Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis has written that Bush has transformed American foreign policy, in response to the serious threat of Islamist terrorism, more than any other president since Harry Truman transformed American foreign policy in response to the serious threat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Gaddis, no Bush acolyte, regards Bush's transformation as a serious enterprise, worthy of serious study. Not many Democrats in election year 2004 took the same approach.
This is a vivid contrast to the response to Truman's transformation. Then, the chief political opposition, Thomas Dewey's Republicans, actively supported Truman's policy changes and confined their opposition to domestic issues. Truman's allies in the Democratic Party, as Peter Beinart notes in a brilliant article in The New Republic, took the communist threat seriously. They formed Americans for Democratic Action and took steps to expel those who didn't take the Soviet threat seriously from the Democratic Party and major labor unions.
Some contemporary Democrats have followed these examples. But most have not. Democrats embraced Michael Moore -- about half the Democratic senators attended his movie premiere in Washington -- who has written that "Americans are the stupidest people in the world." Democrats have been happy to make common cause with, as Beinart points out, MoveOn.org, which opposed the war in Afghanistan and joined demonstrations run by an organization that supports the dictatorship in North Korea. These Democrats, Beinart argues, have not taken seriously the threat of Islamist terrorism and have subordinated it to their hatred of Bush.
Politically, that proved to be a losing course on Nov. 2. It does not seem likely to be more of a winner in the more optimistic and pro-Bush opinion climate that has become apparent since John Kerry's handsome concession speech. There are many calls for Bush to pursue bipartisan policies. Perhaps the Democrats should be called on to emulate the bipartisanship of the Dewey Republicans and the alertness to foreign threats of the ADA liberals in the early years of the Cold War.