In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, John Harwood takes a dispassionate, insightful look at the dynamics that make this year’s Democrats different from the infighting assortment of special interests that have so often comprised — and compromised — the party (subscription required for link).

Harwood notes that the party has struggled with internal feuds since the 1960s, when Democrats split over Vietnam, civil rights and the rise of feminism. Now, he writes, the feuding is being put aside in a united effort to unseat President Bush.

Harwood actually turns away from the campaign trail itself to do a little shoe-leather reporting on this unlikely unity — what a concept — and returns to tick off the following points:

— Labor unions are lining up to support John Kerry, even though the candidate advocates their great bugaboo, free trade.

— Gay and lesbian activists are on board, even though Kerry opposes gay marriage and has dodged taking a stand on a constitutional amendment to prohibit it in his home state.

— Even gun control activists are swinging behind Kerry — a man who likes to pose for pictures with his hunting rifle.

— Black leaders seem all but united for Kerry as well, even as the candidate is saddled with old statements in which he called attention to adverse effects of affirmative action.

“What the Democrats are saying is, we’re not going to sweat the small stuff,” Rep. Elija Cummings (D-MD) tells Harwood.

The prospect of a united Democratic party has old political hands shaking their heads in wonder. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, who took part in the bitter 1980 fight between incumbent Jimmy Carter and Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Robert Borosage, a former Jesse Jackson strategist well to the left of Kerry, says that, for now, enmity toward the Bush White House unites normally-fractious interest groups and “erases the differences between Democrats.” As he sees it, the specter of four more years of a Bush administration “allows Kerry or any Democrat to sound like a radical alternative.”

Steve Lovelady

Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.