Democrats are torn between two visions of their history. Some potential candidates in the 2008 Democratic primary and many liberal activists argue that the Republican responsibility for the Iraq war has, in effect, freed the Democrats from Mr. McGovern’s legacy. They say the 2006 elections will provide a mandate for a new antiwar argument: that troops can be pulled from Iraq in order to shore up American security elsewhere in the world.There are two things wrong with this. The first is idea that the Democrats actually have a peace-nik hippie legacy. While it's true that modern-day peace-niks, if they choose to endorse one of the major parties, generally choose the Democrats over the Republicans, the major conflicts of the 20th century all began under Democratic administrations: Wilson in WWI, FDR in WWII, Truman in Korea, Kennedy and LBJ in Vietnam. Republicans for most of the twentieth century were the party of isolationism--leaving to the Old World to fight on its own the conflicts that were the product of its own moral turpitude. Indeed, as the article notes, peace-loving pre-Reagan Republicans tried to win votes by disparaging all those "Democrat wars." The McGovernite ghosts the party struggles with today are not the product of its actual history. Rather they were conjured up by years--a couple decades--worth of Republican rhetoric and media activism, at first carried on mostly under the radar of major media outlets, but eventually seeping into the national political consciousness to such an extent that their existence can be taken for granted by, for example, political writers from that paragon of the liberal media, the New York Times.
Other strategists and political scientists argue that the Iraq war has given the Democrats a different opportunity to lay to rest their McGovernite image, in part by rejecting calls for a quick withdrawal in Iraq.
We might all be better off today if the Democratic party actually had a McGovernite policy legacy, as opposed to the faux-history created by the conservative backlash movement. American wars since WWII have all been fiascos on various scales: the failure to take seriously the threat of Chinese intervention in Korea; the quagmire of Vietnam; the various deployments against leftish governments in Central America that combined brief and poorly executed (yet ridiculously triumphed) uses of US troops with decades of 'low intensity' tragedy for citizens of the regimes we supported or sought to undermine; the invasion of Iraq in 1991 that left Saddam in power, the oil wells burning, and the shiites in the south, who we had urged to rebel, to die unaided.
The fiasco of the current Iraq war has been bad enough long enough that it has allowed Democrats an opportunity to get out from under the stereotype of effete hippiedom the conservative backlash has saddled them with. But the equation 'Democrat = Hollywood liberal, Taxachusetts, latte-drinking snob, flower child not serious about national security' is an irrational collection of cultural talismans, and it cannot be countered through rational argument and carefully calibrated policy positions. Only a movement similar in duration and sophistication to the one that created that equation, and plastered it all over the nation's public sphere, can do that. We may be seeing the beginning of such a movement recently, but it will probably take a long time--or a major national crisis--to reform the nation's political consciousness. If the Dem's win control of one or both houses of Congress in the upcoming election, even if they win the White House in 2008, their media campaign has to continue well beyond those points.