know that McCain is a committed militarist, a pre-September 11 advocate of “rogue state rollback,” and a politician who seems to have few firm beliefs beyond an inchoate nationalism. But, realistically, insofar as the campaign turns on national security issues (the economy will, of course, also matter) the average person is going to go for the popular war hero.

Obama’s approach is better but not, frankly, anywhere near as much better as one would hope. For months, he’s been unwilling to make a forceful case from the left on national security issues in a Democratic primary, so it’s far from clear that he would, in practice, make the sort of strong arguments his record leaves him capable of making. If McCain (or, for that matter, Mitt Romney) starts talking about how in a Democratic administration North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and some Iraqi dude who doesn’t like having a foreign army occupy his country are all going to team up and kill your children, it won’t do to respond by whining about the politics of fear. He’ll have to learn to say something in response, perhaps about how the real best way to keep Americans safe is with a focused, targeted effort that gives us the maximum chance of actually killing or capturing our deadliest foes rather than one that lets them escape while needlessly stirring up unrelated trouble that multiplies the number of adversaries we face.

Here’s hoping….