Sunday, December 05, 2004

I don't want to talk about it
"Get comfortable talking about your faith," says Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, among others. This is a popular opinion among many of those giving advice to the Democratic Party on how to return from the wilderness. It's also bad advice. Fortunately there are numerous others giving better advice.

The essence of this bad advice is that we need to act more like Republicans in order to get elected, because Republicans are what people want. The assumption behind this bad advice is that people who live in the smugly-named heartland are dumb as posts and will be fooled into voting for us if we disguise ourselves. I'm inclined to give them more credit than that. I think that, if presented with a choice between real Republicans and fake Republicans, most of them will pick the real Republicans.

Besides, if the Democratic Party goes any further right, I, and many like me, will stop supporting the party. As Nicholas von Hoffman points out, Sen. Lincoln's message is "in effect, that if you don’t have faith, you have no place in the public life of the nation." Why would a secular person like myself vote for a party that says, thanks for the votes now shut up and go away? If we are treated like the GOP treats Log Cabin Republicans I think most liberal and secular Democrats have enough self-respect to go find better friends.

As an organized movement, the drag-the-Democrats-to-the-right movement has been around since the mid-eighties. Its primary voice has been the Democratic Leadership Conference. Under Bill Clinton, the DLC rose to the top in the Democratic Party. Inder their direction we lost control of the House, the Senate, most of the state houses, and most of the governor's mansions. In fact, most of Bill Clinton's success is due to Clinton's own political instincts and not to the program of the DLC. With a rtecord like that, why on earth should we listen to those losers now?

The red states have been encouraged by the Republican Party to practice a particularly unattractive and hypocritical form of victimization politics. They have been told that Democrats and bi-coastal elites look down their noses at heartland salt of the earth types. Who are the sneering liberal Democrats who have so victimized the heartland and made them hate the coasts? Republican leaders demonize entire states and drum them out of the union. They sneer at Taxechutsetts and California and set them up as straw man caricatures opposed to the real America. Who are the Democrats who use those same terms of contempt for Kansas and Virginia, for Christianity and farm values? Was it John Kerry? Was it Bill Clinton? I know, it must have been that Christ hating bastard Jimmy Carter?

Somehow, we come to believe that it our fault the middle of the country hates us. We have accepted the Republican premises that we are hateful, unreligious snobs. We want to run out and apologize and hope that the heartland and the Republicans will like us if we act more like them.

To stick with the religious example: it will surprise many to discover that there are many in the North and on the coasts that are deeply and sincerely religious. Many are liberals. Liberal religious activism has a rich and honorable history in this country from abolition to civil rights and beyond. The religious left should not imitate the religious right. They should proudly be who they are. Northern politicians should not imitate the manners of Southern politicians in their religion. The South has a heritage of public religion. Good for them, but that isn't the only legitimate form of religious practice. The North and Midwest have a tradition of private religion. For us, wearing religion on your sleeve and shouting it from the rooftops is vain, vulgar, and prideful. It's on a par with talking about how much money you make. Real religion, to us, is quiet and personal. When Northerner tries to act like a Southerner, he usually just embarrasses himself and insults real Southerners.

To gain in the red states, Democrats do not need to turn into Southern Republican clones. We need clear policies that address the needs of rural economies. We need to go to red states and listen. We need to empower the Democrats already on the ground in those states. We need to act like a real opposition party and highlight the failure of the Republican majority to deliver to those states. Liberals, Democratic or not, also need to listen to the red states. We have a lot to offer them, but we're doing a terrible job of communicating with them. Bloggers, as a grassroots information network, can be of help to both the Democratic Party and the liberal cause in reconnecting with the middle of the country. But we won't do it by pretending to be Republicans.

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