Sunday, April 06, 2008

Hearts and Minds, Again.

Democrats have a love-forget relationship with the politics of the Vietnam years. The current tranche of congressional leaders is proud of its youthful opposition to John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. It is generally agreed, though, that the antiwar legacy damaged Democratic credibility with voters in presidential elections. After the Carter interregnum, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush trumped their opponents on national security.

Most of the time, the national Democratic party is at pains to avoid the label "San Francisco Democrats" that was coined by Jeane Kirkpatrick in her devastating "Blame America, First" speech to the 1984 GOP convention. Bill Clinton's famous 1996 triangulation strategy was designed in part to avoid this national-security virus, which is thought to sit dormant in the brains of blue-collar Reagan Democrats, always alert for an excuse to bolt right. John McCain will offer himself as that excuse. On the handling of Iraq alone, Gallup recently gave Mr. McCain a 14-point lead over either opponent.

The Democratic left never apologized for its antiwar politics. It abhorred Clintonian centrism. The newest generation of "progressives," unabashedly descended from the San Francisco Democrats, wants the party rooted in the worldview and attitudes that came to prominence during Vietnam.

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