John Lewis Gaddis: So Bush Stole the Truman Doctrine, So What?

Roundup: Historians' Take

'It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." The speaker could have been Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton. In fact, it was George W. Bush, in his second inaugural address; and what he said is what historians will probably remember as the Bush Doctrine. This poses a serious challenge for Democrats. What do you do when Republicans steal your principles?

You can yell, "Stop, thief!"--but that's not likely to be very effective. You can deny that you ever held those principles--but then you have sold out what you stand for. You can acknowledge that you once held those principles, but that now that your opponent has endorsed them, you are compelled to abandon them--but that would be to surrender to partisanship, even to pettiness. You can question your opponent's sincerity, claiming that he doesn't really mean what he has said--but there is every reason to believe that he does. Or you can say, "Delighted you've come to see it our way."

Democrats so far have tried all of the above, except the last. This is short-sighted, because political parties in the United States have always appropriated each other's ideas. Jeffersonian Democrats started out as a states' rights party, but took over the Hamiltonian Federalists' view that there should be a strong central government to ensure national security. Lincoln Republicans re-affirmed the Jeffersonian commitment to liberty, while insisting that the Democrats' toleration of slavery was inconsistent with it. Progressive, New Deal, and Great Society Democrats embraced the Lincoln Republicans' principle of social justice, while noting that Republican policies for decades after the Civil War had fallen far short of it. Formerly isolationist Republicans converted to Roosevelt's internationalism during World War II, while arguing that they could make that strategy work more effectively. Clinton-era Democrats endorsed Republican calls for fiscal restraint and welfare reform, while claiming that they could implement these with greater compassion. So when Bush, in the aftermath of September 11, evoked the Jeffersonian idea of a world free from tyranny and the Wilsonian idea of a world safe for democracy, he was doing nothing radical or unprecedented: he was well within the tradition of American two-party politics.

t's strange, then, that so many Democrats today are outside this tradition. They have responded to the first Republican president to have become a liberal interventionist by quivering--and blogging--with rage. They have offered no plan for building on the Bush Doctrine and moving on. It's as if they're imitating the Republicans of the 1930s, who quivered with rage at Roosevelt (blogging had not been invented yet) while neglecting his warnings about tyrants, as well as his vision of what a world without them might be.

The fall of France and the attack on Pearl Harbor shocked the Republican Party into expanding its horizons. In the years that followed, leaders such as Wendell Willkie, Arthur H. Vandenberg, Thomas E. Dewey, and Dwight D. Eisenhower showed that Republicans could agree with Democratic presidents on the fundamental objectives of national security strategy, even as they criticized specific practices and proposed constructive alternatives. They appropriated Democratic principles, and thereby rescued their party from the extinction it might otherwise have brought upon itself. Five years after the shock of September 11, despite ample evidence that the Bush administration's practices have fallen short of its principles, today's Democrats have produced few such leaders; and as the fate of Joe Lieberman suggests, their party seems bent on expelling the ones they have. ...

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DeWayne Edward Benson - 10/23/2006

Bush stole the Truman Doctrine about forming Democracies. Did something happen while I was in the bathroom.

Let's see, grandpa Prescot Bush was working for Hitler, GHW Bush and some actor set up Saddam, Junior looks at Putins soul (for shame) and likes it.

Damn, what goes on during a potty break.