• Politics

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ National Security Problem

3 minute read

This has obviously been a painful week for Republicans, who have had to come to terms–thanks to Mr. Trump–with the reality of who their base voters actually, sadly, are. The Democrats have had a free pass in all this, but there is a quiet dry rot in their base as well.

A few nights ago, I saw Hillary Clinton hold an open, free-wheeling town meeting here in Salem before a large and enthusiastic crowd. Women stood atop their chairs to get a good look at her–Clinton, like Trump, is a rock star in certain precincts. In fact, women comprised a solid majority of the crowd. Clinton didn’t give a standard stump speech, but opened with a brief statement about Trump, which was tough and smart and closed with the line: “This is not a clash of civilizations. This is a clash between civilization and barbarity.”

She also had a few words about the economy: “[It] does better with Democrats in the White House.”

And then she went straight to questions. Dozens were asked. And you might wonder how many concerned the topic of the moment, the need to rethink national security in an era when the terrorists have switched tactics and are attacking low security targets–theaters and restaurants in Paris, Christmas parties in San Bernardino.

The answer, as Bill Clinton used to say, was zee-ro. None. Not a single question about national security. Several times Clinton tried to steer her answers toward the topic, but the crowd resisted–and it occurred to me that Clinton was actually taking a risk with the Democratic base when she talked about what had to be done to defeat ISIS. The latest poll shows her trailing Bernie Sanders 50-40% in New Hampshire.

What were the questions about? Genetically modified food. Climate change. Gun control. Whether Exxon Mobil suppressed information about carbon pollution. Voting rights. Mental health. Student loans. Immigration (pro-family preservation, not border control). Preserving social security and Medicare. Taking care of veterans (with the implicit assumption that veterans are victims of the military-industrial complex).

Now, some of these are important issues. But the Democrats’ unwillingness to think, or ask, about the single most immediate threat to our country was stunning…or maybe, all too predictable. There is as little nuanced thought about national security among left-liberal Democrats as there is about border control among Trump supporters. The assumption, too often, is that all U.S. military action overseas is not just wrong, but criminal.

The invasion of Iraq was a historic disaster that has precipitated much of the mayhem we’re now seeing in the region. But the initial impulse to strike back against Islamic terrorism after 9/11 was necessary and moral–and we are now confronting a revival of the very same sorts of people who attacked the World Trade Center. (In a recent speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Clinton went where few candidates in either party have gone: she called on the Saudis to stop funding jihadism.) Liberals have opposed some of the most effective tactics against these people–drone strikes, assassinations, meta-data collection, the aggressive use of special forces. All of which need to be accelerated now. (And yes, the question of who we let into our country–how we prevent ISIS from infiltrating–needs some careful thought as well.)

Clinton has a strong record on these issues. Her constituents, not so much. She’s pandered to the Democrats’ left-sliding base on trade and education reform, but it is significant that she’s not caving on this one.

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