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Monday, July 26, 2004  

Gaining the Foreign Policy Advantage

I'm going to be, ahem, unconventional this week. Half the blogosphere's in Boston, from which very little actual news will issue anyway. No reason for me to weigh in--you'll get better analysis elsewhere.

Instead, let me pick up on something eRobin notes in the comments. "Virginia? Don't you mean "veteran-rich Virginia?" That's what Wilgoren never fails to call it when she mentions that Kerry has designs on winning the state. Military people and veterans are his only hope to win there according to her."

There are a lot of issues on which the election may turn, but the credibility of Kerry's foreign policy may be the most potent. Since the cold war, Republicans have always held the foreign policy trump card. The Dems' rejection of foreign intervention after Vietnam--their general rejection, in fact, of foreign policy altogether--has meant that Republicans have had an unchallenged bloc of power within their platform for 35 years.

It's similar to the moral bloc the Dems had from FDR through Vietnam. Republicans could never challenge the Democrats directly on social and economic issues--Dems had essentially branded their politics as "moral" on these grounds. When the Republicans finally found a way to prise this ground from the Dems, it completely undermined Dems' strategy. The flip happened when the Dems pushed too far, when Americans watched young protesters hailing Mao and condemning US soliders. Republicans saw the opportunity and seized it: liberals care more about the rest of the world than the US, and will weaken our defenses if we follow their policies.

We may be at a similar turning point in foreign policy for the GOP. They've pushed too far. When the stakes got extremely high, they let ideology (neocons as Maoist protesters) run their foreign policy. The resulting failures of the war on terror and the catastrophic blunder of invading Iraq has, for the first time since the 60s, put the GOP on the defensive. Now Dems are attacking the GOP as dangerous extremists who weaken our defenses.

The GOP foreign-policy advantage won't completely collapse in this election. For the moment, GOP voters are mouthing support. But underneath the surface, a schism has already erupted. It's quite likely that nothing the GOP can do now will reverse the course. Neocon fanatics don't realize the war is lost--that their foreign policy is a disaster. How hard will they fight the realpolitik paleocons? Hard to say.

But the debate that has yet to surface may--and it's far from unlikely--give the foreign policy advantage back to the Dems for the next generation. eRobin identifies veterans as the critical demographic, and I think rightly. They were the group who turned the tide in the 60s, and if they abandon the GOP now, they will again dictate foreign-policy credibility. Kerry is in a position to snatch vets away from Bush and possibly re-establish Democratic foreign policy credibility.

posted by Jeff | 10:00 AM |
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