This resignation to marketing and religious pandering is shrouded in self-flagellating rhetoric about elites from the northeast only now realizing that they must engage with, rather than merely condescend to, the average Joe. Intellectuals and college graduates don't take Christians seriously enough, this argument goes, and are paying the price for alienating the good, hard-working people of this nation, whose faith fuels them through their days. So now theyíre wising up.
The real thinking is entirely more cynical. The Left is publicly kicking itself for having misread the heartland's values and underestimating the importance of conveying a more faith-based rhetoric. People donít want a more qualified candidate, even the most progressive members of the Left now reason; they want a candidate and party that can make them feel good about themselves and their place in the divine scheme.
So progressives are finally bringing themselves to confront the unthinkable: It's time to let tactics trump truth, and create a myth for the Left that's more fanciful, triumphant, and sustaining than the myth that the other guy is selling. After all, the neocon Right has done it, veiling its highly un-Christian economic policies (harming the poor, helping the rich) in Christian moralism. So now itís the Leftís turn.
It's going to be a tough sell, in more ways than one.
The biggest problem is that this strategy cuts against the grain of every value on which the progressive agenda was based - from the Enlightenment-era conviction that our higher faculties should command our collective destiny, right on through the Marxist and post-Marxist emphasis on education and rationality. Progressives fancy themselves as intellectuals for whom science trumps religious doctrine. An increasing number of the operatives and activists with whom I come into contact cling to the separation of church and state, not just because they think everyone should be able to believe what they want to, but because - deep down - they don't want religion clouding reason in public affairs.
But now, despite the Leftís own reluctance to doll up the truth, progressives and traditional labor advocates, alike, are entertaining the notion of developing a mythical context for their own policy agenda. The strategy may have some precedents. Church and leftist leaders often united in their opposition to power elites. Cesar Chavez was a devout Catholic, whose progressivism found its basis in his Catholic faith. Christ himself said it was easier for a camel to get through a needleís eye than for a rich man to get to heaven. And even Plato's Republic was to be sustained by a foundation myth in which a person's caste in society would be predetermined by the precious metals thought to be in his blood. If a well-conceived myth was good enough for the high-minded Greeks, isn't it good enough for today's desperate Democrats? Because it would have a story, involve some concept of God and, most importantly, evoke emotions, it would no doubt play better than policy papers, in a media environment characterized by O'Reilly and Crossfire.
Let them Eat Myth
Jennifer Blowdryer and Alvin Orloff
To Ohio and Back
Abba Kovner: The Warrior in Old Age
Men who Laughed
Our 610 Back Pages
Zeek in Print
Fall/Winter 2004 issue now on sale
From previous issues:
How can you be gay and Jewish?
One Ring Zero: As Smart as They Are
Fast Track from Ridgemont High