Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Is It Possible for Democrats to Win in a Foreign Policy Era?

Ezra Klein has been invited to his first panel discussion on the topic of what can Democrats do to regain national power. In this post previewing what he'll be saying, he wonders if there isn't anything Democrats can do considering that the issue climate doesn't favor them.

Two quibbles: After saying foreign policy doesn't favor Democrats (something I touched on here), Ezra says he thinks Democrats ought to "recapture the pressing issues" "without becoming Republicans-lite." Just how does he expect that to be done considering his (correct) previous statement that foreign policy is an issue that favors the GOP?

The public likes Republicans on foreign policy because Republicans, historically, have pursued a foreign policy that is more national-interest based than have Democrats. The party can stop FP from being the top issue by not talking much about it (thereby becoming "Republican-light" in the view of some) and hoping that domestic affairs will become ascendant in the policy vaccum. The Democratic downside here is that ceding foreign policy to President Bush may empower him domestically.

Of course, there is an alternative to being Bush-lite: being Bush-plus. Somehow, I don't think Ezra would go for that. The third approach is the head-in-the-sand "U.S. Out of Iraq!" approach but this has been about as effective as "U.S. Out of the U.N. and the U.N. Out of the U.S.!"

Second quibble: Revving up a segment of the electorate is harder for Democrats because "the religious right is an organized movement, the uninsured are a disempowered mass."

This is pure liberal fantasizing. While it's true that religious conservatives are a large voting bloc, it's hardly true that they vote in lockstep with each other and are all secretly conspiring together. In fact, religious voters are the GOP's paper elephant. If Democrats could bring themselves to purge the anti-religious bigots from their elites, many religious voters who hold liberal views on economics and foreign policy would vote for Democrats.

In the era of the perpetual campaign in which each side has a fully mature apparatus, it's not possible for American politics to return to its previous patterns of partisan wax and wane. Those who argue that the reelection of Bush is setting the stage for an era of Republican dominance are wrong. The buoy in Republican fortunes is the by-product of the Democratic Party's rejection of religious-minded, traditionalist Americans. If Democrats would move back toward the center on issues like abortion, homosexuality, and religion in public life, they could easily regain their national preeminence.

Will that happen? I'm doubtful because for some reason, cultural issues seem more important to the existing Democratic power structure (probably because the existing elites are by-products of the 60s cultural rebellions) than the issues that for hundreds of years were the raison d'ĂȘtre of being of the left.