alien & sedition.
Friday, December 29, 2006
  What's the Deal with those Peacenik Dems?

Over at the Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti ponders the mystery of the partisan divide in American foreign policy. "Never have the differences between the two parties on issues of war and peace been so distinct," he frets.

For Continetti, American politics is currently divided between a "peace party" and a "power party:"
Together, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq seem to have accelerated a shift begun some 30 years ago: The Democratic party is increasingly linked with the attitudes, tendencies, and policies of peace, whereas the Republican party is increasingly linked with the maintenance and projection of American military power.
His analysis traces this partisan divide to the years after the withdrawal from Vietnam, using historical poll data to note general bipartisan consensus on both getting in and getting out of that war. For Continetti, the mysterious split began during the Reagan years, when registered Democrats tended to oppose Reagan's arms buildup, his meddling in Central America, and the dispatch of Marines to Lebabon - while Republicans tended to support these policies. Under George H.W. Bush, registered Democrats supported the Gulf War less enthusiastically than Republicans, while Democratic representatives in the House and Senate mostly opposed the war resolution.

Then, Continetti kind of undermines his whole point, when he observes that, during the Clinton Administration, it was the Republicans who opposed the use of American military power abroad. But, see, it's not because Republicans were a "peace party:" no, they felt this way "when they thought the 'national interest' was not at stake."

But, of course, it's not possible that, when Democrats oppose an adventure abroad, it's because we don't think that the national interest is at stake.

Of course Continetti is right in discovering partisan differences on foreign policy questions. But his framing is ludicrous. Even the notion of a "peace party" and a "power party" is fallacious - as though power were something that could only be exercised by endorsing every single war and intervention dreamed up the neocons in the Pentagon. Continetti's dishonesty pervades the piece, as when he describes Democrats in Congress as "emphasiz[ing] negotiation without the threat of force" - as if any Democrats support unilaterally removing the threat of force from every diplomatic problem. Force is always implicit in negotiation. The difference is that Democrats believe in negotiating at all.

But Continetti's point is to try and paint the Democrats as inexplicably opposed to the projection of American power, based on Democrats' mixed feelings about neoconservative adventurism. The party divide about which he is so disingenuously mystified is not the product of some dovish Democratic mutation. It's the product of a carefully orchestrated and viciously partisan effort to sell the Republican party as the patriotic party, versus the traitorous Democrats.

If the divide began in the Reagan years, perhaps it's because the entire Reagan mythos was based on the Rambo story of American resurrection, which was in turn based on the stab-in-the-back myth of Vietnam. The Reagan revolution needed to demonize liberals as pacifist, and therefore traitorous.

With the return of the neocons under Bush the Lesser, we've seen this pattern repeated with far greater intensity. Continetti dishonestly traces the current partisan divide to 9/11 (this, particularly, is an infamous lie), and to "the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq." But that's not when the partisan divide began. The entire country was united after 9/11. Opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan was marginal at best. And, despite all the flagrant foolishness and dishonesty peddled in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, the war resolution passed both houses of Congress by large majorities.

Even the 2004 election, which Continetti frames as a referendum on the Iraq war, was not that. Only as the war dragged on and slipped dramatically futher into failure during 2005 and 2006, have mainstream Democrats felt comfortable opposing it.

Yes, prior to the invasion, registered Democrats preferred to build support among our allies and give weapons inspectors time to work, and yes, over the course of the war, Democrats have increasingly observed that things are not going well. These are reality-based positions. They reflect reasonable attitudes.

The partisan divide that Continetti observes is not a Democratic phenomenon. It's the result of a massive and intense campaign to energize the Republican base by tying the "culture war" to the cause of American interventionism abroad. It's the product of a highly focused effort to help the GOP defeat the Democratic Party in elections by using politics beyond the water's edge to demonize the domestic opposition. It's the product of a conservative movement that has taught its base to march in lockstep.

The neoconservative movement has a number of problems at the moment, and that base is eroding as Rovian jingoism loses steam. What we're left with, for now, is the lamentations of neocon intellectuals trying to retroactively frame their bastardization of American political discourse as a problem of the perfidy of the left. Their attempt to make their own reality in Iraq and in Washington has failed. But they can still find comfort in the land of make-believe between the pages of the Weekly Standard.

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