HIATT TARS DEMS. Fred Hiatt's Washington Post column today slams the Democratic Party's "Real Security" plan. His chief objection appears to be that it's way too short on platitudes for his liking. Hiatt writes:

The first thing you might notice is that the Democrats implicitly reject almost everything the Bush administration says about how Sept. 11 changed the world, or our perception of it.

President Bush believes that the United States "is in the early years of a long struggle," according to his own national security strategy released last month, against "a new totalitarian ideology." (Emphasis added.)

Castigating the Dem plan for failing to match such grandiloquence, Hiatt continues:

...they also reveal a different world view, one that is far more cramped and inward-looking...what is the vision? What does bring security? (Emphasis added again.)

To Hiatt, the Democrats' woeful tendency to focus on the practical and the attainable shows a lack of "vision." It's worth pondering what exactly Hiatt means by "vision" here. He appears to suggest that Bush has vision but has failed at execution. So does "vision" mean a willingness to sketch out wildly unrealistic doctrines -- such as that of preemptive warfare -- which simply can't practically be implemented in any far-reaching sense throughout the world? As Matt has written, the Iraq war can't even be cited as a test case for this doctrine, since it didn't pre-empt anything in the first place. Or might "vision" mean imagining, as Bush does, an ongoing global conflict in impossibly vague terms -- as a war without end against an ill-defined foe -- ensuring that there can never be any way of measuring whether it's been won or lost?

Also note Hiatt's reliance on weasel words. The Dems have "implicitly" rejected Bush's post-Sept. 11 world view and "reveal" a different one. Presto -- those words allow Hiatt to ascribe to Dems something they simply never said.

Is the Dem plan specific or comprehensive enough? No, it isn't. As Sam noted below, a Dem plan focused mainly on domestic initiatives won't solve the party's national security image problem. But the point is, there's a moment when vision crosses over into platitude, and Bush has long since crossed that line, if he was ever on the "vision" side of it in the first place. Slamming Dems for articulating implementable solutions, rather than matching Bush's taste for platitudes, is simply unfair and absurd.

Hiatt also reaches into his top hat for that old trick of comparing current Dems unfavorably to an idealized version of past Dems. He says today's Dems don't measure up on foreign policy to John Kennedy and, interestingly, Clinton, writing: "Bill Clinton and Al Gore, by the time they left office, had formed a view. The United States was the 'indispensable nation,' as Clinton said..."

Wouldn't you know it, but back when Clinton was actually articulating that doctrine, Hiatt wasn't nearly as charitable towards it. Back in 1998, he wrote (not linkable):

"We are the indispensable nation," Albright said not long ago. "We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future."

Even an administration prepared to tackle the hardest problems -- prepared to act on that vision of America as champion of the world -- should think twice before making statements of such breathtaking arrogance. This administration shouldn't make them at all.

So when a Dem (Clinton) articulated an outward-looking vision with global ambitions, Hiatt decried it as "arrogance." But when Dems (Reid, Pelsoi) avoid such self-inflating global pronouncements, he slams them for lacking vision.

--Greg Sargent