Outflanking Bush to the right
Source Louis Proyect
Date 04/07/30/10:43

The New Republic Website

The Right Stuff
by Daniel W. Drezner

After John Kerry sewed up the Democratic presidential nomination, there
was much fretting about whether he would need to tack left in order to
appease the Deaniacs and Naderites. The Fahrenheit 9/11 phenomenon
fueled this concern. In the run-up to this week's convention, a spate of
new analyses came out regarding the growing power of left-wing special
interests, and whether they even wanted Kerry to win in November. But
after three days of the convention, one Kerry campaign tactic comes
through loud and clear: The Democrats will be attacking Bush from the
right as well as the left. Indeed, some of the rhetoric deployed sounds
awfully familiar to that used by a presidential candidate four years
ago--George W. Bush.

A key plank of Bush's 2000 campaign was "restoring honor and dignity" to
the White House. The Democrats seem bound and determined to top that. On
Tuesday, Barack Obama sounded like he was channeling Bill Cosby at
various points in his speech: "Go into any inner city neighborhood, and
folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to
learn--they know that parents have to parent, that children can't
achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television
sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is
acting white." In last night's speech, John Edwards praised the values
of "faith, family, responsibility, and equality of opportunity." As
Andrew Sullivan has pointed out this week, these are conservative tropes.

It's on foreign and defense related issues, however, where the echoes of
the Bush 2000 campaign come through loud and clear. Four years ago, Bush
articulated a realist foreign policy platform, based on a strong and
well-funded military. Kerry has gone out of his way in interviews and
profiles to articulate his realist bona fides--contrary to my
expectations from this past spring. True, Democrat after Democrat at the
convention has criticized the Bush administration for being
unilateralist--a standard liberal line. But they have also gone after
the administration for refusing to expand the size of the military to
meet the current demands placed on the armed forces. In their speeches
Wednesday night, both former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John
Shalikashvili and John Edwards bashed the President for moving so slowly
on intelligence reform. (Bob Graham probably said something along these
lines as well, but I lost the will to stay awake 90 seconds into his

The similarities between the campaigns extend to the tactical level.
Four years ago, Bush received the endorsement of a fair number of
high-ranking retired military officers--Colin Powell and Norman
Schwarzkopf most prominently. This rankled some of the retired military
brass, who believed strongly in the tradition of senior officials
remaining apolitical after they left the active military. At the time,
General Merrill McPeak, the chief of staff for the Air Force from 1990
to 1994, defended his endorsement of Bush on The News Hour, saying, "I
support him in general. I think he's right on the issues."

Four years later, McPeak was back on PBS--to endorse John Kerry. He also
appeared in a stark black-and-white DNC film aired last night, in which
he said, "We're on the wrong course." Five other retired generals
appeared in the film, and each of them seemed bound and determined to
say the word "Kerry" in close proximity to the phrase
"commander-in-chief." For many of these officers, their surprise at
supporting a Democrat is palpable. Shalikashvili said in his speech last
night, "I do not stand here as a political figure. I stand here as an
old soldier and a new Democrat." He wasn't the only one: Earlier in the
evening, Lt. Colonel Steve Brozak--a Marine who served in Iraq and is
now running for Congress in New Jersey--stated that he had been a
registered Republican 18 months earlier.

There are, to be sure, limits to the effectiveness of veteran porn. The
tactic didn't deliver election victories for John McCain or Bob Dole,
both of whom had even more impressive military histories than Kerry. But
in the end it may not be Kerry's biography that makes the most
difference, but rather the way in which his biography has provided a
natural opening for his party to move to the administration's right on
military issues. "America's armed forces need better equipment, better
training, and better pay," Bush said in his 2000 convention speech. If
that line sounds familiar, it's because just about every major
Democratic speaker this week has said almost exactly the same thing. Who
would have thought that the man many believe to be the most conservative
president in modern history could be outflanked from the right? And by
the so-called most liberal man in the Senate.

Daniel W. Drezner is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the
University of Chicago. He is the author of The Sanctions Paradox
(Cambridge 1999). He writes regularly at

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