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."
* 1979: Carter admits shock as the Soviets invade Afghanistan after he has negotiated a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev. At the signing ceremony in Vienna, Carter had famously kissed Brezhnev on the cheek.
* 1979: Carter looks on as a Soviet-backed government replaces the Somoza government in Nicaragua.
* 1979: Carter abandons the Shah of Iran as the Iranian Revolution is led to power by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The shah, appalled at Carter's abandonment of Iran as a once fierce U.S. ally, tells an aide, "Who knows what sort of calamity he [Carter] may unleash on the world?" Carter's UN Ambassador, Andrew Young, predicts, "Khomeini will eventually be hailed as a saint," while Carter's ambassador to Iran says, "Khomeini is a Gandhi-like figure." Newsweek quotes another Carter aide as saying Khomeini possessed "impeccable integrity and honesty." In November, the American Embassy in Tehran is overrun by Iranian students with the approval of the Ayatollah. American embassy staff is seized as hostages. They are held for over a year, released literally the day Ronald Reagan is sworn in, having defeated Carter in a landslide.
* 1983: While Reagan sets out to rebuild the American military and win the Cold War outright, Democrats embrace the idea of a nuclear freeze. When Reagan installs Pershing Missiles in Europe to challenge the Soviet SS-II missiles, a furious Senator Edward Kennedy says of Reagan's strategy for victory: "I reject the absurd theory that we can have fewer nuclear bombs tomorrow only if we build more nuclear bombs today." Former JFK/LBJ Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the architect of the Vietnam War disaster and now a committed dove, calls Reagan's approach "madness."
* 1983: Reagan's decision to liberate Grenada from a takeover by murderous Cuban thugs loyal to Castro is opposed by future Democratic Party nominees Mondale, Dukakis and Kerry.
* 1984: The Democrats nominate Carter's Vice President, Walter Mondale, on a platform that insists America should "initiate and establish a Peace Academy," while demanding that "we can no longer afford simplistically to blame all of our troubles on a single 'focus of evil,'" a reference to Reagan's description of the Soviet Union. Mondale loses 49 states to Reagan.
* 1988: The Democrats nominate Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who says, "Balancing the budget would require hard choices mostly on the defense side. I don't see much room for cuts on the domestic side." Dukakis campaigns as the candidate who opposes the Midgetman missile, development of the cruise missile, deployment of the Pershing missile, building the Trident submarine, the establishment of a 600-ship Navy (a Reagan goal), the testing and deployment of anti-satellite weapons, construction of newer and faster aircraft carriers, and a refusal to order the Massachusetts National Guard to Central America for two weeks of training until ordered by a federal judge to do so. Says Washington Post columnist David Broder, "...his approach to foreign policy comes so close to renouncing the unilateral use of American power to protect national interests...that it sometimes sounds as if the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt had taken control of his body." Dukakis loses in a landslide to George H.W. Bush.
* 1991: 45 of the Senate's 54 Democrats, including future 2004 nominee John Kerry, vote against throwing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. According to Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, the future 2000 nominee of the Democrats, Tennessee Senator Al Gore, votes in favor only in return for 20 minutes worth of television time to speak on the Senate floor. With the Cold War over, Gore is tapped as Clinton's running mate to send a message that the JFK Democrats have returned. Clinton wins with 43% of the vote.
* 1993: The World Trade Center in New York is bombed, killing six and injuring over a thousand. The Clinton administration decides this is a crime and not an act of war, prosecuting those jihadists it can catch.
ONE COULD go on here. On and on and on. All during this period, the Democrats' instinctive urge to appease prevailed. From the moment Clinton had America flee Somalia at the beginning of his term to his decision not to respond seriously as America's enemies attacked U.S. embassies throughout his term, or even after the attack on the USS Cole at the end of his term. Non-serious response by the Democrats running the Clinton defense and foreign policy establishment in essence created the impression of America as perceived by bin Ladin: the weak horse.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the left-wing MoveOn.org -- a major backer these days of Obama -- even opposed the idea of an American invasion of Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government. This was too much for Senator Clinton -- which, in sum, is doubtless the main reason she will not be the nominee of the Democrats. She's what passes for a hawk in the Democrats' circles these days, don't you know?
Now comes 2008. Right on cue, Senator Obama, following in the steps of Wallace, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis and Kerry, steps up and says that he would "talk to America's enemies," from Iran to North Korea. He insists that he would have voted against removing Saddam Hussein from power had he been in the Senate at the time. Yet he's stunned that anybody would ever call him an appeaser. Shocked that a spokesman from the eternally violent Hamas would express the wish that Obama win the election. He would, Obama insists, never meet with terrorists. Never.
Serve on the board of the Woods Foundation with a terrorist, perhaps, or have one host a campaign fundraiser maybe, but beyond that -- certainly not. You don't believe he's that naive, do you?
As a matter of fact, yes. In the middle of a global war with horrific consequences, the ghosts of Henry Wallace and Neville Chamberlain are now riding herd for the Democrats with the heir of Jimmy Carter.
Make no mistake. There is a reason Barack Obama is going to be the nominee of the party of the weak horse.
He is one.
Jeffrey Lord is the creator, co-founder and CEO of QubeTV, an online conservative video site. A Reagan White House political director and author, he writes from Pennsylvania.