The Democrats need a candidate like a Democrat they used to have. He was Henry “Scoop” Jackson – a hawk abroad, a liberal at home. From 1941 until his death in his native Everett in 1983, Jackson represented Washington state in Congress, first as a representative and for his last 30 years as a senator. Until Democrats find someone with his kind of credibility on national security, they are not going to win the White House.
Jackson was the last Truman Democrat. As such, he believed that America should help working people, but had to win the Cold War. Jackson’s worldview was forged in the lesson of Munich: that appeasing Nazi Germany led to World War II and the death camps. Jackson understood that totalitarians view weakness with contempt – and offering them one-sided concessions just makes them more dangerous.
People forget that from World War II through the Kennedy years, Democrats led the way on national defense. Republicans were held back by their isolationist wing and a resistance to government spending.
As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Jackson roasted President Eisenhower for putting budget caps on defense spending. He blamed that policy for “the missile gap” then allegedly favoring the Soviets. “The richest country in the world,” Jackson declared in 1960 while campaigning for John F. Kennedy, “can afford whatever it needs for defense.”
Jackson was the father of neoconservatism, a legacy that troubles some Democrats today. Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz all worked for or with him. These Jackson alumni planned and promoted the Iraq war.
But what would Jackson have thought about Iraq? That the war’s architects learned about the world at Jackson’s knee might suggest approval from the great beyond.
“Jackson would have been very pleased by the performance of his disciples,” asserts Robert G. Kaufman, author of “Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics” and professor of public policy at Pepperdine University.
“Jackson identified the root cause of the Cold War as a messianic ideology and totalitarianism,” says Kaufman. He would have seen similar root causes in 9/11.
Other readings of Jackson do not draw such slam-dunk conclusions. Jackson’s support of a strong defense did not necessarily translate into an appetite for marching into war – especially in the Middle East. In 1982, Jackson slammed President Reagan’s decision to send peacekeepers into Lebanon, and for reasons that might resonate today. Citing the volatile mix of Christians, Shiites, Sunnis and Druze, he insisted that Lebanon was no place for American troops in a police role.
“The danger of Americans being killed, the danger of divisiveness that would accrue from those developments … are all too real,” Jackson said on “Face the Nation.” “A superpower should not play that kind of role in a cauldron of trouble, because sooner or later we are going to get hurt.”
So Jackson very well might have opposed going into Iraq. But here is the point for Democrats: Jackson could have taken that position, and no one would have questioned his determination to defend America.
John Kerry did not inspire similar confidence. Voters didn’t need him to declare the war an unbridled great success. By the 2004 election, unease over the wisdom and execution of the war was already growing. What people wanted, and didn’t get, was a more general sign of resolve to confront the terrorist threat.
In recounting Scoop Jackson’s enthusiasm for a robust defense, we mustn’t overlook that he was as much a liberal as he was a hawk. Jackson supported proposals for national health care, starting with Truman’s. He was a staunch friend of labor and an unswerving supporter of civil rights.
Right-wingers hated Jackson. In 1952, the red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy campaigned against him. Even as Jackson offered strong support for Reagan’s defense buildup, the conservative Richard Viguerie targeted him for defeat. “He has got a lot to answer for,” Viguerie said in 1982, “you know, like his 100-percent AFL-CIO voting record.”
By the time Jackson ran for president, in 1972 and 1976, Cold War liberals had gone out of fashion. The trauma of Vietnam had soured many Democrats on a militarily assertive America, and Jackson could not get his party’s nomination.
In the post-9/11 world, Scoop Jackson seems fresh again. And Democratic candidates would do well to speak his language on national security. Their job is to pair liberal social policies with an uncompromising toughness toward external threats. Scoop Jackson proved it can be done.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Contact her by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.