Noam Scheiber writes this in today’s NYT:
By embracing a robust democratization agenda, the Democratic nominee in 2008 will be able to appeal to his base while also claiming the new, pro-democratization center. The Republican nominee, who has to win the nomination of a party at best indifferent to democratization, will enjoy no such luxury. Mr. Bush himself won the Republican nomination in 2000 by promising a far less activist foreign policy than the Clinton administration had advocated.
The gist of his argument, which he’s made before on his blog, is that the GOP base is fundamentally isolationist, while the Democratic base is fundamentally internationalist. Therefore, after the partisan attachment to Bush fades, the president will have actually made life easier for Democrats by making internationalism more acceptable nationwide.
I find Scheiber’s argument interesting and hopeful, but I’m skeptical for two reasons.
One, Bush isn’t going anywhere. He’ll be out campaigning for the 2008 nominee, and that nominee will probably have had some hand in pre-2008 GOP politics. Frist, Rice, Jeb, McCain, Giuliani… all of them have, to some degree, embraced the Bush foreign policy agenda or even created it. So the eventual nominee won’t be starting from a blank slate. They will be pushing for “four more years” of the Bush policy of aggressive internatlionalism, and they’ll probably have Bush by their side on the trail. That should be enough for the Republicans who only support internationalism for “partisan” reasons to continue to do so.
The second issue, the main one, is the deficit. Bush has been piling up a mountain of debt to fund his internationalism, and the bill’s going to come due. The 2008 nominee will probably be the one who gets stuck with the check. Faced with a mounting debt, might the “new, pro-democratization center” decide that isolationism is better than tax increases? Especially since Scheiber is postulating that the military threat will be gone:
But by 2008 the job of consolidating democracy will probably be primarily nonmilitary in nature. It will involve financing and training indigenous political activists, helping to build highways, schools and hospitals, and nurturing democratic institutions like a free press and labor unions. Which is to say, all the things Republicans roll their eyes at and Democrats have long embraced.
Scheiber is right in that whether or not Bush has made the world safe for democracy, he’s made the American policial scene safer for pro-democratization. But will these newly internationalized centrists vote Democrat next time around? It’s far from certain. More likely, there will now be two strains of American Internationalism, if that’s a thing: The neocon, America-kicks-ass-and-the-UN-is-corrupt Bush approach, and the Europe-is-always-right-and-the-UN-is-wonderful Democratic base approach. The Dems will have to have a real “Sister Souljah moment” with the UN if they hope to bring the newly internationalized GOPers along for the ride.