Reviews > Culture

Did Democrats turn right?

Culture | The party's "family values" still do not include babies in the womb

Issue: "Life after Clinton?," Aug. 26, 2000

The top three contributors to the Democratic Party, according to The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 8, p. 1A), are labor unions, trial lawyers, and the entertainment industry. Hollywood has given some $50 million since President Clinton first ran for office. The Journal cites one Democratic fundraiser who estimates that the national committee gets 20 percent of its funding from Hollywood.

Today, though, some denizens of Hollywood are wondering what they are getting for their money. Just as President Clinton stole some of the conservatives' thunder in endorsing welfare reform and a balanced budget, Vice President Gore is trying to co-opt the Republican issue of "family values."

Buried in the Democratic Platform is the "Responsible Entertainment" plank, which says, "Parents are struggling to pass on the right values in a culture that sometimes seems to practically scream that chaos and cruelty are cool." It goes on to take direct aim at Hollywood: "The entertainment industry must accept more responsibility and exercise more self-restraint."

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The head of the Motion Picture Association, former LBJ staffer Jack Valenti, strenuously objected. "I have made it known to the Democratic Party that this is political pandering at its worst," he told Brooks Boliek of the Hollywood Reporter. DreamWorks executives were also offended by the plank, according to the story, and tried unsuccessfully to get it removed.

As if that were not enough, Mr. Gore chose as his running mate Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic Party's most vehement culture warrior and critic of Hollywood. An ally with William Bennett in crusading against gangster rap and other degrading forms of entertainment, Mr. Lieberman would bestow a "Silver Sewer Award" for the worst "cultural polluters." Mr. Lieberman has even allied himself with Republican Senators, including John McCain, in asking the Federal Communications Commission to investigate whether TV broadcasters were, in their programming choices, violating their statutory obligation to operate "in the public interest."

Most criticism of Mr. Lieberman in the entertainment industry has been muted. "It is true that Senator Lieberman has been particularly critical of the entertainment industry," said Hilary Rosen of the Recording Industry Association of America, who followed her comment with a howler: "Nonetheless, we share the common goal of doing what is right for America's youth."

In the midst of the star-studded Democratic convention in Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, Mr. Gore at the last minute pulled the plug on a planned fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion. In the meantime, President Clinton made a point of expressing contrition for his moral failings at a church growth conference at Willow Creek.

When Mr. Gore introduced Mr. Lieberman as his vice-presidential nominee, the two of them invoked religion in a way that would have scandalized the media, if the Republicans had tried it. Mr. Lieberman, a Sabbath-observing Orthodox Jew, opened with prayer, quoted Scripture, called his nomination a direct miracle, and hailed Mr. Gore as "a servant of God almighty." George W. Bush merely said that his greatest influence was Jesus Christ and the press went ballistic. Mr. Lieberman went much further but received only acclaim.

"When 'progressives' cite religious sources in public debate," observed Michael Medved, "they do so to 'uplift' or 'inspire' America. If conservatives refer to the same biblical authority, then they are cast as Ayatollahs who want 'to ram their values down our throats.'"

At any rate, it is surely a good sign that even political liberals are bringing God and moral values back into the public square. So have cultural conservatives won the debate? Have the Democrats come around?

Hardly. For all of their new religiosity and moralistic rhetoric, the Democratic candidates are still committed-with a degree of fanaticism and extremism that is unbounded-to abortion on demand. Mr. Lieberman's support of abortion-even partial-birth abortion-violates the tenets of Orthodox Judaism. So does his support for the homosexual and feminist agendas.

As Mr. Medved, himself an Orthodox Jew, pointed out, he gives the impression that his Judaism "is strict and unbending when it comes to kosher catering or avoiding automobiles on the Sabbath, but infinitely flexible concerning respect for human life and other tormenting moral issues." Or, as another observant Jew said, it becomes a matter of tithing mint and cummin, while omitting the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). Even calling for Hollywood to clean up its act is a tithe of cummin compared to the issue of abortion.

"While he may keep kosher and observe the Sabbath scrupulously," said Jewish columnist Don Feder, "in the political realm, Lieberman has the same allegiance to Torah values that Ted Kennedy has to Catholicism."

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