"The Peace Party vs. The Power Party"
FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
I am out of the office most of this week, so I have chosen to reprint a particularly engaging editorial from The Weekly Standard and its associate editor Matthew Continetti. The subject matter and timing of the editorial below are appropriate as we are about to enter a new political season with the Democrats in control of both Houses of Congress. What follows is a long read, but certainly one which provides a great deal of historical perspective on the ideological differences between the Democrats and Republicans, and on what we are likely to see from the “Washington Wonders” in the coming year.
I will be back to my usual publishing schedule next Tuesday with some interesting insights on the economy and the investment markets for the New Year. I hope you are enjoying the Christmas season and heartwarming times with family and friends, as am I.
The Peace Party vs. the Power Party -
The polarization that has characterized American politics since the presidency of Ronald Reagan has extended its reach to foreign affairs. Never have the differences between the two parties on issues of war and peace been so distinct. At no time since World War II has the divergence of partisan support for an ongoing war been as great. Nor have attitudes toward power--its origins, nature, and application--reflected ideological and partisan identification to the extent they do today.
The great divisions in American life--between low- and upper-income voters; those who attend religious services weekly and those who do not; people who are married and people who are single; voters with a postgraduate education and those without--are often less predictive of voting patterns than one's stance on the use of American power abroad. The PewResearchCenter for the People and the Press concluded in 2005 that "foreign affairs assertiveness now almost completely distinguishes Republican-oriented voters from Democratic-oriented voters." Together, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the March 20, 2003, invasion of Iraq seem to have accelerated a shift begun some 30 years ago: The Democratic party is increasingly linked with the attitudes, tendencies, and policies of peace, whereas the Republican party is increasingly linked with the maintenance and projection of American military power.
This is not to say that one party is entirely composed of doves and the other entirely of hawks. A look at our national politicians reveals exceptions to the dominant foreign policy tendency in either party. Nor can one say that the American electorate, taken as a whole, is bitterly divided over questions of foreign policy. Public opinion research has revealed that most Americans support similar foreign policy goals and share similar beliefs about the world and America's place in it. Most favor strengthening relationships with U.S. allies. Most prefer diplomacy to the use of arms, but will support the use of arms as a last resort. Most believe that America's global responsibilities extend beyond its own security. "Most Americans want security for themselves first," write political scientists Benjamin Page and Marshall Bouton in their new book The Foreign Policy Disconnect, "but they also want justice for others."
But this general consensus is only superficial. Look at the large majority of voters who are reliable partisans, and it begins to vanish. Furthermore, the attitudes and opinions of the partisan publics, Democrat and Republican, are reflected in the words and policies of each party's leaders. The Democratic party, its congressional delegation in particular, has embraced withdrawal from Iraq and, in its approach to the world, emphasizes negotiation without the threat of force. More than half the House Democrats in the outgoing Congress are cosponsors of Rep. John Murtha's resolution to "redeploy" American troops from Iraq at the "earliest practicable date." And the number of Murtha's cosponsors will almost certainly grow in the incoming Congress.
Visitors to the campaign websites of the 30 Democratic House freshmen will find that the incidence of Murtha's name is second only to that of George W. Bush--and Murtha is mentioned in a much more positive way. Of those Democratic House freshmen, only two use the word "victory" to describe their goal in Iraq. Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi knows where her caucus is headed. Shortly after the November election, she told the Fox News Channel's Brit Hume that Iraq is "not a war to be won but a problem to be solved." To Pelosi, the solution to the problem of Iraq--American withdrawal--is self-evident.
If Democratic senators have not embraced peace to the same extent as their colleagues in the House, the reason is that they each represent millions of people who look at the world in diverse ways, not hundreds of thousands of people chosen by a computer or judge in order to guarantee a particular partisan outcome in a given district. Yet even in the Senate, the same partisan distinctions on foreign policy that we find elsewhere apply. And here, too, the results of the 2006 election guarantee that debate in the Senate over foreign affairs will swing toward peace and away from power. Democrats in favor of withdrawal from Iraq will replace Republican war supporters who currently hold seats from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, and Virginia. Sen. Carl Levin will chair the Armed Services Committee. And majority leader-designate Harry Reid has said he will back sending more combat forces to Iraq in 2007 only if it means that American troops will be leaving that country in 2008.
