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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Tuesday, May 20, 2003


Constructive Criticism

posted by Ezra at Tuesday, May 20, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
The DLC memo's have been dirty and divisive politics. Worthy neither of their organization nor the time we have spent responding. Nonetheless, this is politics, respond we must and respond we did. Now, however, we should work to glean the best from this encounter, to take their criticism in a constructive fashion, at least that of it which is based in reality. The primary critique the DLC levied at Howard Dean was that he was weak (which they use as a synonym for liberal) on national security. When the DLC says that "On every social and economic issue, registered Democrats' views were closer to those of all registered voters than to those of Democratic delegates " and use it to tar Dean as a liberal, the only place they have to attack is foreign policy. And on that they are correct, Dean's views on Iraq were different than the majority of the country's, this makes neither he nor them wrong, it is simply a statement of fact.

Anybody who thinks national defense is not going to be a key issue in 2004 is fooling only themselves. It will not be the sole issue, the economy, tax cuts, health care, possibly civil unions, etc will also be on the table. But let us not pretend we can get through this election by ignoring the very real fear of terrorism which defines the post 9/11 era. We cannot and we should not.

The conventional wisdom says that we must appear strong on national defense. I think that is semantically incorrect. We must appear highly competent on national defense. We do not have to be war mongers, but we must be able to deflect the war monger's attacks. The best way to look at it is we do not want to be the bully, but if we're not going to be the bully than we damn well have to be the karate master.

It is to our benefit to keep national defense in mind and ensure it stays there. To win this election Howard Dean will have to put forth a very clear, very comprehensive, and very convincing plan as to how to strengthen our national security in ways Bush hasn't. Bush is very open to critiques on that issue; our ports remain unfortified, our "homeland security" is hopelessly ineffective, the money for homeland security is being diverted or misspent, and so forth. In addition, I think that the opportunity exists for an anti-terrorism doctrine to be articulated that will make Bush sound hopelessly simplistic. Don't let poll numbers fool you, people do not quite comprehend why we're attacking Iraq and not North Korea, people don't understand why Saudi Arabia remains unmolested as we threaten Iran and Syria. They don't comprehend because you can't comprehend self-contradictory actions. Now, what is understood is that Bush operates only on the level of force, he is willing to bring American force to bear to protect our people. That is important and worthwhile, our military is there for a reason. However, the critique must be made that in order to actualize the war against terrorism in any significant way, we are going to have to attack the poverty and hopelessness that breeds terrorists, we're going to have to improve our image around the world so we're not such a target for hatred, we're going to have to take a complex and multi-faceted approach because this war is unlike any there has ever been. Force will be part of it but not all of it. We are weaker because we have not been diplomatic, we are not as safe because we attacked Iraq before we'd truly finished with Al-Quaeda. Force isn't always wrong, but it is wrong to see it as the sole tool in our toolbox, such an attitude is self-defeating and will only result in more attacks.

We can be strong on national defense and foreign policy and we can do it in a way that is congruent with our morals and ideals. However, that is something we must articulate in order to silence the critics and allay the fears in the general election. Brute strength is the poor man's substitute for true competence, Bush is the former and we must be the latter. The DLC was wrong in their vituperative and divisive attacks, but they were not wrong in bringing forth that critique. It must be addressed and it must be respected, and it will be our own downfall if we refuse to do so.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.