For over half a century, Democrats have been perceived as weak on national security and foreign policy, leading them to disastrous policies. Will the killing of bin Laden put that to rest once and for all?
In May 2004, a senior Bush Administration official was asked by the Wall Street Journal about the challenges facing John Kerry as he sought to address national security issues, and in particular the war in Iraq, in his campaign for the White House. "It's never stopped being 1968" for Democrats, the official said.
There was no need to spell out what "1968" meant. It was shorthand for the caricature of Democratic "weakness" and anti-military attitudes, dating from the party's opposition to the war in Vietnam, that has become the prism by which the Democrats are viewed on national security issues -- and by which the party often views itself. The challenge for Kerry wasn't Iraq; it was in battling this negative perception of Democrats as weak and indecisive on national security and foreign policy. As time would tell, it became one of the proximate causes of his defeat that November.
For more than four decades the perception of Democratic "weakness" on foreign policy and national security has been one of the most dominant and distorting political stereotypes in modern American politics -- affecting not only how voters perceive Democrats, but also how the party approaches these issues. It has become a knee jerk political mindset that shapes the attitudes, policy preferences and even career choices of progressive foreign policy and national security analysts. Perceived political vulnerability about the party's ability to keep America safe and strong has led Democrats, time and time again, to engineer their national security policies around looking tough rather than necessarily doing what they believe is best for the country. The politics of vulnerability don't just influence policy -- often, they trump it altogether.