Peter – I’ll be interested to hear what Podhoretz pere has for an answer to your question. But as someone who simultaneously has enormous admiration for Norman Podhoretz and some considerable skepticism toward the Cold War analogy let me throw up a response.
I think the reason we aren’t galvanizing the way we did in 1946-47 is that today isn’t all that similar to back then. At the end of WWII America had piles of experience with Soviet conduct throughout much of Europe. The American military and intelligence services could see with their naked eyes that the Stalinists weren’t all that different from the Hitlerites. Churchill kept pointing out to FDR as much. The Soviet Union was seizing territory and crushing democracy. A country learning about the evils of Nazism and rationalizing its own war effort as a battle for freedom didn’t need a lot of arm-twisting or slide show presentations to understand where the Soviets were coming from and where they were trying to go.
Also, a large swath of the American establishment — i.e. the part that weren’t Communist useful idiots like, say, FDR’s former Vice President Henry Wallace or outright spies like Alger Hiss — were actually well aware of the totalitarian threat of the Bolsheviks. Indeed, the Democratic Party was having a wrenching internal struggle between the pro-Communist faction of fifth columnists and useful idiots on the one side and the vital center liberals and conservative Democrats on the other. The Americans for Democratic Action branch of the Democratic Party understood the threat from within which helped them understand the threat from without. In fact, they wanted Eisenhower to run as a Democrat in 1948.
This was one of the major shortcomings of Peter Beinart’s book, as I wrote at the time in the magazine. Beinart wanted to recreate the ADA’s anti-Communism in the war on terror (I don’t think he does anymore). But he failed to adequately appreciate that the ADA was spurred to action because there were actual, bona fide, fifth columnists and would-be totalitarians infesting American liberalism and the Democratic Party. Beinart had to go back to the early 1940s to find an example where the Democratic Party and liberals generally stood up to the threat posed by the hard left. They never did again, until the fall of the Berlin wall. And even then, Clinton’s DLC Democrat dance was pretty small beer in that there were few risks involved.
Today’s liberals are not similarly convinced of the threat from Islamo-Fascism, to use Podhoretz’s preferred phrase, for all sorts of reasons. But one of the most obvious, important and legitimate ones is that the Democratic Party is not in fact saturated with Jihadi sympathizers, al Qaeda spies and radical Muslims. This alone, I think, helps illuminate why this isn’t like 1946-47. The threat from the Jihadis is real. The left is wrong to minimize it. But the moment we’re in now is very, very different at home and abroad from the moment at the dawn of the Cold War. And while Podhoretz may be absolutely right that the challenge we face requires summoning similar will and steel, how it is applied will and must look very different if we are to succeed.