Euro-Democrats Show Their Hand: It Plays Well in Paris, But What About Peoria?

Andrew E. Busch

March 1, 2003

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s eve-of-war outburst against George W. Bush’s “failed diplomacy,” and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s defense of Daschle, is important to contemplate more fully than most analysts have thus far attempted.

This is not because the comments themselves are particularly insightful. To the contrary, they are in many respects logically incoherent. For one thing, France’s veto stood unalterably astride any resolution that would actually enforce Iraq’s disarmament, Bush’s diplomacy notwithstanding. It is clear that France’s position derived from considerations completely divorced from the arguments or evidence related to Iraq, primarily its determination to make France the unchallenged spokesman for an anti-American European Union. More fundamentally, the argument that this alleged U.S. diplomatic failure led to war is unsupportable since the whole point of U.S. diplomacy was to facilitate the use of force to begin with. If U.S. diplomacy had succeeded, we would be going to war just as we are, albeit with the indispensable blessings of China and Cameroon.

Nor are Daschle’s and Pelosi’s comments notable because they undercut a president at a time of national military action. Democratic leaders during the Reagan administration were rarely reticent about questioning his actions, and Republicans during the Clinton administration often openly attacked the president during military operations. Indeed, when Clinton ordered the bombing of Iraq in December 1998, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott as much as accused him of trying to distract attention from the looming impeachment vote in the House. Similar partisan sniping marred the 1999 war in Kosovo.

What makes the views of the Democratic leaders noteworthy is the way that they illuminate the state of the elite of the Democratic Party in 2003. Indeed, Daschle’s comments are doubly significant; as an opportunist pursuing his party’s presidential nomination, his direction is a powerful clue to where the opinion of influential Democrats stands right now. Daschle, probably without knowing it, has declared the national Democratic Party to be the party of Europe in America. That is to say, not the party of the nations and peoples of Europe nor of European civilization, but of social democratic “Europe” largely defined by the political, social, and economic unit of the European Union.

The parallels between the Democratic Party and the statist parties of Western Europe, discernable in several areas for years, are now complete. They include a domestic preference for an extensive “nanny state,” a concommitant distrust of the spontaneous creativity of a free society, and uncompromising secularism, combined with a foreign policy marked by pacifist tendencies, distrust of American use of force, interminable diplomacy conducted as an end in itself, and the surrender of national sovereignty (and hence consent of the governed) to unaccountable international bureaucrats. While the long tradition of the Democratic Party and the aversion of most Americans to the word “socialism” forbid them to admit it, it is likely true that the political and cultural elite of the Democratic Party would feel quite at home in the Social Democratic parties of Sweden or Germany. Indeed, their ideal of sharply progressive taxation, redistribution of income, cultural hedonism, and socialized medicine has made Sweden their unspoken domestic model for years. Now, the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate have demonstrated their affinity for Europe in the realm of foreign policy, as well. For, with the crisis upon us, those leaders have rather openly indicated that they accept the “European” (i.e. French/German) model of foreign relations, which is the only framework within which one could reasonably affix the blame for diplomatic impasse on American policy rather than French obstinacy, Iraqi stonewalling, or U.N. incompetence. In short, they are willing to give Hans Blix, Jacques Chirac, and Gerhard Schroeder the benefit of the doubt ahead of George W. Bush and Colin Powell.

At this point it is important to distinguish between the Democratic elite—represented by Daschle, Pelosi, and the California Democratic convention that recently cheered Howard Dean and Al Sharpton—from the average Democratic voter. This gap must surely be of concern to Democratic strategists, since it gives Iraq the potential to split Democrats today the way Vietnam did in the 1960s and 1970s. The reaction of the latte’-sipping high-income liberal to Daschle’s appraisal is likely very different from that of the coffee-swilling truck driver with a son in the Marines. These are Democratic voters—and there are millions of them—who remember that they have a country, and remember which one it is.

If this divide is not patched up in eighteen months—and there are any number of things, including unanticipated disaster in Iraq, that could patch it up—election day 2004 could be very unpleasant for Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi, and the Democratic nominee for President. They may come to find that trolling for votes in the salons of Paris, Berlin, and Athens does not pay high dividends in Peoria. However, the long-term dilemma for American politics will remain, for even if the Europhiles are defeated, they will probably not be dislodged from their positions of influence. They will regroup, and wait for more propitious circumstances to advance. Then America—as a world power and as an independent, sovereign republic—will face the daunting task of sustaining itself when one of its two major parties is intellectually dominated by those who sincerely believe that the world would be safer, and America better, if America were driven less by the Spirit of ’76 and more by the Spirit of Brussels.

Andrew E. Busch is an Adjunct Fellow of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs and an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Denver, where he specializes in American government and politics. Dr. Busch is the author of Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom. He is also the co-author of The Perfect Tie: The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Election.