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Bad Timing

By Daniel Henninger

That was unfortunate timing this week for the Lamont Democrats, declaring themselves officially the antiwar party within 24 hours of the Brits foiling an Islamic terror plot to spread thousands of U.S.-bound bodies across the North Atlantic, or perhaps across New York, Boston and Washington as the planes descended. Yes, we know; they support the war on terror but are merely against George Bush's war in Iraq. How does that work?

Last week before the Lamont victory, 12 members of the congressional Democratic leadership sent President Bush a letter urging that he start a phased pullout from Iraq, euphemized as a "redeployment," starting before the end of this year. But it is becoming increasingly fantastic to argue that in Iraq, with its apparently limitless supply of suicide bombers, hasn't much to do with the terror threats manifest elsewhere.

Put it this way: From the perspective as of yesterday of getting on a U.S. airliner, who would you rather have in the Senate formulating policy toward this threat--Ned Lamont or Joe Lieberman?

Well, the Democratic Party would rather have Ned Lamont. That commitment was sealed Wednesday when Mr. Lieberman's longtime colleagues in the Senate, in one of the least edifying spectacles in recent political history, pledged their troth to the one-issue neophyte, Ned Lamont. Sens. Kennedy, Kerry, Clinton, Biden, Reid and, most embarrassing of all, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, participated in what can only be seen as a tragic Shakespearean assassination of a former colleague.

With the knifing of Joe Lieberman, the Democrats have locked in as the antiwar party. No turning back now. You're in or you're out. And this will be enforced. Susan Estrich, formerly of Dukakis for President, told the Fox News Channel this week that Hillary Clinton "has got to get herself in a position where she's for withdrawal of troops in Iraq before the next Democratic primary."

Running as the antiwar party amid a world obviously vulnerable to pitiless terror will require political suppleness. But the younger generation of Democratic activists--widely praised for their irreverence and antic energy--may not fit the sober public mood now.

This isn't the moment for a politics based on comics turning the president and vice president into joke material. The national mood may not be right now for extended blogospheric daisy chains of smack-the-enemy or cool wordplays with people's names. This isn't a game anymore. Not after yesterday's news.

What the Democratic Party needs more than anything for the way forward is adult supervision. Who's going to provide that? Bill Clinton? Joe Biden? Howard Dean? Not likely.

But let's not overstate the blogs' role in this. They get both credit and blame for driving the Democrats to an antiwar platform. But there was never any real resistance from the party elders. The people atop the party provided the energy and intellectual content to the last famous antiwar movement, against Vietnam.

Events like the massive protests in Washington and elsewhere between 1969 and 1971 were in part about events in Vietnam, but there was also a huge amount of narcissistic self-indulgence in the movement. People joined in the expectation of being around an "event"--part rock concert, part street theater, the rush of being part of a morally unblemished belief system. Sort of like the Web. This politics produced two major candidacies--Eugene McCarthy's challenge to Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and George McGovern's to Richard Nixon in 1972. Both got blown out.

This current group is a little older and more sophisticated than that antiwar generation, and the Web is a money machine. But the genetic code is still the same. It's driven both by purity of purpose and antipathy of the "other." The relentless, almost sophomoric emotionalism over George Bush is understandable enough, but the need to demonize Joe Lieberman was interesting. Wednesday Rep. Rahm Emanuel, head of the House Democratic campaign committee, said: "This shows what blind loyalty to George Bush and being his love child means." Pretty clever. But the mindset that outputs humor like that is likely to produce a politics that rubs swing voters the wrong way in, say, Ohio.

Yesterday brought an Islamic plot to blow up people on airliners. The news cycle before that brought Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets into Israel and a war in Lebanon. Before that, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would give the West its reply to demands to halt nuclear bomb-making on Aug. 22, the anniversary of Muhammad's flight to heaven on a winged horse. Before that, in July, North Korea fired ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan (a little-noticed assessment by U.S. and Japanese technicians concluded this week that six of the seven missiles fell within their targets).

And in the past year, Democratic leaders have criticized not just in Iraq but warrantless wiretaps of suspected terrorists, interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, the Swift financial monitoring program, and data-mining phone records. The pull-out-from-Iraq letter was just the culmination.

This is the context in which the post-Lamont Democratic establishment plans to run as an antiwar party. Commencing a phased withdrawal from Iraq, as they suggest, with the mission unfinished, in my view will cause suicide-bomber recruitment to skyrocket in a delirium of victory over the American infidels. And those bombers won't remain inside the imaginary security line around Iraq but will travel to the capitals of Europe, to Israel and to the U.S.

In a better world, the U.S. war on terror, at its core, would be bipartisan. That world was what Joe Lieberman's politics represented. That world is dead. Democratic support for the Republican administration's plans to fight these terrorists is down to about zero. This means the Democrats must have a plan of their own to defeat terror. Every Republican running for office at every level this fall should force his opponent to describe it. And if they aren't certain about the details, they can call Ned Lamont.

Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

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