Jul 12, 2010 | By Jim Kachadoorian, NETWORK Intern
In addition to my time at NETWORK, I’m attending the Summer Intern Security Springboard at the Truman National Security Project this summer. It’s a crash course in everything a young leader needs to become competent, confident, and literate in national security policy. Held for an hour every Thursday afternoon, the Springboard is a great complement to my experience at NETWORK.
The first week’s presentation discussed the philosophical differences between Progressives and Conservatives. At the heart of the matter was Conservative success in value politics, and how Progressives have been unable to effectively use the approach. In light of President Obama’s recent speech on immigration, what we discussed at the Springboard can help us better understand the political atmosphere around Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Dating back to Nixon’s appeal to the silent majority in 1972, Conservatives have spent decades understanding and broadcasting the values they stand for. As a general rule, Conservative success has resulted from establishing baseline values and from there, articulating policy. Consider the Patriot Act under President Bush. From the fundamental value of a strong respect for American Security, support was rallied, translating into the policy of the Patriot Act. Would the Patriot Act have stood a chance without effective value politics? Probably not. Was its success a testament to the inherent value and merit of the legislation? Not necessarily. Yet the Act sprung into law, energized by the value politics of Conservatives.
Let’s fast forward to the present. In the face of domestic turmoil and controversial legislation in Arizona, Republicans have framed the immigration debate as a matter of national security. Democrats have every right to worry about a national conversation in this context. When asked ‘Which party do you associate with ‘too hesitant to use force,’ 59% of respondents chose the Democratic Party, while only 21% chose the GOP. Similarly, when asked ‘Which party do you associate with ‘patriotic,’ Republicans received 45% of the vote, compared to only 28% for Democrats. Lastly, when asked what ‘the number one reason democrats are weak on security?’ was, a resounding 33% margin indicated that “they follow the polls/change position based on public opinion.”
Progressives must consider these results if the immigration debate will be seen through the lens of national security. The reason Democrats trail in these polls is not an issue of policy- it’s all about a failure to project the progressive values. Too often, progressives expect the inherent values behind proposed legislation to be clear and implicit. Most non-expert Americans have been slow to connect with character and values, not policy.