Few political clichés bear as little resemblance to reality as "partisanship stops at the water's edge." Consulting recent major works of popular diplomatic history--Walter A. McDougall's Promised Land, Crusader State (1997); Walter Russell Mead's Special Providence (2002); Robert Kagan's Dangerous Nation (2006)--one finds division and conflict over the course of foreign policy since the founding of the American republic. Battles between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians, Populists and internationalists, isolationists and interventionists were, perhaps inevitably, partisan conflicts. And every conflict had a partisan resolution--the victory of one point of view or policy over another, leading to new conflicts and new partisan alignments. Developments overseas brought new pressures and interests to the fore at home; politics at home shaped events overseas.
In fact, in retrospect, the post-World War II era appears to have been unique. Ole R. Holsti, the George V. Allen professor emeritus of political science at DukeUniversity and author of Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy, concludes that bipartisan agreement characterized early Cold War foreign policy to an unusual degree. In 1945, 89 senators voted to ratify the United Nations treaty. The Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO all enjoyed, in Holsti's account, "rather solid public support." In 1946 the Gallup organization asked respondents whether they favored an "active" U.S. foreign policy; a little less than three-fourths of respondents in both parties said yes. In 1947, 56 percent of Republicans and the exact same percentage of Democrats approved of aid to Greece to prevent a Communist takeover there.
Similar agreement characterized postwar policy toward Asia. About the same percentage of Democrats and Republicans supported aid to Taiwan in July 1950 and opposed sending U.S. troops to Indochina in May 1954. As one might expect, more Republicans than Democrats were critical of Truman's conduct of the Korean war. But Holsti argues that these divisions, like others, eventually subsided.
What is perhaps most striking about these data to the contemporary observer is that the foreign policy consensus held throughout the Vietnam war. "The absence of strong partisan cleavages," writes Holsti, "extended into the early years of the Vietnam war, as majorities within both parties expressed strong support for the Johnson administration's policies." Another student of public opinion, Sidney Verba of HarvardUniversity, has found that partisan identification did not factor heavily into a person's view of Vietnam even after the war became controversial.
Leaving Vietnam was also a bipartisan enterprise. It was a Republican president who began negotiations to end the war and supervised the withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam. That withdrawal was complete when, in June 1973, Congress passed--by a bipartisan, veto-proof majority--the Case-Church amendment forbidding any further American involvement in southeast Asia. When the North Vietnamese launched the final conquest of South Vietnam in March 1975, it had been more than two years since an American had died in combat in Vietnam and more than a year since the U.S. Air Force's last bombing raids over Cambodia. At no time during this bloody extrication did partisan divergences in public opinion emerge comparable to those that would appear within a few decades.
Looking back, it seems that American withdrawal from Vietnam did more to spur partisan disagreement on foreign policy than the war itself. The 1976 adoption of the "morality in foreign policy" plank of the Republican party platform and the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan apparently hastened the divergence. Asked in March 1982 about Reagan's military buildup, 43 percent of Democrats said the defense budget was "too much" and 16 percent thought it was "too little." (Close to a third thought it "about right.") By January 1985, 60 percent of Democrats thought Reagan's defense budgets were "too much"; only 7 percent thought they were "too little"; 27 percent thought they were "about right."
Republicans were far more supportive of Reagan's defense spending. Twenty-seven percent of Republicans said in 1982 that the defense budget was "too little." Forty-six percent thought it was about right. Only 18 percent thought it was "too much." By 1985, there were more Republicans (29 percent) who thought Reagan was spending "too much" on defense. But the great majority said the president's spending priorities were either "about right" (49 percent) or "too little" (15 percent).
