The conventional wisdom, both in the blogosphere and in Washington, is that although the Democrats were right about Vietnam, their anti-war advocacy destroyed their credibility on foreign policy, allowing the Republicans to take the mantle of national security. The lesson is supposedly clear that current Democrats should not be too aggressive in an antiwar stance.
So let me ask a naive question: is this really true? How do we know?
I can offer a counter-story. It wasn’t Vietnam that destroyed the Democrats’ credibility: it was Jimmy Carter. For 444 days, American hostages sat in what used to be the US Embassy in Tehran, and the United States did nothing. In the meantime, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and the President appeared shocked that “Brezhnev lied to me.” Then Iran released the hostages on Reagan’s first day in office, creating the impression (perhaps true, perhaps not) that his bellicose statements had cowed the mullahs, and then he invaded Grenada. Altogether, this gave the public the idea that the GOP would do what needed to be done to protect America, and the Democrats wouldn’t.
So on this accounting, Vietnam had nothing to do with it.
I don’t know if the counter-story is true. But it’s certainly plausible, and we should be able to do better than just to throw around ex cathedra statements about why the public takes certain views of the parties’ foreign policy. What evidence is there to believe the current conventional wisdom?