Say It, Don’t Just Say You’re Going To Say It

SAY IT, DON’T JUST SAY YOU’RE GOING TO SAY IT….In the New York Times today, Robin Toner quotes Matt Bennett of Third Way saying that Democrats need a positive national security plan that goes beyond mere opposition to the Iraq War. Matt Yglesias complains:

The only way for Democrats not to be defined entirely by opposition to the war is for the Bennett’s of the world to say the things they think need to be said instead of saying that someone should say those things. If not Bennett, who? If not now, when? Quotations in major newspapers are a precious commodity; there’s no point in wasting that space on not-very-original meta talk.

In fairness to Bennett, it’s possible that he did say something about concrete strategy and Toner just didn’t use it. But that aside, I think the real answer comes a few paragraphs later:

Ultimately, though, the party’s foreign policy will be defined on the presidential campaign trail, by the candidates and eventually the nominee. “Congress can only take this so far,” Senator Durbin said. “We deal with dollars and with votes.”

I think that’s basically right. There are 280 Democratic members of Congress, and they just don’t all agree on what our foreign policy should look like. There’s really no way around that, and if Al Gore had won the presidency in 2000 it’s likely that Republicans would be having the same problem. (Although they have an advantage: “use more military force” is a nice, simple message that they all seem to agree on regardless of the problem at hand. Democrats have no such schoolyard approach to fall back on.)

Frankly, think tanks and bloggers and national security wonks don’t have much to offer here except to the extent that they influence the Democratic presidential candidates. The real key to the resurgence of the Democratic Party is to nominate someone who has the good judgment to formulate a sane foreign policy in an age of jihad; the guts to stick to it even if AIPAC and Bill Kristol don’t like it; and the rhetorical gifts to explain common sense so that it sounds like common sense. I think most of the top-tier Dem candidates at least have the potential to do this. Whether they actually do it is the $64 question.