The Democrats Go From Cold War Doves to Paranoid Hawks - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Democrats Go From Cold War Doves to Paranoid Hawks

The Democrats once prided themselves on defending opponents of war and dissenters from the perceived patriotic consensus in the country. They were the party of peaceniks, nuclear freezers, draft dodgers, and conscientious objectors. During the days of the Cold War, they would often condemn Republicans for supposedly overstating the threat of Soviet expansionism and gave no support to underdogs, such as the Contras in Nicaragua, who fought against it.

How times have changed. The Democrats have gone from condemning McCarthyism to indulging their own version of it, casting Tulsi Gabbard, a former Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, as a traitor for daring to deviate from the party’s line on Ukraine. In 2019, Hillary Clinton insinuated that Gabbard is an operative for the Russians. “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said of Gabbard. “She’s the favorite of the Russians.”

Listening to the Democrats today inveigh against the reconstruction of the “Soviet empire,” one might wonder: Where was that bellicose passion during the Cold War?

If the Democrats owe an apology to Joseph McCarthy, they owe an even bigger one to Ronald Reagan. They called him a wild-eyed warmonger for sizing up Russian aggression correctly. They portrayed him, not his Soviet counterparts (which included a young Vladimir Putin), as the provocateur in the Cold War. Teddy Kennedy, among others, called for irenic overtures to the Soviets and scoffed at Reagan’s peace-through-strength policies.

Joe Biden dismissed Reagan’s push for the creation of a nuclear shield against the Soviets as “one of the most reckless and irresponsible acts in the history of modern statecraft.” Biden was an early supporter of Jimmy Carter and favored his détente-driven foreign policy. Biden saw Reagan’s increased military spending as unnecessary and led opposition to his funding of the Contras. Listening to the Democrats today inveigh against the reconstruction of the “Soviet empire,” one might wonder: Where was that bellicose passion during the Cold War?

Members of the party that once celebrated the anti-war activist Daniel Ellsberg for leaking government documents (in the hopes of stopping the Vietnam War) now view non-interventionists like Gabbard as security threats for simply mouthing opinions that they dislike. Gone are the Democratic lectures of yesteryear about the dangers of defining treason too broadly. They used to tell us that pacifists are patriots too, that opposition to military intervention is not equivalent to the moral endorsement of an enemy, and that criticism of America’s failings is a high form of civic duty.

They are in no mood to maintain those views these days. Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and Gabbard have condemned Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Trump has called it an “assault on humanity.” But liberals feel free to smear them as traitors anyways, owing to their “America First” foreign policy. The smear makes no sense, since the whole intention of that policy is to prioritize America’s vital national interests. How best to protect those interests is a matter on which Americans can reasonably disagree, but it is ridiculous to suggest that the non-interventionists are somehow lacking in patriotism.

During the buildup to the Iraq War, no Democrat would have dared suggest that opposition to war indicated support for Saddam Hussein. Most Democrats insisted correctly that one could be anti-Hussein and anti-intervention. They didn’t call pundits and politicians who saw the war as imprudent “Saddam Hussein apologists.” But now they openly refer to the “Putin wing” of the GOP.

Joining them in this cheap demagoguery are some Republican champions of the Iraq war, who remain oddly cocky despite that debacle. They continue to treat foreign policy, which is the murkiest and most debatable of policy areas, like a matter of clear-cut moral certainty, as if the stance one takes on a complicated foreign policy issue somehow determines one’s moral character. America’s recent misadventures in interventionism should make one suspicious of such moralizing about foreign policy.

If anything, given the opaqueness of foreign policy questions, the debate should expand, not narrow. And yet the impulse of the Bill Kristols remains weirdly doctrinaire, as if Carlson and Gabbard are too sinister to join in the conversation.

It was out of this fatuous culture of reading “treason” into foreign policy positions that the Trump collusion myth in part came. Liberals convinced themselves that Trump was a Putin asset based on little more than the rhetoric and policies that he adopted. Now the same people who peddled that myth are hurling accusations of treason again. Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who spearheaded the collusion probe, recently tweeted that Carlson and Gabbard are in the Kremlin’s pocket.

The Democrats have undertaken a curious journey, from Cold War doves to paranoid hawks, displaying the very McCarthyite qualities they once deplored. The party can find room for athletes who boycott the flag and organizations like Black Lives Matter that denigrate American history, but it can no longer abide the war skeptics it once championed.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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