Democratic Rhetoric Can’t Hide Nation’s Cultural Divide

Posted July 30, 2004 at 2:30pm

BOSTON — For all of the talk in Boston that every American has the same hopes, dreams and values, anyone attending the Democratic National Convention had to be struck by the huge cultural gap that separates the two parties. [IMGCAP(1)]

This is a nation divided, and Illinois Democratic Senate nominee Barack Obama was simply wrong when he insisted on Tuesday evening that the red states/blue states schism is a phony distinction created by the media. Presidential nominee John Kerry was also amiss when he asserted that there is “one America — red, white, and blue.”

Two large photographs on a wall in the Fleet Center are all the evidence you need that Democrats are very different from Republicans.

The first shows a young Kerry with Beatle John Lennon. The other shows anti-war activist Kerry at a microphone, with a couple of other equally scruffy-looking colleagues.

Democrats clearly are proud of these images. Republicans are more likely to be incensed.

Whether you like it or not — and opinion in this country seems equally divided — the 1960s, socially liberal, anti-Vietnam generation is now solidly in control of the Democratic Party.

Sure, the party can parade out a dozen or so retired senior military leaders to establish itself as a party of patriotism, and its chairman, Terry McAuliffe, looks and sounds more like the big money lobbyist that he is, rather than a ’60s flower child.

But the fact that former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was seated next to Teresa Heinz Kerry doesn’t change the fact that the dominant culture among the party faithful is straight out of Woodstock. This is the party of Peter, Paul and Mary, and of Carole King — who performed at this year’s convention.

Anyone who roamed the halls of the Fleet Center and listened to conversations certainly observed a party with a strong anti-war, anti-military bias and a much greater preference for the gay rights/feminist agenda.

Saying that they are anti-military, of course, doesn’t mean that they hate their country or the men and women in uniform, or that they aren’t patriotic. But it does mean that they would prefer to divert resources away from the military to health care, education, child care and a long list of other domestic social programs.

All things being equal (and their response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, obviously is an exception), they oppose the use of military force, just as they did 40 years ago.

If “peace” is at the top of their agenda, it shares that spot with “equality.” Indeed, the delegates gave Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) perhaps his biggest ovation on Wednesday night when he talked about civil rights as a moral crusade.

In contrast, those same delegates offered tepid responses when Kerry promised to add 40,000 active-duty troops to the military and asserted, “We welcome people of faith.”

On individual issues, high-profile Democrats, including many Members of Congress, back away from their party’s dominant culture. Kerry, Edwards and others voted for the war in Iraq and say they oppose gay marriage. They sound downright belligerent when it comes to taking on al Qaeda, and they endorse tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent in income.

But the party’s base formed its views in the 1960s, and most continue to hold those values. Yes, they are opposed to gay marriage, but they don’t favor any sort of federal action to prohibit it. Yes, they are a people of faith, but they don’t go to church or synagogue very often and are more concerned about protecting the separation of church and state than in advocating religiosity or establishing a community-based on principles of their faith.

In a few weeks the focus will turn to New York’s Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately (for me, at least), we won’t be watching the Knicks or the Rangers. Instead, we will see a very different group of people, with fundamentally different values and fundamentally different views.

Republicans generally prefer the traditional family model to the revised one embraced by Democrats. They tend to be instinctively more supportive of the military. And they tend to be more openly religious and more Biblically based in their views.

When Kerry, Edwards and Obama assert that the Republicans don’t have a monopoly on faith and values, they are stating the obvious. Of course Democrats have values. But they are different ones from those held by the GOP’s base voters.

That “values divide” guarantees the country will remain bitterly divided for years to come. The Democratic effort to eliminate those differences by asserting that they don’t exist is understandable from an electoral point of view. But it is also flat-out wrong. And, regardless of who wins in November, it won’t work over the long haul because, as with everything else in life and in politics, the devil is in the details.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.