By now everyone knows that Barack Obama’s keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention was amazing. In my opinion, this is the first great speech of the century. My wife cried.
Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
I’ve never liked the flag-waving, in-your-face, jingoistic style of patriotism, but I’m a sucker for the gooey, idealistic variety. Obama’s we-are all-Americans message was pure idealism. This was not a disingenuous call to bipartisanism, which, coming from either side, usually means your side gives our side everything we want and never objects.
It’s a common observation that the Republican coalition is held together by hatred of domestic Liberalism (and by making the Democratic Party synonymous with Liberalism). This line of interpretation usually cites a transformation in the Party when they lost their previous unifying enemy, international Communism. The transformation was a little more complicated than that. In 1990, when Communism was on the ropes, the Republican Party had a faction that had been professional Liberal haters for over twenty years. These were the Movement Conservatives, mostly fundamentalist Protestants who had separated themselves from secular culture and rarely participated in politics. In the late sixties, these Protestant separatists were brought back into secular politics by the cultural movements of that decade. Over the next twenty years they very effectively organized, expanded their numbers, and pioneered new political tactics. By the early nineties, after they absorbed the remnant of the old anti-Communist radicals, they could take over the Republican Party.
We’ve spent the last decade in shock at how angry and effective they are. Only in the last two years have we begun to effectively counter organize and develop our own organization and tools. Bush hatred will only serve us as an organizing principle for one election (or three if we lose this fall). Hating the Conservatives back might build a new Liberal Movement around which we can rebuild the Democratic Party, but in the long run it will be disastrous for America. Answering their hate with better hate would first paralyze and then destroy America. An America made up of two unwaveringly opposed cultures would be ticking time bomb, a giant Yugoslavia.
Someone needs to de-escalate this race. Not all Conservatives, not all Republicans, not even all Fundamentalists are radical thugs. We need to make it safe for Conservatives of good will to stand apart from the radicals. We need to be honest negotiating partners with anyone who will themselves be honest negotiating partners. We need to answer divisiveness with consensus building. We need to emphasize what we have in common as Americans and work on those areas of agreement, rather than beat our heads against the areas of disagreement.
Obama’s words hinted to me of that different vision. That was some speech, indeed.