In October 1983 almost two-thirds of Democrats thought it was a mistake to send the Marines to Lebanon; less than 30 percent thought it was not a mistake. A majority of Republicans (53 percent) thought deploying the Marines was not a mistake; 36 percent of Republicans thought it was. In May 1985, almost two thirds (65 percent) of Republicans approved of a trade embargo against the hard-left Sandinista regime in Nicaragua; just 16 percent disapproved. By contrast, 58 percent of Democrats disapproved of an embargo, with only about a quarter approving. In March 1986, Republicans were split, 44 percent to 44 percent, on military aid to the contras. There was no such split among Democrats. They were opposed to such a policy, 60 percent to 29 percent.
The Reagan era included acrimonious debates over missile deployment, a nuclear freeze, the bombing of Libya and intervention in Grenada, aid to the contras and Central America policy in general, missile defense, and moralistic rhetoric in foreign policy. Yet the more substantial and interesting partisan divergences occurred during the presidency of Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush. In one sense, this might be unexpected. In many respects Bush and his advisers repudiated Reaganite foreign policy in favor of a classic "realist" approach to the world. But on the question of force--specifically, the use of force to eject Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait--Democrats and Republicans still held widely divergent views.
Overall, of course, the public favored the Bush administration's policies toward Saddam. But Holsti, in a survey of Gallup data from before, during, and after Operation Desert Storm, found "rather substantial partisan differences" over the military deployment to Saudi Arabia and subsequent invasion of Iraq. On many questions, the typical divergence between Republican and Democratic opinion was somewhere around 20 percentage points. In fact Holsti found "only three" Gallup questions that "failed to yield significant differences." Two of these questions were related to the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iraq; the third asked respondents whether peace protests ought to be banned during the conduct of the war.
On the most basic question, however--whether Saddam's army should be forcibly ejected from Kuwait--Republicans and Democrats disagreed by substantial margins. And the split in partisan public opinion was echoed in the actions of partisan leaders. One hundred and seventy-nine Democratic representatives voted against the joint resolution providing Bush the authority to use force and confront Saddam. Only three House Republicans voted with them. (Eighty-six Democrats and 164 Republicans voted for the joint resolution.) The split was more pronounced in the Senate, where only 10 Democrats voted to grant Bush authority; 45 Democrats voted against. All Senate Republicans except 2 voted for the joint resolution.
In 1992, one of the Senate Democrats who had voted for the joint resolution, Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, was chosen by the Democratic governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, to be his vice presidential candidate, mainly for considerations of foreign policy. Clinton and Gore's subsequent victory over George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle brought a new instability to public opinion on foreign policy. Republicans were for a while reluctant to support Clinton's interventions when they thought the "national interest" was not at stake. The most drastic partisan divergence can be seen in Gallup polling on the presence of U.S. troops in Bosnia in 1995. More than two thirds (67 percent) of Republicans in the Gallup poll disapproved of a U.S. presence in Bosnia, while only 37 percent of Democrats disapproved. A majority of Democrats (57 percent) approved of the U.S. presence, while only 30 percent of Republicans approved as well.
But these percentages changed over time. Though he was often reluctant to do so, and could be said to have just as often pursued his goals half-heartedly, President Clinton deployed American power with some frequency. And he was able to keep most Democrats with him. As a result, by the time of the 1999 Kosovo war, 73 percent of Democrats favored the inclusion of U.S. ground troops in a Kosovo peacekeeping force. By this time, too, Republicans had rediscovered their affinity for the use of American arms abroad. A majority of them (57 percent) favored sending ground forces to Kosovo.
In a time of (apparent) peace and prosperity, it is perhaps unsurprising that Americans would turn inward and the power party would wane in influence. Nor should it be surprising that the Republican presidential nominee in 2000, George W. Bush, would respond to the new currents in his party and country by pledging to limit American commitments abroad and to conduct a foreign policy befitting a "humble" nation. Such a stance toward the world would be another casualty of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, however. In the days that followed, Bush declared war on terror and began planning war against the Taliban. And he enjoyed bipartisan support for these policies. A new consensus behind an assertive foreign policy to combat terror seemed possible and perhaps even likely. But it was not to be.
Earlier this year, Gary C. Jacobson of the University of California at San Diego published A Divider, Not a Uniter. The book deserved more attention than it received. George W. Bush, Jacobson argues persuasively, has become the "most divisive and polarizing president in the more than 50 years that public opinion polls have regularly measured citizens' assessments of presidents." And this is clearest when you look at the signature policy of Bush's administration: ending Saddam Hussein's regime and seeking to create a stable, democratically elected government in Iraq.
