Yesterday’s Newsday featured an interesting column from James Pinkerton. Entitled “Hawks and Doves Lack Wings for 2008,” his essential point is that we may be seeing a repeat of the late stages of the Vietnam War, where voters rejected dovish McGovern Democrats and Cold War hawks in favor of the “peace with honor” candidate, Richard Nixon. Money grafs:
Back in the late ’60s, amid the frustrations of Vietnam, most Democrats decided that they wanted, simply, “peace now.” But most Americans didn’t agree; they had no wish to “cut and run.” The national majority wanted an “honorable” solution that might not be victory but also wasn’t defeat.
Today, not many Americans think that the Iraq war is going to turn out as promised by Bush and Lieberman, but they still don’t want to see our adversaries triumphant, perhaps causing a domino effect across the Middle East.
So the challenge is to find a president who can finesse the situation. In 1968, the answer was not a hawkish Democrat like Johnson, or a dovish Democrat like McCarthy. Instead, the man of the moment was ex-Vice President Nixon, who positioned himself as an experienced, problem-solving moderate. During the ’68 campaign, Nixon pledged that he had a “secret plan” for ending the Vietnam War with “honor,” and so he won the White House that November. And, it might be noted, he did have a secret plan – the opening with China – and he did end the war, eventually. Those policy successes earned him an overwhelming re-election in 1972, when he trounced another “peace-now” Democrat, Sen. George McGovern.
So to 2008. The neo-McGovern-ish Lamont-ized Democrats are going to lurch left. And at the same time it’s hard to imagine any Republican winning the White House by promising to “stay the course” in Iraq. Instead, what the voters are looking for is a candidate who pledges to wind down the war in a way that spares America from humiliation.
But isn’t there another option? What about a candidate who promises not to “wind down” a war that must be won, but a candidate who promises to fix what is broken? One of the more appealing aspects of a Romney presidency is his reputation as a turnaround artist (heck, he even wrote a book called Turnaround). He is now ready for perhaps the most challenging turnaround of his career.
Imagine a choice in 2008 between a candidate who, at the very least, will have paid serious lip service to the retreat and defeat left in the primaries, and a candidate who promises to not just continue the fight but to fight smarter.
Such a formula would be a disaster for the Democrats. Since “peace with honor” is not an option with enemies who will fight until they are dead, our best hope is not temporary retreat but instead better tactics and a fresh approach.