How to Really be "Strong" on National Security
Posted by Shadi Hamid
Marc brings up some points in his latest post that are worth looking into further. The problem, as he states it, is that "when it comes to pulling the lever…[the voters’] intuition is that they cannot trust liberals with their safety.” Fair enough.
He says that this is a problem of messaging rather than policy. He cites, for example, the “mistaken belief” that Democrats "aren’t sincere when they take strong positions on national security.” There are a couple concerns here: first of all, when someone like Harold Ford, Jr. comes out with an ad where he brags us that he “voted for the Patriot Act, five million in defense, and against amnesty for illegals,” I get both a little uncomfortable and a little suspicious. Ford’s unequivocal support for the Patriot Act seems to be more a function of his need to cater to relatively conservative Tennessee voters, rather than a function of his “belief” in a “strong” national security.
However, let’s say for argument's sake that Ford really does happen to love the Patriot Act. This is equally problematic, because while it may convey “strength” on national security, it doesn’t necessarily make us any more strong or secure in reality. I suppose the issue here is how we define “strength.” Progressives have to be very careful not to accept the current parameters of national security discourse as natural givens. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, certain provisions of the Patriot Act are blatantly antithetical to the rich civil liberties tradition of liberals, a tradition which animates us, defines us, and - one hopes - distinguishes us from modern-day conservatives.
The problem is that many Democrats fall into the trap of “overcompensation,” that, fearful of being painted as soft on security, we take public positions that appear contrived, because they are in fact contrived, a function of our obsession with polls and focus groups more than a function of deeply-held liberal values. And if there are, in fact, liberals/progressives out there who genuinely support the Patriot Act without reservation then it calls into serious question how exactly our liberal values inform our approach to national security.
Marc, what do you think?