Jacobson found that, from the beginning of the debate over what to do about Saddam Hussein, the two parties held different views. As the United States moved closer to invading Iraq, the percentage of Republicans who said the "United States needs to act now, even without support of its allies," went from 34 percent in the late summer and fall of 2002 to 58 percent in February 2003. Yet over the same time period the percentage of Democrats who held this view basically stayed the same--20 percent to 22 percent. For Democrats, the importance of acting multilaterally was paramount. "Even when they believed that regime change in Iraq was imperative," Jacobson concludes, "most Democrats and independents remained reluctant to resort to force and opposed to unilateral action on the part of the United States."
As the hour of reckoning neared, the divisions between the parties grew. As the war plan moved forward, "partisan divisions on its wisdom and necessity were substantial, on the order of 35 to 40 percentage points." Such a divergence was unprecedented. Never had such a divide been recorded since public opinion researchers turned to foreign policy questions in the aftermath of World War II. Historically, writes Jacobson, the gap "is lowest in the most controversial of these engagements, Vietnam, averaging only 5 percentage points." In Jacobson's analysis, Republican and Democratic views drew closer once the war began. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents supported the action through the first two months of the war. Then, sometime during May and June 2003, the trendline of Democratic support fell below 50 percent. It never recovered. Support for the war among independents trended above 50 percent until sometime between January and March 2004. It, too, never recovered. During all this time, however, the trendline in Republican support never sank below 75 percent.
The partisan gap on support for the Iraq war, Jacobson goes on, "reaches an average of about 63 percentage points in the last quarter of 2004 before narrowing a bit to an average of about 58 percent during 2005." He found that the most radical divergence occurred in an October 2004 Los Angeles Times poll question that asked "whether Bush had made the right decision to go to war, in light of the CIA's report that Saddam had no WMD and no active program to produce them." Ninety percent of the Republicans who answered this question said the war remained the right decision. Ten percent of Democrats agreed.
More than anything else, the 2004 presidential election was about the war. National Election Survey data show that a person's vote was inextricably tied to whether he thought the war in Iraq had or had not been worth the cost. "In total," Jacobson continues, "89 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans and independents" cast votes consonant with their stance on the war. The polarization trend continued throughout the 2006 election campaign. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in early November 2006 found that 77 percent of Republicans still agreed that the United States "made the right decision" to use military force against Iraq. Just 20 percent of Democrats agreed that it was the right decision.
Perhaps most strikingly, some 61 percent of Republicans in the November Pew survey thought the U.S. military effort in Iraq was going "very/fairly well." By contrast, 16 percent of Democrats felt the effort was going "very/fairly well." Instead, 81 percent of Democrats said the war was going "not too/at all well." Yet, at a time when insurgents were spiking the number of attacks against Coalition forces, 35 percent of Republicans shared the majority Democratic assessment. Such a disparity had been apparent for some time, of course. What the Pew data make clear is that the historic Democratic gains in the midterm elections are the result of a collapse in support for the war among independents, whose views, at least for now, are far more consonant with those of Democrats than Republicans.
It is worth examining, then, the characteristics of the peace party and the power party, and how their more general beliefs influence each party's views on specific policy questions. What separates the two are their views of the importance of military superiority to national power and the proper use of American arms abroad. A 2003 Pew survey recorded the largest partisan gap the organization had ever measured on the question of whether "the best way to achieve peace is through military strength." Sixty-nine percent of Republicans agreed with this statement; only 44 percent of Democrats did the same.
More recently, Robert Shapiro and Yaeli Bloch-Elkon of ColumbiaUniversity, in a survey of Chicago Council on Foreign Relations data, found "a noticeable divergence from 1998 to 2004 in the opinions of Republicans and Democrats, with Democrats increasingly less likely to say maintaining U.S. military power is a 'very important goal' of American foreign policy." The 2006 Transatlantic Trends survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund found that more than 80 percent of Democrats said they agreed either "strongly" or "somewhat" with the idea that "economic power is more important in world affairs than military power." The divergence from Republicans was 18 percentage points.
