It was as if a dentist had just jabbed at an exposed nerve in a rotting tooth, inducing a shrill howl from his helpless patient.
President Bush, saluting Israel on its 60th birthday, stood before the Israeli Knesset last week and recalled a simple fact of history. “As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”
Within minutes, Democrats in America were howling in rage that Bush, who had done nothing more than recount historical fact, was calling Senator Barack Obama, their presumptive presidential nominee, an appeaser. From Obama to Pelosi to John Kerry to Joe Biden to Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton (the latter undoubtedly already in a mood of “see-I-told-you-so”) all felt the instinctive need to defend both Obama and their party from the sting of an appeasement charge.
What makes the instant reaction so telling is that the only American mentioned, and not even by name, was long-ago 1930s U.S. Senator William Borah from Idaho. Borah was — wait for it — a Republican. That being the case, why the instant outrage from 21st century Democrats?
There is a reason, and a considerable reason at that. Modern Democrats have long since adopted Borah’s isolationist, pacifist philosophy lock, stock and barrel. In the 1930s, with FDR in the White House, it was the GOP that was stuck in appeasement mode as Hitler began his rise. It was a position so untenable, so politically damaging, that Republicans spent twenty years in presidential exile while Democrats Roosevelt and Harry Truman drilled the gospel of internationalism, American exceptionalism, and a strong military into the very political bones of Americans.
Yet the idea of appeasement did not die. While Republicans eventually won back the White House at last by nominating Eisenhower, the commanding general of D-Day fame, the forces of appeasement were regrouping. With FDR’s one-term ex-vice president Henry Wallace at the head of the pack, the appeasement wing began to establish itself inside the Democrat party.
There was, at first, a ferocious struggle. Truman was appalled, labeling Wallace privately as “a pacifist 100 percent. He wants us to disband our armed forces, give Russia our atomic secrets and trust a bunch of adventurers in the Kremlin…. I do not understand a ‘dreamer’ like that.” Wallace and his followers, Truman concluded, were “becoming a national danger.” But Truman prevailed, and it was presumed that the ideas Wallace represented had finally faded in the trials of the Cold War.
Like a virus biding its time, however, the appeasement philosophy of Wallace lay dormant inside the Democrats’ body politic, quietly out of sight through two Stevenson nominations and the presidency of JFK. But it finally began to manifest itself during LBJ’s term, angrily exploding into public view over the issue of Vietnam. In time, led by Wallace supporter George McGovern, the appeasement disease took over the Democrats’ body and soul.
Osama bin Ladin has famously described America as a “weak horse.” His point, that what looks like a strong champion in fact tires easily and gives up, is surely still his conception of America. With good reason. Within America itself, modern Democrats have indelibly fixed their image as America’s own weak horse, the political party for which appeasement and running up the white flag has become a historical reflex.
IT’S FAIR TO ASK for examples. Sadly, there are many.
Beginning with Truman’s baseline description of Henry Wallace in 1948 (“He wants us to disband our armed forces, give Russia our atomic secrets and trust a bunch of adventurers in the Kremlin….”), the names and issues after the JFK/LBJ era that reflect not just a consideration but a devotion to appeasement by Democrats would show — and only in part — the following:
* 1971: A young John Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He tells lawmakers of U.S. Vietnam policy: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” confidently asserting that “we cannot fight communism all over the world, and I think we should have learned that lesson by now.”
* 1972: The Democrats’ platform for their nominee, one-time Henry Wallace supporter Senator George McGovern, states: “The majority of the Democratic Senators have called for full U.S. withdrawal by October 1, 1972. We support that position. If the war is not ended before the next Democratic Administration takes office, we pledge, as the first order of business, an immediate and complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces in Indo-China. All U.S. military action in Southeast Asia will cease. After the end of U.S. direct combat participation, military aid to the Saigon Government, and elsewhere in Indo-China, will be terminated.” Nixon defeats McGovern in a 49-state landslide.
* 1975: Democrats cut off all aid for Vietnam and Cambodia. The Communists overrun the two nations, murdering millions and setting up “re-education camps.” Thousands of Vietnamese refugees flee to the South China Sea, many of the “boat people” drowning before they can be rescued.
* 1977: President Jimmy Carter tells Americans in a speech at Notre Dame that they have “an inordinate fear of Communism.” Instead of calling for victory he proudly proclaims that “I believe in detente with the Soviet Union. To me it means progress toward peace….We hope to persuade the Soviet Union that one country cannot impose its system of society upon another, either through direct military intervention or through the use of a client state’s military force, as was the case with Cuban intervention in Angola.”
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