Once upon a time, "family values" were simple. Family values were about creating a moral basis for family life, protecting the children before they reached maturity, helping the young grow up breathing free, developing independent minds firmly rooted in an undiluted understanding of right and wrong.
That still does it for most of us. But since 9/11, the stakes are new and different, and issues of foreign policy, once the preserve of policy wonks, can't be separated from how we raise our children. How we see our place in the world can't be separated from what we teach our children.
Law and order was once the overriding domestic issue within the concept of family values. Now law and order encompasses the way we confront the world. David Gelernter recalls in the Weekly Standard an infamous crime of 40 years ago in New York City. A young woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed repeatedly and died on the streets of Queens crying to her neighbors for help. For nearly an hour, 38 of these neighbors, later identified by the New York Times, heard her cries and did nothing: "Oh my God, he stabbed me! Please help me! Please help me."
Some of those alarmed by her screams rushed to their windows, turned on lights in their bedrooms and twice frightened the killer enough to make him run away from his victim, only to return minutes later to stab again when no one arrived to fight him off, or even to call the police. The screams documented a profound apathy. The neighbors didn't want to get involved. They were scared. The event was far away. Someone else could do something about it. The neighbors had their own families to protect. It wasn't any of their business.
The neighborhood gave a collective shrug. A collective shrug is all that the liberals and the left think that George W. Bush and the rest of us should have given Saddam Hussein. Saddam invaded his neighbors, poisoned the Kurds, tortured his critics and enemies, set out to acquire and build weapons of mass destruction, and thumbed his nose at the rest of the world. The plaintive scream of the Iraqi people, observes David Gelernter, is the collective equivalent of Kitty Genovese's death cries: "Oh, my God! Please help me! Please help me!"
As the world's only superpower, America had a choice. America could shrug or America could help. Like those neighbors in Queens, we could turn away (it was far away, after all), or we could take up the moral responsibility and teach our children that in helping the Iraqi people we would make the dangerous world a little safer for them - and for us. So America made the only choice America could make. We can't rid the world of every evil man, but we could, and did, rid the world of one monster.
"Family values," it seems clear to me, requires that the nation set an example for the world just as parents set an example for their children. Saddam systematically crippled Iraqi women, depriving half the population of the most basic human right, the right to dignity. That's an abuse of a family value.
The latest conventional political wisdom of the chattering class is that John Kerry can retrieve his sagging poll numbers if he moves away from a focus on foreign policy and concentrates on domestic policy. But the two can no longer be separated. International terrorism is the number one domestic issue. We must keep our children safe from vile men (and women) who use terror to target innocents by targeting terrorists wherever they are. The survival of families is the ultimate family value.
No one can look at the photographs of those Russian children who died in Middle School No. 1 at the hands of terrorists - several of whom were Islamist Arabs trained by the same al-Qaida of Sept. 11 - without asking whether that could happen here. Our very souls are chilled by the instinctive answer that we know is "yes." The terror wars of the new century, unlike the conventional wars of the 20th, will be fought on many fronts. One of them is the home front.
"The story of America is the story of expanding liberty: an ever-widening circle, constantly growing to reach further and include more," the president said in his acceptance speech last week in New York City. "Our nation's founding commitment is still our deepest commitment: In our world, and here at home, we will extend the frontiers of freedom."
That's a value for all our families.