John Leo

On his popular blog, Andrew Sullivan made this case for John Kerry: ?9/11 has changed things?even within the Democratic Party?; the war on terror ?has to be a bipartisan affair?; Kerry clearly says he won?t relent in that war; electing Kerry ?would deny the Deaniac-Mooreish wing a perpetual chance to whine and pretend that we are not threatened.? These are serious arguments.

But consider the background music here. ?Even within the Democratic Party? is an acknowledgment that a good many Americans don?t trust the Democrats to run a war on terror. ?Has to be a bipartisan affair? blinks the message that the Democrats, as a national party, often seem detached from that war, not just from the campaign in Iraq.

Many of the doubts that hover over Sullivan?s case for Kerry are rooted in the value system widely shared among Democrats: Most people are basically good; wars are caused not by evil motives but by misunderstandings that can be talked out; conflict can be overcome by more tolerance and examining of our own faults or by taking disputes to the United Nations. As a personal creed, these benign and humble attitudes are admirable. As the foundation of a policy to confront terrorists who wish to blow up our cities, they are alarming.

These doubts explain why Kerry?s two oddest verbal slips??nuisance? and ?global test??have resonated. In both cases the senator said reasonable things. But the unfortunate term ?global test? awakened the suspicion that leading Democrats care more about world opinion and the U.N. than about America?s need to protect itself. ?Nuisance? strongly implied an inability to be fully serious about terror. So did Kerry?s trivializing comparison of terrorism with gambling and prostitution as problems we can?t fully eradicate and must learn to live with.

A wider problem is that a strong segment of the Democratic Party now opposes basic American values once shared across the whole political spectrum. Lawrence Summers, Harvard president and a former cabinet member in the Clinton administration, put this issue on the table when he criticized America?s ?coastal elites,? i.e., the backbone of the Democratic Party, for disregarding mainstream values and urged Harvard to show respect for patriotism and the military. Kerry?s people acknowledged Summers?s critique when they turned the Democratic National Convention into an improbable flag-waving, pro-military pageant. But this was marketing, not conviction.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

Be the first to read John Leo's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.