Sunday, June 04, 2006

Can the Democrats Fight the War on Terror?

At Real Clear Politics, John Leo's got a nice reminder of the Democratic Party's difficulties in confronting the terrorist threat. Leo starts his discussion with "The Good Fight," the new book by pro-American liberal Peter Beinart. He then turns to Henry Wallace, and the difficulties the Wallace legacy presents for Democrats today:

For the new Wallaceites, America's biggest problem is America. The most extreme seemed to enjoy 9/11 on grounds that at last the chickens were coming home to roost. (The same perverse sense of satisfaction is now rippling though some liberal commentary on the alleged massacre in Haditha.) Some dismiss terrorism as a simple problem of law enforcement. Others in effect discount terrorism by focusing solely on civil liberties, sometimes obsessively. The New York Civil Liberties Union is upset with random subway searches, though anyone stopped by authorities is free to walk away unsearched.

Bush and the Republicans come in for many criticisms -- for going it alone, insisting doggedly on America's virtue, and not taking economic aid to vulnerable nations seriously, because that would imply that "root causes" arguments were valid explanations of terror. Caught between two constituencies, one that wanted to fight the war on terror and one that didn't, John Kerry babbled on Dukakis-like about effectiveness and competence. In 2004, as in 1988, Republicans effectively argued that Democrats can't be trusted to defend America because they don't truly believe in America.

According to Beinart, liberals were pretty much on board with the war on terror in the first year after 9/11. This is debatable. Liberal opinion on campus was immediately out of sync with the rest of the nation. A Brown student, who hadn't voted for Bush, said he was astonished that dominant opinion on campus was "more concerned with protecting the civil rights of Osama bin Laden" than with preventing future attacks. Michael Walzer, a prominent writer on the left, said leftist intellectuals "live like internal aliens" in America, and therefore had "difficulty responding emotionally to the attacks of Sept. 11 or joining in the expression of solidarity that followed."

By 2004, more than half of Democrats, and two-thirds of liberal Democrats, thought U.S. wrongdoing abroad may have motivated the 9/ll attacks. Among Republicans, the figure was 17 percent. A post-election poll by the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation found that conservatives, and Americans in general, thought destroying al-Qaida was the nation's highest priority. For liberals, it was tied for 10th place.

Beinart writes: "Many liberals simply no longer see the war on terror as their fight. ... The liberalism emerging today denies that fighting global jihad should even be a priority."

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