I agree that if the Dems want to win in 2004, they have to lay out a principled and pragmatic alternative to Bush’s failed national security policies. But it’s crazy to argue, as Democratic party strategists Donna Brazile and Timothy Bergreen did in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “What Would Scoop Do?” that we “need to return to the muscular national security principles” exemplified by Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the conservative Democratic Senator who represented Washington State from 1940-1982.

Why should Dems take their lead from a former Senator whom bellicose neocons like Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams and Douglas Feith consider their intellectual godfather?

Before mindlessly invoking Scoop Jackson as a model, consider what the late (and great) journalist Lars Erik-Nelson wrote about this hawkish ideologue in late 2000 for The New York Review of Books:

“Time and again in his career, Jackson made charges or issued demands that put America’s defense capacities, falsely, in the worst possible light. At best, his exaggerations can be considered white lies intended to rouse complacent Americans to meet what he believed to be a mortal danger; at worst, he bullied his opponents and impugned their integrity, if not their patriotism…To his conservative admirers, almost all of them Republicans, Jackson was a prophet without honor in his own party…But consider Eisenhower’s quite different view. There was no reason for Eisenhower to decry a military-industrial-congressional complex that was, in good faith, identifying genuine threats to the United States and devising necessary weapons to counter them, even at high cost. What Eisenhower denounced was a cabal [he considered Jackson a key member of this group] that knowingly magnified threats, relentlessly promoted worst-case scenarios, deliberately belittled the military might of the United States, and defamed opponents to promote spending on weapons that were costly and unneeded.The world and its threats may be changing, but the military-industrial-congressional complex remains with us, warning of perils that it must know in its heart are exaggerated. In the method of hyperbolic, ever-shifting, disingenuous, worst-case argument, Jackson lives.”

The neocons have learned well from Jackson. Like their mentor, they’ve created a cabal inside the Administration, which magnifies threats and defames opponents. So why should Dems emulate a man whose polices contributed to the failed national security polices of today?

The Dems would be wise to forget “Scoop” and instead pay attention to the words of Ted Sorensen, former speechwriter to another muscular Democrat– President John Kennedy. In a recent commencement address at American University, Sorensen lamented that:

“Both political parties now compete to sound more hawkish, to criticize as naive or even unpatriotic those who favor peaceful world cooperation. The long uneasiness with bloodletting and battle that followed Vietnam has been replaced by a new infatuation for war, a preference for invasion over persuasion.” Comparable political courage is needed now, Sorensen said, “to reverse course, in JFK’s phrase, away from a strategy of annihilation and back toward a strategy of peace…The US would still be a world leader, necessarily, with its preponderance of wealth and might; we would still defend our principles, security and basic interests, but we would be a leader in diplomacy, not warfare; in humanitarian operations, not military.”

Listen to Ted. Dump Scoop!