September 17, 2006

A Democratic Foreign Policy Narrative

This week Kos of Daily Kos once again made a point that I largely agree with: specific policies are much less important to winning elections than a larger narrative that conveys what a party or candidate actually believes in, what their vision is, and what their fundamental values are.

Back in May of 2005 I critiqued one of Kos’s ideas for defining a domestic Democratic narrative and provided my own (The Party of the Future), which turned out to be what Mark Warner is using as his motto. I also tried to create a phrase that could summarize the Left’s ideology here and here. I have always shied away from terms such as “framing”, which suggest manipulating public opinion through clever phraseology, and instead tried to focus on articulating a meaningful summary of what the Left at its best should stand for.

But what is still missing is a narrative on foreign policy, and as we all know, this will be central to defeating the GOP. The trouble is that the GOP’s narrative is strikingly simple and hard to work around. It is essentially “we will keep you safe and promote democracy around the world”, both aspects of which are highly appealing. They combine a message of self-interest and security with one of American optimism and faith in freedom.

The Democratic narrative that I have tried to construct over the past few weeks boils down to something like this:

The Democrats’ first priority is to focus on the direct and immediate threats to America. That is the key to our security: not to get distracted by secondary threats that divert us from our real foes.

Democrats believe that exaggerating the strength of our enemies only increases their stature and global appeal. Democrats know that because our values are better than those of the terrorists, we will ultimately win; there is no reason to elevate terrorists to positions of influence that they do not deserve. Democrats have undying faith in American ideals, and know that the only way the terrorists can defeat us is if we give in to fear and undermine our society from within.

Democrats pay attention to details and history; they do not lump together every Muslim terrorist group in the world into one undifferentiated mass, when many of these groups hate each other even more than us. Democrats do not provide opportunities for our enemies to come together and target us as a common foe. Instead, Democrats use the power of America to turn the whole world against the enemies of freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Democrats know that simply holding elections is not enough, that human rights demand a commitment to civil society and democratic institutions that goes beyond rhetoric. Democrats let facts and reality dictate the best strategies, not ideology that blinds us to our errors and gives us cover to commit crimes in the name of some higher ideal.

Democrats invite debate and criticism because these are the hallmarks of a free society. Democrats do not call for freedom in foreign lands while trying to quash dissent at home. And finally, Democrats believe in competence and accountability, which are the responsibility of the leaders to the governed and the most sacred of covenants.

Jason Scorse