That Democrats deemphasize military power in general leads them to adopt certain policies. Shapiro and Bloch-Elkon found that the partisan difference on expanding defense spending increased by 10 percentage points between 1998 and 2004. (In 2004, 44 percent of Republicans wanted to expand the defense budget versus 20 percent of Democrats.) They "see a widening partisan divergence along the ideological lines of the Bush administration." But these trends are probably bigger than Bush. After all, there were clear divergences during the Clinton administration as well.
And because the peace party wishes to scale back domestic military spending, it is unsurprising it would also want to reduce foreign military aid. "Compared to Republicans," write Shapiro and Bloch-Elkon, "Democrats have been more supportive of cutting back military aid to other nations." They found that the difference in opinion among Democrats and Republicans on this question doubled between 1998 and 2004, with substantial majorities of Democrats supporting cuts in military aid. As America cuts back on its financial commitments abroad, so, too, should it reduce the number of its military bases on foreign soil. In 2004 large majorities of Republicans supported the American base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; substantially less than a majority of Democrats felt the same way. In 2004, 57 percent of Republicans supported bases in Afghanistan; 44 percent of Democrats felt the same way.
The peace party is logically consistent. If military power is less important than certain forms of "soft" power, then it ought to be deployed less. And this is especially the case for "preemptive" war. A 2003 Pew survey found that whereas more than 80 percent of Republicans thought preemptive wars are "often" or "sometimes" justified, substantially fewer of Democrats, 52 percent, shared those same opinions. But reluctance to use deadly force is not limited to preemptive or preventive conflicts. The German Marshall Fund's 2006 Transatlantic Trends poll asked whether, "under some conditions, war is necessary to obtain justice." Sixty-three percent of Republicans agreed "strongly" with this sentiment, as did 30 percent of Democrats. In the peace party, war is the final, and perhaps forbidden, option.
In November 2005 the MIT Public Opinion Research Lab conducted a more specific survey. The data are revealing. One question asked whether the United States had made a mistake in invading Afghanistan in October 2001. Ninety-four percent of Republicans said the policy of regime change in Afghanistan had not been a mistake. Only 59 percent of Democrats agreed. In the MIT survey, only 4 percent of Democrats thought the war in Iraq had been worth fighting. Republicans were more likely than Democrats to support the use of U.S. combat troops, and by greater margins. This was the case when respondents were asked whether they would approve of using U.S. troops to protect oil supplies (10 percent of Democrats said yes versus 41 percent of Republicans), to spread democracy (7 percent versus 53 percent), to destroy a terrorist base (57 percent versus 95 percent), to intervene in a humanitarian disaster such as a genocide or civil war (56 percent versus 61 percent), and to protect American allies under attack (76 percent versus 92 percent). In only one area did more Democrats than Republicans support the use of troops: helping the United Nations "uphold international law" (71 percent versus 36 percent).
Even more striking is the apparent polarization on democracy promotion. The 2006 Transatlantic Trends survey asked whether the European Union and the United States should help establish democracy in other countries. Sixty-four percent of Republicans said they should; 35 percent of Democrats agreed. The pollsters told respondents to imagine an authoritarian regime in which there is no political or religious freedom. They asked whether the United States and the European Union should take certain actions with regard to such a regime. Asked whether they would support Europe and the United States sending military forces to remove the authoritarian regime, 65 percent of Democrats said they would not support such a policy; 37 percent of Republicans said they would not do so.
It was the expectation of many of the political scientists with whom I spoke that these partisan divergences would fade as the security situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate and Bush's popularity imploded. The most recent data suggest, however, that this has not happened. There has been no convergence in opinion. The partisan divisions have not healed. While there are obviously elements of power in the peace party and vice versa, a recent Pew report went so far as to say that the two parties now "see different realities."
