On foreign policy, among today's Democrats only Joe Lieberman -- not quite a full Democrat these days -- stays true to the FDR narrative. Instead, the suggestion is that they will get us out of Iraq (although their leading presidential candidates concede that U.S. troops may still be there in 2013) and that with Bush banished to Texas the world will be friends with us again. That ignores the threats that Bill Clinton and Bush grappled with, not always successfully, but at least with an awareness that all was not benign out there.
The Republicans are no better. Many say the party must go back to Ronald Reagan, and the Reagan narrative is at least of recent vintage. Reagan taught that government had grown overlarge and must be cut back and that America must be the assertive champion of freedom and democracy. The problem is that none of the Republican presidential candidates occupy Reagan's place on the political spectrum, and the problems we face are not those that confronted Reagan in 1980.
We no longer have 70 percent tax rates and oil price controls; we no longer face the symmetric threat of Soviet communism. The problem of overlarge government -- the threat that entitlements will gobble up the government and the private economy -- is real but remote. Our foreign adversaries are asymmetric, with a small but worrying potential of inflicting vast damage, and they are not entirely vulnerable to conventional military or diplomatic pressures.
Neither party is presenting a narrative, as the Roosevelts and Reagan did, that takes due note of America's great strengths and achievements. Each seems to take the course, easier in a time of polarized politics, of lambasting the opposition. The Democrats suggest that all our troubles can be laid at the door of George W. Bush. The Republicans, noting Bush's low job ratings, complain about the disasters that will ensue if Hillary Clinton is elected. All these may be defensible as campaign tactics. But it is not a pudding that can successfully govern.
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