New Republic Editor Peter Beinart ’93 told students at a Branford College Master’s Tea Thursday afternoon that a Democratic comeback will require cultural change at the grass-roots level.
At the tea, attended by about 20 students and professors, Beinart said the three most crucial issues the Democrats need to emphasize are the economy, national security and what he labeled “issues of culture.” The Democrats, Beinart noted, need a reinvigoration of liberal religion and liberal community.
“What we have is a cultural phenomenon with political importance,” Beinart said.
While some may cite high voter turnout among Christian conservatives, along with exit polls of voters who cited the importance of “moral issues,” as evidence of a religious divide, Beinart said he believes the problem is social, not religious, in nature.
Beinart said many people are drawn to churches not for their culturally conservative agenda, but for the practical and personal support these churches provide as “tight knit communities where people look out for each other.” Accordingly, Beinart emphasized the conservative views of church leaders influence how people vote.
“The problem with the Democratic Party is that you cannot answer this problem at the political level by talking about God or by changing your views a little bit,” Beinart said. “It is a — problem that liberals must find answers to. If they do, they will make a building block for strong communities with liberal values.”
Beinart cited the African American community as an example of Democrats who tend to be religious and who overwhelmingly support the party.
“When they go to church, they are much more likely to hear from their pastors about health care being a moral issue,” Beinart said.
Beinart observed that another problem facing the Democrats is its perceived weakness on national security, which he attributed to the party’s identity as primarily concerned with domestic issues such as education and social security. He faulted Sen. John Kerry ’66 for focusing only on improving U.S. relations with Europe and not providing a compelling vision of foreign policy in a post-September 11 world.
“The problem is that no one enters the Democratic party for foreign policy reasons,” Beinart said.
The Democrats, Beinart said, must reinvent themselves as a party for whom winning the war on terror is more than an afterthought. Nation building, human rights and promoting freedom in the Muslim world must become as guiding a “passion” for the party as abortion is now, he said.
“It is the Democratic Party that believes, as the Republican Party never has, that nation building is possible and that foreign aid can do something,” Beinart said.
Economically, the Democratic Party must highlight the “moral problems” with Bush’s planned overhaul of the tax system which, Beinart stated, will overwhelmingly shift the tax burden from wealthy people onto the poor.
Several students said they appreciated Beinart’s comments.
“I agreed with everything,” Eric Kafka ’08 said. “I thought he gave a really good analysis of where the Democratic Party needs to go.”