LATELY — 5 June 2004

Kerry strong on defence?

“For the better part of three decades, and cer­tainly from the Carter pres­i­dency to the present day, the op­er­at­ing as­sump­tion has been that Re­pub­li­cans are strong on defence, De­moc­rats not so much. … Mr Kerry may be able to flip the ‘strong on defence’ stereo­type and fully reclaim it for the De­moc­rats for the first time since the Truman era.” – Philip James in the Guardian

Much as hes­i­tate to dis­agree with a “former senior De­mo­c­ra­tic party strategist,” I think it’s un­likely that people thought the De­moc­rats were stronger on defense because they talked more about it, or promised better results. The De­moc­rats were con­sid­ered strong on na­tional se­cu­rity because they built more weapons (and started more wars). (JFK became Pres­i­dent partly because he was able to con­vince voters that a (non-existent) “missile gap” existed between the United States and the Soviet Union. Truman, also, is the only person to have ever au­tho­rised the use of nuclear weapons.) So I think it’s a mistake to think that Kerry can per­suade the public that he is strong on defence without promis­ing to flash some force (i.e. “hard” power) if the need arose. (Perhaps unfortunately.)