Are Democrats Now the Party of National Security?

More

President Obama's campaign is emphasizing his foreign policy record, but it might not last for his party.

obama cfr article.jpg
Barack Obama delivers an address after accepting the Democratic Party's nomination for president. (Reuters)

Much of the coverage of the Democratic National Convention has rightly noted that the Democrats put a spotlight on foreign policy while they were in Charlotte. To some extent, the emphasis on national security was preordained once Governor Romney decided to downplay foreign policy in his acceptance speech and to dispense with traditional rituals like honoring the service of the uniformed military. Simply put, Romney handed the Democrats a political opening. They smartly walked through it.

But last week's speeches were notable not just for the prominence they gave foreign policy, but also for their confident tone. Since the days of Vietnam, Republicans have hammered Democrats for being "soft" and "naïve" on foreign policy. Democratic candidates typically responded with defensiveness and a transparent desire to shift the conversation back to domestic policy as quickly as possible.

Neither trait was on display last week. As Fred Kaplan writes in Slate, the Democrats who spoke in Charlotte were so confident about their national security bona fides that they "talked openly about seeking peace, negotiating arms-reduction treaties with the Russians (which Romney opposes on the flimsiest of grounds), withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, and shifting money that was once spent on fighting wars to revitalizing our own cities--as Obama put it, 'to do some nation-building right here at home.'"

But Democrats went further than that. Whether it was John Kerry warning Romney that "you'd better finish the debate with yourself" before debating Obama or Obama telling his challenger "you might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can't visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally," the Democrats openly mocked their opponents.

The Democrats' newfound foreign policy confidence may signal, as Kaplan argues, that they are now the party of national security policy. But the point shouldn't be pushed too far. For one thing, for a candidate campaigning under the banner of "Forward," Obama said curiously little about what he would actually do on the foreign policy front in his second term. And while the Democrats don't have obvious ideological divisions like the neoconservative-realist-non-interventionist split that buffets the GOP, the boos that greeted the call to add Jerusalem back into the party platform are a reminder that issues could easily arise that divide the Democratic coalition.

The second caveat is perhaps obvious but it merits stating nonetheless. The significance of the Democrats' emergence as the party of national security evaporates if Obama loses on November 6. And while Democrats feel good about what they have accomplished in foreign affairs over the past four years, the 2012 election will likely be won or lost on the economy. And on that score, the disappointing job news out today means that the outcome of November's vote remains very much up in the air.

This article also appears at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.

Jump to comments
Presented by

James M. Lindsay is director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He writes at The Water's Edge.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Are Americans So Bad at Saving Money?

The US is particularly miserable at putting aside money for the future. Should we blame our paychecks or our psychology?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

Just In