The underlying causes of foreign policy polarization are difficult to unravel. Both Gary Jacobson and Walter Russell Mead point to the emergence within the Republican party of a distinctive, ideological foreign policy with ties to religious conservatism. In a 2003 article in the Public Interest entitled "Defining the 'Peace Party,'" James Q. Wilson and Karlyn Bowman wrote that ideology plays a role, but they also pointed to widespread pacifist and pseudo-isolationist attitudes among (overwhelmingly Democratic) black voters. No doubt the political developments of the 1970s--including the activist takeover of the Democratic primary process, which led to the nomination of George McGovern in 1972; the foreign policy failures of the Carter administration; and the rise of a Reagan-Helms moralist foreign policy in the Republican party--played a key role. That foreign policy polarization is tied to the larger phenomenon of political polarization is undeniable--but that does not make it any less surprising to political scientists. They seem genuinely puzzled at these data. And more than a little worried. The division in American politics between the peace party and the power party may complicate or even prevent the "implementation of a steady, resolute foreign policy and national security strategy" in a time of great danger, write William Galston and Pietro Nivola in Red and Blue Nation? Volume One: Characteristics and Causes of America's Polarized Politics (Brookings).
Consider Iran. In the 2006 Transatlantic Trends study, 23 percent of Democrats surveyed said that the United States should "accept that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons." Nine percent of Republicans registered a similar opinion. When asked whether the allies--the United States and the E.U.--ought to take military action against Iran to stop the mullahs from acquiring nuclear arms, only 41 percent of Democrats agreed. Seventy percent of Republicans supported a military strike. And when asked who could best handle the issue of Iran's nuclear program, only 19 percent of Democrats said the United States, versus more than a third of Republicans.
What lies at the bottom of the great chasm dividing the peace party from the power party? One suspects it is differing attitudes toward American exceptionalism, conflicting opinions on America's goodness and greatness. In 2004 the pollster Scott Rasmussen asked respondents whether America is "generally fair and decent." Eighty-three percent of respondents planning to vote for George W. Bush agreed with that sentiment; only 46 percent of those planning to vote for John Kerry thought so. Rasmussen also asked whether respondents thought the world would be better off if other nations were more like the United States. The data were similar: Eighty-one percent of those planning to vote for Bush thought so; just 48 percent of Kerry voters agreed. When Rasmussen asked the "fair and decent" question again in November 2006, he found similar results.
In 2003, Pew asked respondents whether they agreed with the statement that "I am very patriotic." As you might expect, almost everyone who is asked this question says "yes." But a simple "yes" is not the only option. Seventy-one percent of Republicans said they "agreed completely" with this statement, while less than a majority of Democrats (48 percent) said their agreement was "complete."
One's views of America correlate strongly with one's views of American power. In 2004 Pew asked whether the United States should be the "'single leader' or 'most active' nation" in the world. Fifty-four percent of Republicans agreed that America should be one or the other. Only 29 percent of Democrats shared that opinion--a 9 percentage point decline, Pew found, since the same question had been asked in 2001. Similarly, in 2004, Pew asked whether U.S. "wrongdoing" might have "motivated" the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Fifty-one percent of Democrats--and 67 percent of liberal Democrats--agreed with that sentiment, compared with only 17 percent of Republicans.
It stands to reason that if you think American power is not always a force for good in the world, you will be less eager to deploy that power than others. But what happens when the peace party holds power of its own and faces a world in which illiberalism is on the march? What happens when the power party faces a revolt in its own ranks? What does it mean when the party of the social elite identifies more closely with those who wish to constrain American power than with those who wish to use it? Will an American failure in Iraq discredit the power party, just as the urban riots and other social dislocations of the late 1960s discredited the party of the Great Society?
Contingent, indeterminate, and unpredictable, the course of American politics--and of world politics--is notoriously difficult to predict. No one knows what wonderful and terrible events abroad will influence politics at home. What we do know is that partisans will see these events through different eyes and respond to them in vastly different ways. The divide between the peace party and power party is real. It is sizable. And it will remain a prominent feature on the American political landscape for some time to come. END
The Weekly Standard is one of my favorite publications, and Mr. Continetti certainly gives us a lot to think about! To subscribe, go to www.weeklystandard.com. I highly recommend it.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas or whatever holiday you are celebrating. I certainly did!
Wishing you a happy and profitable New Year,
Gary D. Halbert
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