National Security Messaging

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I’m generally dubious of analysis that puts a ton of weight on the idea that someone or other has “bad messaging,” but the point Greg Sargent is reporting here is that Congressional Democrats don’t just have bad messaging on national security, they’re literally not developing any message at all to give to members:

One frustrated Dem strategist who works closely with House Dem candidate across the country told me: “We’re behaving like the President has a 30% approval rating. On these issues, Democrats inherently believe no one will believe our arguments.”

The whole post is worth reading, as are Spencer Ackerman’s comments. But let me quote from page 210 of my book:

Consequently, one sees what amounts to an endless repetition of the pathologies of years past: efforts to avoid talking about these issues, and, when forced into a corner, a tendency to want to duck the main issues and quibble around the margins. This reflects a lack of self-confidence, but it also makes it all but impossible to formulate a principled basis for an alternative to conservatism. It’s that lack of a principles-driven framework that makes it so difficult for the Democrats to win. Thus, the cycle reinforces itself and has continued to do so right up to the present day.

That was written in the spring of 2008 and I think it’s still true today. The issue, to be clear, isn’t that Democrats are unprincipled. Rather, the issue is that while conservative foreign policy is undergirded by a clear ideological commitment to violence and nationalism, progressive foreign policy tends to be quite muddled. Liberals are actually most comfortable offering national security arguments when they too can be nationalistic as in the Dubai Ports World gambit or attacking Dan Coates for lobbying on behalf of foreign governments.

It’s actually true that Obama has the edge in polls on national security issues at the moment. But the real gap in both convictions and confidence shows itself at a moment of crisis. Obama backed off his initially sound response to the Russia-Georgia conflict in favor of something more McCainish. And though Obama clearly doesn’t favor a unilateral Israeli military attack on Iran, ask yourself what his administration would really do if Israel launched such an attack?