As War Looms, Can a Young Democrat Save His Party From Itself?: Democrats’ fixation on multilateralism and their discomfort with force could consign the party to oblivion (Jonathan Rauch, March 4, 2003, Atlantic Monthly)
In 1999, a young man named Timothy Bergreen went to work in Clinton’s State Department. He had previously worked for Democrats on Capitol Hill, taken advanced degrees in law and political science, and practiced law in Palo Alto, Calif. His abiding passion, however, was for issues of national security. He was also a fiercely loyal Democrat-the kind, he says, who puts up lawn signs.
Today, just on the cusp of 40, Bergreen would blend into a crowd on any of three or four continents. His height is average, his build slender, his hair and eyes generic brown, his features aquiline. A crinkly smile punctuates his conversation.
The smile, however, masks a sense of mission. He watches, dismayed, as Democrats waltz merrily toward an abyss. The public perceives Democrats as less capable and trustworthy than Republicans on national security. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that the perception is grounded in reality. Not many prominent Democrats could comfortably and credibly say the things that Bill Clinton said about Iraq in 1998.
A lot of Democrats seem to regard foreign-policy and national security issues as distractions that, with luck, will soon go away. On Iraq, the party snapped back-with whiplash speed, seemingly as if Clinton had never happened-to the pacifism and confusion of the McGovern and Mondale years. That makes Democrats not only wrong but, in national races, unelectable.
“We have reached the point where this has metastasized into a crisis in the party,” says Bergreen. “What I would like is to have a Democrat be comfortable reading the words that were in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural. Have you read that recently? That’s tough stuff. That liberty and freedom are something worth fighting for, worth bearing a burden for. Just because there’s no Soviet Union doesn’t make these things less relevant.”
And so Bergreen is pounding the pavements of Washington, looking for money and support for a new organization, to be called Democrats for National Security. “The problem,” says Doug Wilson, a former Clinton Pentagon official who counts himself among Bergreen’s supporters, “is to be able to say ‘Democrats for national security’ and not have people think it’s an oxymoron.”
It’s hard to say this in a way that doesn’t sound pejorative, even if it’s meant to be merely analytical, but you can’t be the both the party of spending government money on ourselves and the party of freedom for others. At some point you have to explain to people in poverty in America why you’re spending money on people in Iraq instead of on them, and if your fundamental philosophy is redistributive that’s not an easy question to answer.