Liberals all across the country claimed a willingness to reform. We saw that we were out of touch. We saw that the metropolitan mindset didn’t hold in rural America. And so we set out to change the Democratic party.
Now, three months after the November election began our soul-searching quest, I have to ask, what the hell happened? While the Democratic leadership has begun acting like a national party, the liberal base has forgotten to move beyond its narrow approach. Three months later, the party remains halfway committed to change and halfway committed to reaching the average American voter.
The Republican party knows how to connect with people. Republican candidates talk and walk like normal Americans. Consequently, Bush voters are proud of their president, and they are proud to vote Republican. Few Democratic voters feel the same way. Rather than win over the hearts and minds of voters, Democrats blindly focused on the latter. Unable to connect, and with little more than an anti-Bush agenda, it’s little wonder John Kerry failed to win over a majority of Americans.
If Democrats want to get through to voters, they must abandon the secularism praised by so many of the liberal elite. Not only were the Democrats unable to win the “moral issues” of the 2004 election, but they lost ground among religious blacks, Catholics and Hispanics. Catholics make up one-third of all voters and have chosen every popular vote winner since John F. Kennedy. As the largest and fastest-growing minority in the U.S., Hispanics voted 44 percent for Bush, up from 33 percent just four years ago. Even as Republicans systematically challenged African-American votes in swing states, Democrats lost ground among this core group. These are the crucial swing and base votes for the party, yet little effort was made to reach them and connect on the level of faith and morals.
I’m not suggesting we break down the church-state barrier or adopt religious language and conservative stances. Being “Republican-lite” won’t do any good. Instead, the liberal base of the Democratic party must change its instinctive attitude toward religion. For too long, liberals have called themselves inclusive and tolerant while shunning beliefs and practices common to most Americans.
The liberal reaction to Tim Roemer’s bid for the Democratic party chairmanship is a case in point. Despite his experience as a congressman and 9/11 commissioner, the liberal base ignored his calls for a broader message to reach “Red America,” focusing solely upon his controversial pro-life stance. Even if Roemer — who dropped out of the race yesterday — had become chairman, his personal position would have represented no challenge to the pro-choice platform of the party. But why let rationality get in the way of political ranting and raving? And so the liberals ranted and raved.
Isolated by the Ivory Tower, academic liberals forget the conservative streams of American thought. When political candidates talk about prayer, they cringe. When President Bush says he seeks solace in the Almighty, they wince. Liberals are distressingly uncomfortable talking about God. When, in a history section freshman year, I described criminal acts as “sins,” the class recoiled, taken aback by the intrusion of religious language into the classroom. Conservative editorialists on this page have also attributed intolerant tendencies to Yale’s own activist community. Unfortunately, there is a grain of truth to this characterization of the out-of-touch, Northeastern liberal.
Secularization blinds the Democratic base to the moral implications behind today’s political problems. While rightly objecting to prayer in school, Democrats forget that prayer is still an important part in the lives of most Americans. Fifty-three percent of all Americans pray daily. Rejecting the abstinence-only education programs of the radical right, liberals forget that abstinence can still be a vital part of sex education in preventing unwanted pregnancies and the spreading of STDs. In defending Roe v. Wade, Democrats have largely forgotten the valid moral underpinnings of the pro-life position. CNN editorialist Mark Shields recently called upon these “intolerant liberals” to “reject the widely held prejudice of pro-life voters as narrow-minded, gun-loving … anti-intellectuals.”
Religion is a powerful force in American politics, and its moral implications must be a part of any “reformed” Democratic party. Rather than forget the average American voter, Democrats can speak plainly, basing political stances upon a moral foundation. We can reject the convoluted nuance of John Kerry and defend abortion rights, safe-sex education, same-sex civil unions, environmental protection and welfare, in moral terms. For instance, it is immoral for the federal government to force a woman to bear a pregnancy, especially if she was raped or her life is at risk. Yet the Republicans have passed legislation that forbids abortions even when the mother’s health is at stake.
Thankfully, some in the Democratic leadership have recognized the need for a strong moral and national message. Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton and even Howard Dean seem to be moving in the right direction. Yet if the liberal base cannot reconcile itself with a broader message, then the Democrats can coast along to the electoral defeats of 2006 and 2008 in liberal isolation.
Brett Edkins is a junior in Pierson College.