Although Barack Obama is ahead in the polls, it's safe to say that conventional wisdom is winning this election. Yes, I understand that if we had listened to conventional wisdom two or three years ago, Senator Obama would be nowhere near the presidency. Fair point. Yet a lot has changed since this election season got started, and recent headlines have given conventional wisdom a second wind.
Conventional wisdom tells us that Democrats win economy-oriented elections, while Republicans win national security-oriented elections. The polls clearly bear this out. As the financial crisis has spread and the economy has turned south, Barack Obama has taken a considerable lead in the polls. However, if American wallets were a little thicker this might not be the case. If we were enjoying the sort of prosperity that allowed voters to look beyond their pocketbooks to threats beyond our borders, John McCain would certainly be doing better than he is today.
In a poll conducted in March of this year, 57% of respondents believed Republicans would do a better job "ensuring a strong military." Only 28% could say the same for Democrats. Republicans also led Democrats by a margin of 45% to 39% on the question of "national security." That's right, even after the Bush administration's legion mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public still gives Republicans the nod on military and security issues. Barack Obama has worked hard to reverse that perception, but he has enjoyed only limited success. Consequently, we can expect his campaign theme for the next two weeks to be a simple one: it's the economy, stupid.
Nevertheless, if we believe in progressive policies, we must not delude ourselves into thinking we can sidestep national security concerns on a regular basis. Not only is it risky politically, it's morally unacceptable. Ours is a great nation, and it deserves to be protected. Mindful of this fundamental fact, the Truman National Security Project, an organization that believes in a progressive approach to national security (and also employs me - full confession), has rolled out a new initiative called the Strong Military Project. Through two new videos featuring veterans, the goal of the initiative is to promote a stronger military by holding elected officials accountable to the needs and concerns of service members.
This may not be the make or break issue of Election 2008, but it's a message that needs to get out. After all, conventional wisdom may be winning this election, but that's no reason to stop working for better conventional wisdom. National security and military strength need not remain the province of conservatives. But if progressives are to retake these issues, we must continue to remind ourselves that the economy is not the only game in town...stupid.