Democrats have done very well politically by convincing voters that they are, in a very broad sense, on the side of the little guy. “Republicans,” they say, “take care of the rich, but we Democrats are the party that brought you Social Security, Medicare, Head Start, the Civil Rights Act, free school lunches, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and Obamacare. We are the party that will tax rich Republicans to fund government programs that help poor and middle-class Democrats.” Like mothers, Democrats are nurturing and supportive.
There are a few little problems with this narrative. Most of those programs, for good or ill, had bipartisan support. Further, Head Start has been a colossal failure; the school-lunch program is overly broad and encourages waste (with 64 percent of children getting free or reduced-price lunches); civil-rights laws (in direct contravention of the promises of their original backers) have been interpreted to permit quotas and “reverse discrimination”; AFDC wound up encouraging unwed childbearing and arguably contributing to poverty; and Obamacare is causing the middle class to pay higher premiums for more-limited medical care while still covering only a fraction of the uninsured.
Still, the “mommy party” retains its “caring” image.
The Democrats have another reputation. They are perceived as the party of weakness — against both criminals at home and enemies abroad. Events of the past several weeks and months have underlined that second reputation in (pardon the expression) red ink.
The Democratic senators’ decision to release a report excoriating the CIA for “torture” after the 9/11 attacks was designed to impugn the Bush administration and the nation’s security agencies. In weak-minded fashion, Senator Dianne Feinstein and her colleagues insisted that the harsh interrogation of terrorists was immoral and also completely ineffective.
There is nothing intellectually dishonest about rejecting torture or anything close to it. But when the senators insist that it didn’t work — despite the contrary assessment of five CIA directors of both parties — they betray a fundamental unseriousness. Of course it worked. That’s why it presents a moral dilemma. Otherwise, they’re asserting that the CIA is manned by sadists who did these things for kicks. Presumably, if that had been true, Eric Holder’s Justice Department, which conducted a lengthy investigation, would have brought charges. But it didn’t. Finally, the senators’ claims that they were kept in ignorance have been abundantly contradicted by the public record and by statements from the CIA officers who did the briefings.
The attempt to discredit the Bush administration and engage in moral preening failed. Polls showed that despite the Senate report, Americans support the limited use of harsh interrogation by a 2-to-1 margin.
President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba without demanding much of anything in exchange further fits the less attractive Democratic stereotype of weakness on foreign policy. As in the case of Iran in 2009, Cuba in 2014 is on the ropes, facing the loss of the subventions from Venezuela that have kept it afloat since the collapse of the USSR. Obama could have demanded free elections, freedom of the press, or an end to the persecution of human-rights champions. Instead, he displayed a penchant for rescuing brutal regimes in both cases.