Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Democrats Lack

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect makes the case that while the Republicans are at a huge disadvantage in terms of their record on national security, they have managed to turn it into a political advantage because the Democrats let them.

During the last administration, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil occurred, despite some forewarning. The Bush administration then failed to capture the leadership of the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, allowing Osama bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora. Then, they manipulated the American people into supporting the invasion of a country completely unrelated to the terrorist group that attacked the United States, granting al-Qaeda a considerable propaganda victory as well as a second front where their adherents could gain combat experience. This focus of resources and attention on a country unrelated to the fight against al-Qaeda led to the Taliban regaining the strategic initiative in Afghanistan, the single biggest factor in producing what may be an indefinite American military presence there. The prison created by the Bush administration to hold suspected terrorists features prominently in the promotional materials terrorists use to swell their numbers. The current centerpiece of the GOP’s national security policy vision is a crime under domestic and international law, one that their own dream presidential candidate has said helps al-Qaeda win more recruits to their cause. The torture wing of the GOP wants to turn the United States into the kind of country it would want the U.S. to invade. That doesn’t sound very appealing to me.

And yet the Democrats have failed to make the case, either for political advantage or for the simple reason that it’s morally right, and that the approach the Republicans have taken on the issue is bad for us and for the world.

That’s not because they lack the courage of their convictions; it’s that they lack both courage and convictions. Most Democrats apparently saw torture as something they could bloody Bush over, rather than as a moral outrage that jeopardizes our national security and corrupts the most basic institutions of democracy, which is why they’re at a loss for words trying to counter the GOP’s pro-torture demagoguery.

I suspect that’s because the Democrats didn’t think the American electorate was as gullible and susceptible to demagoguery as it apparently is, and that they thought the onslaught of attacks since the Nixon administration, including the impeachment of Bill Clinton, were just aberrations. And moral outrage is not something they’ve ever been any good at; it’s usually done best by those who use it to divert the attention away from the fact that they’re the ones who are outrageous.