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March 31, 2005

Of Democrats, Discipline, and Democratization
Posted by Michael Signer

Amen, Heather, Amen.  But the problem goes way deeper than Lakoffian framing.  Democrats need to understand the enemy, and our own organizational problems, if we're ever to get a foreign policy message off the ground.

Former Senator Jack Danforth's piece in the New York Times yesterday was a welcome reminder from deep within the Republican Party that the screeching turn to theologically-grounded policy is by no means normal, and no means right. 

Danforth focuses on the wrenching Schiavo posturing, and the stem-cell issue--but the issue goes to the heart of our foreign policy.

In January, Bill Moyers published an article proving how the Bush foreign policy has been dominated by an almost millenarian evangelical thinking.  This explains the surprise affection for Israel, the almost joyful anticipation of the apocalypse, and the familiar arrogance of the initiated toward the heathenry.

How should liberals differ?  In many ways, Democrats should naturally be more pro-democracy and better at envisioning a newly enlightened world than Republicans.  The basic nature of liberalism (the word, after all, means to free the mind) lends itself better to vision and hope than traditionally hidebound conservativism. 

Democrats, for instance, should be outrunning conservatives on the issue of democratization.  Mort Halperin has co-authored a wonderful new book called The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace, which shows that even the poorest countries are "ready" for democracy, and that the world prospers when democracies grow. 

So why are we so divided, so squeamish, about returning to the vision of global democracy Woodrow Wilson (one of our own) first endorsed?  Aside from the Vietnam syndrome, and basic partisan resentment at being outfoxed (again) by Bush, it all returns to the name:  unlike the theocons, Democrats can be too democratic.  We can't unify around democratization--done right--because we're spread too thin around every danged viewpoint.

We need discipline--a stronger pole for the big tent.  That's why Bill Bradley's piece on our "inverted pyramid" problem was so refreshing, and so right.  The DNC and our party elders (Bill Clinton?) need to negotiate with the powerful Democratic interest groups to ignore their navels for a moment and get on board with a democratization vision, in broad-brush outline, because the stakes are just too high to do otherwise.  It won't be easy--but then politics never is.


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A lot of the "naval-gazing" groups are already coming together with the military, in the form of a credit re-regulation campaign (the military are the most aggresive for pushing for payday lending-aka legalized loan sharking- reform), so the first steps towards working together are forming (the campaign will officialy take off later this summer).

But, which of these gazers do you think are resistent to embracing the military, and why?

Although I whole-heartedly agree with this post, we must also resist the temptation of over-praising the military and military solutions in an effort to define a robust foreign policy- see:


Bill Moyers article "proves" that "the Bush foreign policy has been dominated by an almost millenarian evangelical thinking"? Talk about "blind" faith.

If "...Democrats should naturally be more pro-democracy and better at envisioning a newly enlightened world than Republicans",aren't you saying they should be more like Bush?

I'm fine with democratization as a goal, but I don't think it's productive to talk about the topic without discussing what are appropriate means for democratization. For example, we should still be able to hold this position and still simultaneously keep the liberal belief that war (especially *starting* wars) is not appropriate for just any noble end. If the Republicans (or anyone for that matter) propose that we go to war with country X, and country X is not a democracy and we believe an invasion of country X is possible, are we then required to join the cause because it is our moral imperitive to promote democracy through any means necessary? This is what is left of our retroactive justifications for the invasion of Iraq, and it seems to me to be a radical expansion of the notion of a "just war" if we are to go to war to give countries the type of government they ought to have.

If you were discussing democratization because you intend to use this idea against those of us who opposed the Iraq war and tell us we're not true liberals, well aren't you sneaky but opposition to the Iraq war is perfectly consistent with liberal values. If this post was not intended to have anything to do with that, I agree with you 100%, but no thanks for laying the groundwork for anyone who wants to argue for invading Iran. Either way, can we agree that the means must be as important as the ends in any foreign policy debate?

I agree with Eric, and this is exactly why I started a site devoted to drafting Anthony Zinni to join the Dems. You don't have to be pro-war to be strong, and you don't have to bow down to radical idealists in order to have a national security vision.

Eric: The question to me isn't whether being against the Iraq War is consistent with liberalism -- I see dovishness (not using this pejoratively) as one of many perfectly logical outgrowths of the generally empathetic liberal heart. Iraq is over and done with. The question is how liberals feel about what was the underlying rationale of the Iraq war all along -- democratizing the Middle East. Now, clearly, this wasn't for purely liberal purposes. The Bush rationale was much more about security than idealism. But, still -- why wouldn't liberals jump all over the ultimate Bush goal of democratization? Why, in fact, don't we claim credit for him having come over to our side?

NIEL, I think democracy comes before party -- I don't really care that Bush, post 9/11, stumbled on what was our idea all along. I just want the best ideas to win. And I suspect that in the process we'll win, too.

Great to see the new blog, but I hope you'll refrain from wasting time looking for some sort of BIG IDEA. We Democrats don't need a new shtick; we need to capture the White House and the Congress.

It used to be said that partisanship ended at the water's edge. That's because both political parties understood that American voters know nothing and could care less about what happens outside the country's borders.

American voters care about the defense of the nation -- and it can't be said often enough, the nation ends at the borders. Americans want to be reassured that the country is so strong that anyone who attacks it will be bombed back into the Stone Age.

Republicans have overextended the country; they've made Uncle Sam into an octopus with its tentacles all over the world. Those tentacles are ready to be chopped off.

If we want to win, we've got to show the voters that Republicans have made the country weak. Remember how JFK helped himself out? Right, he charged the Republicans allowed the Russians to overtake our missile superiority leaving the country weak and defenseless. Very few pointed out the charge wasn't true until after he'd been elected.

As Lippmann rightly said, foreign affairs issues are for elites, only. Us against Them is where elections are won and lost.

Shouldn't part of this effort be not only developing a separate structure but also working from within the current one? I'm thinking particularly of the decision of Yale Law School and others not to allow military recruiters on campus. It strikes me that an effective way of fostering a greater respect for international law and institutions, human rights, and similar topics is not just to change the minds of current practitioners, but to get some people in there who already believe that in the first place.

It's great to see this website, and similar projects like Truman.

The Bill Moyers piece you refer to was based on a fraudulent quotation attributed to James Watt.

The Star Tribune ran a correction.

Wilson was a disaster whom I would not want to claim strongly as a Democrat myself. Democratization sounds good - but not if it means "forcing other countries to change their government". It's known as sovereignty and everyone is tired of the US meddling with other countries sovereignty.

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