Jane Harman is my Congresswoman; I’ve had issues with her beginning with a tetchy dialog we had as she was exploring running for the first time. I’ve publicly complained about the fact that she’s the consummate Washington insider, and more, that when she decided to run for the seat again she simply shoved aside well-qualified local candidates.
But you know, it’s past time for me to get over it.
She (along with Gary Hart, Bob Graham and some others in the Democratic policy circle) has founded a national-security PAC – ‘Secure US.’ the stated goal is:
…to invigorate policy development and strengthen the voice of Democrats on critical national security issues facing the United States of America.
Looking at a study on the site, some interesting data pops up, which suggests several intersting things (note the contradiction to the CAP proposals below).
Americans want an activist approach that prevents terrorist acts, not one that merely responds to them. While voters hold our gallant first responders in high esteem, Democratic focus on them may inadvertently undercut our message. By making first responders “our piece” of the war on terror, Democrats may be inadvertently suggesting that we are more interested in responding to the aftermath of an attack than in preventing one. Moreover, by focusing the dialogue on budgets and spending, Democrats lead voters to believe homeland security is just another pork barrel program. Voters are less interested in the amount being spent than in what is being purchased and how that will enhance their security.
Below is a broad outline of the conclusions we reached as a result of this research:
* The threats posed by terrorist and rogue countries (especially in the context of WMD) were deemed most serious by our groups
* Participants increasingly viewing national security through the prism of the war in Iraq and not only through the September 11th lens
* Participants clearly identified several steps the government has taken to improve security, from increased awareness to airport security to intelligence gathering, but many expressed skepticism about the efficacy of these efforts, with few of our participants able to articulate America’s current anti-terror strategy
* Americans are looking for a strong, intelligent leader when it comes to national security – one who can clearly articulate his or her vision
* Many focus group participants viewed Democrats as indecisive, a party of protest, and without a plan to address national security, while they viewed Republicans as stronger, but also unrealistic and arrogant
* The contrast between perceptions of Democrats and Republicans comes clear when participants are asked to define major differences between the two parties on national security – Republicans were generally viewed as strong and aggressive, while Democrats were viewed as more laid back and willing to negotiate
* Immigration emerged as a major theme in thinking about national security, with participants reasoning that if poorly educated job seekers could easily get into the country, sophisticated terrorists could have an easy time of it
* Beyond immigration, participants were divided over whether the U.S. should take a more diplomatic or a more independent approach
This is useful information for all sides of the national security debate.
First, because it will, hopefully lead the Democrats to get over the “we have great policies, we just can’t explain them to anyone” problam they have today. No, you don’t.
Even Arianna agrees with this:
There are many disturbing aspects to this story — including why, as Atrios and Matt Stoller have pointed out, any sentient Democrat would talk to Nagourney. But hands down the most disturbing takeaway is the fact that Democrats are still iffy about the importance of taking on Bush and the GOP on national security. Are there really Democrats — as Evan Bayh suggests — still “arguing that the party should focus only on domestic issues and run away from national security, since that has been the strong suit for this White House since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11″? Say it isn’t so! (Did someone let Bob Shrum and Stan Greenberg back into the building?)
I’ve said it again and again and again — and I guess I’ll have to keep saying it: the Democrats will never become the majority party until they can convince the American people that they can keep the country safer than the Republicans. All together now: It’s the national security, stupid! And if I sound like a broken record, so should the Democrats.
Now while I agree with Arianna’s diagnosis, her prescription is I believe, deeply misguided and wrong:
Again, at the risk of turning blue in the face, let me help them out: they should follow Jack Murtha’s lead and, as he’s done in letters to Congress and to the president, show how Bush’s imperial adventure in Iraq has had devastating consequences on the real battle at hand — keeping us safe and secure.
The evidence is everywhere: neglected ports and railways. Underfunded first responders. A tripling of terror attacks worldwide. Poor and failing grades from the 9/11 Commission. Osama still on the loose. Iraq as a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists. Al-Qaeda making a comeback in Afghanistan. Depleted troops. Shaky allies. Emboldened enemies.
But at least it’s a position that can be debated. I think it would flunk the test presented by the focus group families above, but it’s better than the ‘two-positions-a-week’ I think we’re seeing now.
And to the readers from the right who are rubbing their hands at the Democrat’s disarry, I suggest not so damn fast. We (you and I) probably agree that we’re in the opening stages of a long war.
What we do in the next year or two will have profound impacts on how long a war, and how painful and costly a war. If – as a nation – we’re paralyzed and divided, we won’t do much. If you believe we’re at war, you have an obligation – a duty – to work to build a national consensus on this. You won’t do it standing aside and letting half the country stagger from position to position as it’s torn between the Jane Harmans and the Cindy Sheehans.