Usually, not always, the peace party wins.
Gen. Sherman’s burning of Atlanta and March to the Sea ensured Abraham Lincoln’s re-election in 1864.
William McKinley, with his triumph over Spain and determination to pacify and hold the Philippines, easily held off William Jennings Bryan in 1900.
Yet Woodrow Wilson won in 1916 on the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War!” And Dwight Eisenhower won a landslide with his declaration about the stalemate in Harry Truman’s war: “I shall go to Korea.”
Richard Nixon pledged in 1968 that “new leadership will end the war and win the peace.” Vice President Hubert Humphrey, behind by double digits on Oct. 1, promised to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. He united his party and closed the gap to less than a point by Election Day.
George McGovern ran as an antiwar candidate in 1972. By November, almost all U.S. troops were home from Vietnam, however, and in late October Henry Kissinger had announced, “Peace is at hand.” Nixon had expropriated the peace issue. Result: 49 states.
Today, after the longest wars in our history in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are sick over the 6,500 dead and 40,000 wounded, fed up with the $2 trillion in costs, and disillusioned with the results that a decade of sacrifice has produced in Baghdad and Kabul.
Aware of this war weariness, especially among women, President Obama and Vice President Biden seem intent on appearing before the nation on Election Day as the sole peace party. This fact leaps out of a close read of Biden’s debate transcript.
Lost in his manic grinning and mocking laughter at Paul Ryan’s points and rude interruptions was a recurring theme: President Obama ended the war in Iraq and is dialing back the war in Afghanistan, but Ryan and Romney seem to be looking to new military interventions in Syria and Iran.
Consider but a few Biden comments nestled in the transcript of his half of that 90-minute debate.
“The last thing we need now is another war.”
“Are you (Ryan) … going to go to war?”
“We will not let them (the Iranians) acquire a nuclear weapon, period, unless he’s (Ryan) talking about going to war.”
“War should always be the absolute last resort.”
“He (Ryan) voted to put two wars on a credit card.”
“We’ve been in this war (Afghanistan) for over a decade. … We are leaving in 2014, period.”
About intervention in Syria, Biden said: “The last thing America needs is to get into another ground war in the Middle East, requiring tens of thousands if not well over a hundred thousand American forces.”
This drumbeat, implying Romney and Ryan are champing at the bit to get into the war in Syria or into a new war with Iran, was deliberate.
Biden’s words almost surely reflect what Democratic focus groups, pollsters, political analysts and pundits are advising the party to say and do: Play the peace card Monday night in Boca Raton, Fla., and tag Romney-Ryan as a trigger-happy ticket of the war party.
The charges Romney is likely to hear from the president and the questions he is likely to face from the moderator, pushing him toward bellicosity, are not that difficult to discern.
“Governor, President Obama has said Iran will not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. You have said Iran will not be allowed to have a ‘nuclear weapons capability.’ What is the difference? Doesn’t Iran already have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon? What will you do about it?”
“Governor, Paul Ryan said in his debate Iran ‘is racing toward a nuclear weapon.” But 16 U.S. intelligence agencies said in 2007 and reaffirmed in 2011 that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. What is your evidence that Iran is ‘racing toward a nuclear weapon?'”
“Governor, you have said of America and Israel, ‘The world must never see daylight between our two nations.’ Does that mean if Israel attacks Iran, you would take us to war on Israel’s side?”
“Governor, at VMI you said, ‘In Syria, I will work … to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.’ Would you give surface-to-air missiles to the Syrian rebels?”
“Governor, Japan and China are at sword’s point over the Senkaku Islands. If war breaks out, are we obligated by our alliance with Japan to come to her defense?”
The Republican peril in Boca Raton is that headlines the next day will have Romney, consciously or inadvertently, laying down some marker for a new war.
“Peace through strength,” the Eisenhower-Reagan slogan, is the GOP slogan that still resonates with American voters.
Even in 1940, FDR, though plotting war, ran as a peace candidate:
“I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”
Hopefully, Gov. Romney will say something like this, and mean it.