Talk about getting religion!
Rub your eyes. Did we just see a Democratic convention brimming with flag-waving patriotism, respect for the military, and references to God and values? Why, yes, I believe we did. Barack Obama, the impressive new African-American star of the Democratic Party, told us how blue-state Americans "worship an awesome God," the implication being that Democrats generally are deeply committed to religion and overcome by the power and majesty of God. Even semialert people who follow politics with one eye shut know this isn't really the case. As umpteen scholars have pointed out, the Democrats are morphing into a secular, or nonbelieving party, while the most fervent nonminority Christians are moving into the Republican column.
Obama's second heresy was to announce that "there is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America. There's the United States of America." This was a not-very-credible repudiation of the politics of multiculturalism and separatism that Democrats have been busy forcing into the schools and into the law, often while expressing contempt for assimilation and the one-America ideal that Obama celebrated in his talk. The theme of the convention, E pluribus unum , "out of many, one," was an obvious way of trolling for unwary moderates, but Al Gore's flub in 1994 more accurately reflects the party's priority. Gore got E pluribus unum backwards, translating it as "from the one, many."
Two worlds. The Boston convention was a festival of values that the Democratic Party either does not hold or does not want mentioned much in the public arena. Has any Democratic gathering paid so much positive attention to the Pledge of Allegiance? Obama promoted the pledge. Ted Kennedy offered an improbable (for him) twofer: By using the phrase "under God," he invoked both faith and the pledge. The party platform announced that the "common purpose" of Americans is to "build one nation under God." But the pledge has been under heavy fire from Democratic pressure groups for years, both for the "under God" line and the sheer fact that it is said in schools. Millions of Americans view the pledge as an affirmation of community and national commitment. Among Democratic groups, it is usually viewed as mandatory patriotism.
The same is true of the flag. Colleges and schools frequently resist the flying of the flag or simply ban it as narrow or too provocative. After 9/11, Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, asked the academic world to rethink its reflexive hostility to patriotism and urged the "coastal elites" (aka the Democratic establishment) to move closer to mainstream values. That hasn't happened in real life, but in Boston it happened in the world of political marketing.
Summers also urged the elites to show respect for people in uniform, the military, police officers, and firefighters. He complained that Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government was not giving awards to anyone in uniform. (In the three years since, the Kennedy school gave one such award.) John Kerry's impressive service in Vietnam inoculates the Democrats against the charge of indifference and hostility toward the military, at least for this election cycle. But largely Democratic cohorts keep military recruiters and ROTC units off many campuses, usually without a peep of protest from those who staged last week's military pageant and the "night of the generals" display in Boston. Applause for retired officers, evidently, is perfectly compatible with policies that keep the military from recruiting.
Perhaps the most jarring of the "values" themes in Boston was the convention's attempt to identify with religious voters. Come to the Democratic convention and sing "Amazing Grace." Many religious people, of course, are Democrats. But the secular elites who control the party have worked long and hard to marginalize religion in America and to banish it from the public square. Two political scientists, in a 2001 study published in the Public Interest, concluded that the origins of the culture war can be traced to "the increased prominence of secularists within the Democratic Party and the party's resulting antagonism toward traditional values." The authors, Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio, describe a "secularist putsch" among the Democrats, explaining that it made the Republicans the traditionalist party "by default more than by overt action." According to Bolce and De Maio, the secularist constituency is as important to Democrats today as organized labor. Under these circumstances, invoking God (seven mentions in the Democratic platform) drags marketing to the point of hypocrisy. Get used to it. The Democrats will be strongly religious--right up till November 2.
This story appears in the August 9, 2004 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.