Yesterday, Ned Lamont suggested what was, without his realizing it, the most practical and politically astute solution that has yet been proposed for the Dems' continuing inability to overtake the GOP in earning Americans' trust on national security.
An NBC poll released today showed some seemingly head-scratching numbers. 57% of respondents said they disapproved of Bush's handling of Iraq, compared to just 38% saying they approved. But when asked which party they think would do a better job dealing with Iraq, the GOP still led Democrats, 34%-29%. The GOP had an even wider lead in dealing with the global war on terror (GWOT), leading Dems in that category 38%-28%.
Perhaps the most striking statistic is the high proportion of voters who are undecided or think that neither
party would be good at dealing with these vital issues. 37% of respondents to today's NBC poll were in the undecided/neither category on Iraq, and 34% were in the same category on GWOT. The GOP's continuing lead is not because the public has faith in the GOP's policies; it's because they have even less faith in Democrats.
Another fascinating part of this poll was the inclusion of two generic ballot tests, with each test given to half the poll's respondents. The wording of the generic GOP candidate's position was identical in both tests. The Democratic position was divided thusly:
The Democratic candidate says the United States should reduce the current troop level now that Iraq has adopted a Constitution. The Democratic candidate believes that our military has done all that it can and now is the time to set out a timetable for phased troop withdrawal over the next year or two. The Democratic candidate says that the Republicans favor a stand-still policy.
The Democratic candidate says that the United States should have an immediate and orderly withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The Democratic candidate believes that our military has done all that it can. Our continued presence is causing the never-ending insurgent attacks and we have created a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists. The Democratic candidate says that the Republicans favor a stand-still policy.
Using Position A, the generic Democrat led his GOP opponent 53-40. Using Position B, the GOP candidate led 48-41. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, it's not enough to slam Bush and call for an end to the war in Iraq. We have to propose a solution that is not simply bringing all the troops home.
Polls clearly show that the public has lost faith in the War in Iraq - a recent Gallup poll showed that 54% of Americans thought the US military actions in the Middle East is creating more terrorists than it was eliminating. But they still feel GWOT must be fought somewhere, and simply don't trust Democrats on that yet - even a Democratic polling firm found
that the GOP maintains double digit leads over Democrats on dealing with both terrorism (47-33) and national security (47-34).
And that's where Ned Lamont's statement comes in.
Lamont proposed that troops in Iraq be shifted to Afghanistan to fight the terrorists there. This could be the silver bullet for Democrats if other candidates pick up on it. It's the perfect middle ground between the "cut and run" and "stay and pray" mantras that both sides are hurling at each other, and are all too unwilling to disavow as equally unworkable.
From a practical standpoint, it would get our troops in Iraq out of the continuing quagmire that is unfolding there, where there is little hope of eradicating the major terrorist networks, but much risk of creating more terrorists. From an electoral standpoint, it would severely undercut the GOP's "cut and run" message, since the suggestion could not be viewed as a retreat, but only as a refocusing of our troops to where they should be - hunting down Bin Laden and eradicating the people who harbored him.
That's the message the Democrats can win on, and finally end Americans' GOP-created fears that the Democratic party is either unwilling or unable to keep the country's safe. Now, the Democratic candidates need to find the brains and the guts to make Lamont's suggestion a party-wide platform for the home stretch of these elections.