If you read the conclusion of today’s Democracy Corps/Third Way poll analysis, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Democrats remain disturbingly not confident talking about national security.
[M]any Democrats seem relatively silent about the accomplishments of the Obama administration and their party on national security. Though a few are stressing the administration’s efforts on the new START treaty and nuclear proliferation, fewer still seem to be stressing the administration’s accomplishments regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, efforts to strengthen the military, and steps to combat terrorism. The survey strongly suggests progressives should speak out forcefully on these issues, and remind voters of the contrasts between those relative successes and the failures the country witnessed under eight years of Bush-Cheney. [emphasis added]
When the president scores 53 percent approval even after two significant domestic terrorist attempts in the last six months, that’s a strong statement. Even the last few months have seen a significant 10-point shift — moderates have changed allegiances and now trust Democrats more than Republicans on national security by six points.
Progressives need to own the national security narrative, a message I’ve tried to hammer home repeatedly over the last several months. Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote back in April for Roll Call:
[T]he Obama administration has quietly put together a sterling record on national security. So why are Democrats so down in the dumps? As one party strategist put it, Democrats “are behaving like the president has a 30 percent approval rating. On these [security] issues, Democrats inherently believe that no one will believe our arguments.”
There’s plenty for progressives to cheer. … Progressives stand for strong, smart security policy. Obama has terrorists in retreat and American prestige on the rise. Democrats need to begin owning their successes if the American public is to give credit where it’s due.
The Democracy Corps/Third Way analysis offers solid, straightforward recommendations. These are hardly liberal fantasy — they’re pragmatic, progressive ways to emphasize what has been a successful beginning on national security that will translate into electoral gains.
- Speak in stronger terms about anti-terror efforts.
- Stress efforts to support and strengthen the military.
- Emphasize successful attempts toward greater international cooperation.
- Emphasize domestic and economic renewal as an element of national strength.
- Provide a contrast to the Bush-Cheney administration.
Two quick comments on the specifics of the recommendations. First, on the economy “as an element of national strength,” we’re now wondering less why the White House put such a strong emphasis on precisely that point in last week’s National Security Strategy. And on that final point, John Boehner’s been going around claiming that the administration’s counterterrorism successes have been “lucky,” an argument that the survey says falls flat with voters. I’d offer my evisceration of Boehner here (it was fun to write, so please check it out).