Political Hay

The Netroots’ Iraq Advantage

The cut and run McGovernites of 1972 enjoyed much less popular support than does today's Come Home America crowd.

By 8.21.06

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Most conservative commentators have heralded Ned Lamont's victory as the solidification of the far left's grip on the Democratic Party. Lamont's victory "defined the Democratic Party as a vigorous, motivated, organized force that is...completely out of touch with mainstream America," claimed Kathleen Parker. "Today, the Democratic Party is, simply, a McGovernite party," said Jonah Goldberg. "That is where the passion and the money are. But, nedrenaline addicts beware: That is not necessarily where the voters are."

The reasoning goes that Lamont's win means that Democrats have succumbed to the McGovern thinking of "Come Home America." This spells disaster for the Democrats since McGovern was creamed in the election of 1972.

I wish I could be so confident.

While it may be 1972 again for the Democratic Party, it is not 1972 again for the electorate. When Richard Nixon crushed George McGovern, the World War II Generation dominated the electorate. That generation, as a whole, was conservative on national security issues and soundly rejected a candidate who wanted America to retreat. Sadly, the World War II Generation is dying out, being replaced by the Baby Boomer Generation, many of whose members are legends in their own minds. More importantly, they are nowhere near as conservative on national security issues, and they are less adverse to a candidate who wants to bring America's troops home quickly.

If you don't agree with me, try this thought experiment: Imagine that presidential candidate John Kerry had somehow time-traveled back to 1972 and ran in place of George McGovern. But instead of campaigning on a unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam, he campaigned as he did in 2004. Imagine Kerry saying that fighting communism was more of a law enforcement issue, that before America engaged in any more Vietnams it had to pass a "global test," and that he had voted for funding the Vietnam War before he had voted against it. Would Kerry have fared any better on election day than McGovern did? Oh, with his obfuscating and flip-flopping, he might have done a little better in the popular vote than McGovern's pathetic 37%, but not by much. The electorate of 1972 would have soundly rejected him.

Yet in 2004, Kerry received over 48% of the popular vote. This despite the fact that (1) we had been attacked on our own soil barely three years prior, and (2) the Iraq War was (and still is) resulting in a fraction of the casualties that the Vietnam War did. Clearly, the electorate's commitment to national security has changed when nearly half of the voters are willing to go with the candidate who said he would begin the draw down of troops within six months of his inauguration.

Now the Iraq War is even more unpopular than it was two years ago. A recent FoxNews Opinion Dynamics poll (PDF) asked respondents what the U.S. should do about the situation in Iraq. Fifty-eight percent said either pull the troops out by the end of the year or pull the troops out gradually over the next year. Only 33% replied that our troops should be pulled out only after the Iraqi military is ready to take over, and the option of sending more troops barely registered.

Should those opinions hold or get worse through 2008, the Democrats will find the electoral terrain much smoother. In the Democratic presidential primaries, a candidate can win by promising to begin pulling out the troops upon taking office. During the general election, the Democratic candidate can move toward the middle by claiming that the draw down will be a gradual one, perhaps taking a year or two, and giving the Iraqis time to fight on their own. Combine that with the energy and organizational abilities of the Netroots, and the Democrats have a one-way ticket to the White House.

This means the Bush Administration has about two years to either quell the violence in Iraq or boost the abilities of the Iraqi troops to fight on their own. Otherwise, America will leave Iraq in such a fashion that Iraq will be left in chaos and the Islamofascists will claim victory. What sort of order emerges in the Middle East after that is anyone's guess. What will be clear is that our enemies abroad will feel a big boost in morale, believing, perhaps not incorrectly, that America does not have the will and stamina for the long fight. We will be an America less secure.

The Iraq War is one that is still very much worth fighting. It represents not only the Iraqis' best chance for a democratic society, but also that of other people living in the Middle East. It is our best opportunity for removing the oppressive regimes that foment the breeding grounds for terrorism. Sadly, the American electorate of today is not what it was three decades ago. Worse, Ned Lamont and the Netroots, like the Vietnam protesters before them, are in the process of raising America's white flag of surrender. That, ultimately, will be their legacy.

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About the Author

David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.