Dems Haunted By Their Past

red states rule

Senior Member
May 30, 2006
Dems never do seem to learn from their past mistakes. This time the security of the US is at stake

Dem Congress Haunted by Dukakis, Mondale and Carter
By Peter Brown

You can see the ghosts of Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter hanging over the Democratic Congress. Their past presidential standard bearers' image of weakness on national security is giving today's Democratic lawmakers pause.

Even as Democratic leaders try to cut off funds for U.S. troops in Iraq, they are pulling their punches to avoid evoking those memories, which have been political poison for the party.

There is strong support in the Democratic caucus for quickly phasing U.S. troops out of Iraq and redirecting U.S. foreign and military policy around the globe. Yet, the potential political ramifications have their leaders gingerly taking on the issue, even though most Americans say they want the troops out.

Even though current polls reflect public confidence in Democrats' ability to deal with America's enemies, history has not been kind to them.

* Democrats in the late 1960s and 1970s forced the phase-out of U.S. troops in the unpopular Vietnam War. But in the aftermath, voters viewed the party as reflexively wary of using force in U.S. interests;

* Carter presided over the Iranian hostage embarrassment that frustrated Americans for a year;

* Mondale and Dukakis opposed Ronald Reagan's "peace through strength" policy that most analysts credit for victory in the Cold War

That is why until public support for the Iraq war soured, for decades polls had generally shown American voters wary of trusting the Democratic Party and its candidates with national security. Bill Clinton was elected at a time after the Cold War and before 9/11, when domestic issues were paramount.

This congressional uncertainty these days is readily apparent.

In the House, Democrats -- with some Republican votes -- easily passed a non-binding resolution of opposition for President Bush's decision to increase troop levels in Iraq. But, the non-binding resolution could not even pass the Senate.

Democratic leaders had been so wary of being accused of not backing the troops or tying the hands of U.S. commanders that they had backed away from suggestions from some of their more anti-war members to try to cut off funding.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally unveiled legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. troops - in a year and a half. Many of her members wanted a much earlier cut off date.

Because even if the legislation were to pass Congress it almost certainly would be vetoed by President Bush, this whole dispute is mostly about political posturing for the 2008 presidential campaign.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going ahead with the fall, 2008 cut-off measure because of pressure from inside the Democratic caucus, despite worrying it might provide the 2008 Republican presidential nominee ammunition to make the case that his Democratic opponent is no different than Carter, Mondale or Dukakis.

That could be a sore spot because the three leading candidates for the 2008 Democratic nomination - Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards -- have scant military or national security experience.

Also, when it comes to trying to avoid dredging up old memories of conflicts between Democrats and the Pentagon there is the symbolic issue of gays in the military.

The current "don't ask, don't tell" policy was created by President Clinton, whose effort to rescind the ban on homosexuals serving in the military failed. It prohibits commanders from asking soldiers about their sexual preference, but bans GIs who disclose their homosexuality from serving.

Gay rights groups, which have become a key component of the party's political base, have made eliminating "don't ask, don't tell" a priority. Yet, there has been little real effort to move legislation even though most congressional Democrats support the idea.

Ironically, their reluctance comes despite a Pew Center poll last year that found a majority of Americans say they would support allowing homosexuals to serve in the military. Perhaps the lawmakers are worried that people sometimes tell pollsters one thing and then do something very different in the voting booth.

Of course, there are almost two years left in which the Democratic Congress can work its will. Yet, the early signs are the leaders are going out of their way to avoid reminding voters why they once didn't trust Democrats to sit in the Oval Office.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at [email protected]

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