I have thought since 2004 that if John Kerry had managed to appear to have an actual policy on terrorism, a strategy for how to make a safer United States and world, he would now be president. As it was, he was perceived to be proposing pretty much what Bush was doing only less of it.
In Newsweek, Michael Hirsh is suggesting that the Democrats are wimping out on defense again, not on the battlefield, but on the campaign trail. His article The Democrats’ Wimp Factor paints a picture of the Democrats handing the national defense issue to the Republicans.
To a certain extent I think he’s right. I think the Democratic candidates want to speak mostly about issues they feel they’re already strong on, and that means the economy, health care, education, and other domestic issues. Perhaps they’re right. I’m afraid that personally if I was making the choice purely on domestic issues I’d end up voting Republican. The anti-trade and careless spending policies of the Democrats are matched only by the careless war spending of the Republicans. Both parties seem to think they can propose programs without worrying about cost and sustainability.
But as I’ve said before about health care, national defense has to be produced. Not only must we have soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, we need the equipment of war. All of that costs, and that makes strategy extremely important.
I’ve argued for some time for strategy in both our foreign policy, and by strategy I mean something that looks decades, not just months, into the future. I think there is room for a Democratic strategy against terrorism, because frankly the Republicans have a loser–keep occupying countries where terrorists operate. This is not even a World War II style strategy; it goes back to something like the civil war in its architecture, and we’re using it against an enemy that just doesn’t operate that way.
But if the Democrats respond with just “let’s do less” as in “let’s get out of Iraq” without working on a sustainable plan to make us safer, they will certainly lose on that issue. People tend to go with someone who looks like he has a plan and is doing something as opposed to someone who just says, “No, let’s not do that.”
But as I was reading that article it occurred to me that neither party actually has a domestic strategy either. We have a “stimulus package” but what is the ultimate goal? As far as I can tell the politicians haven’t even thought beyond the end of the current cycle. McCain’s proposed response on energy–cut out the gas tax for a bit–is the same type of response. Let’s scratch the itch. But the skin disease that caused the itch is still going strong.
How about a strategy that involves improving education first, with responsibility, accountability, quality educational standards, and extremely qualified teachers? While we’re at it, let’s look at that curriculum carefully and see what is preparing people to live and work in the new high tech world, and what is just wasting time. That will require strategic thinking, again in terms of decades, because education is in such a mess.
How about a strategy that involves improving law enforcement with better training, better equipment, more manpower, and clearer direction? Perhaps we could prevent more crime if we were willing to invest in having the people there in time to do it. I know many of our law enforcement officers try, but we expect a large amount of results from our investments.
What about a strategy that builds the tax base rather than talking about how to divide the pie that we have more ways, or take more from the people’s part of the pie to put into the government. I’m not anti-all-domestic-programs. But again, government programs tend to alleviate the current symptom without looking at the root of the problem.
Perhaps Democrats are wimpy on defense, but our politicians are wimpy on policy. We, the voters, are to blame, because we’ll vote these guys out if they tell us what they’re programs actually cost. We’d prefer to be deceived. We won’t listen to them long enough to explain an educational reform strategy with a reach of decades. We’d find it boring and call that politician a “policy wonk.”
We need to increase our attention span, pay attention, perhaps take notes, and vote accordingly. We may find that we’re often voting for only a marginal improvement, but if we do that much, we can push things in the right direction.