There was a time when the Democratic Party occupied the moral high ground. It was the party of civil rights, social reform, and compassion for the poor. Republicans were the pragmatists, complaining about the debilitating effects of the welfare state, the ballooning budget deficit, and the growing power of the federal government, but Democrats were moral idealists, whose hearts, at least, were in the right place.
Today, the Democrats have become the party of moral cynicism. They keep up their rhetoric about compassion, justice, and the rights of the downtrodden, but such talk is hard to take seriously from politicians with a fanatical, single-minded commitment to what is surely the most uncompassionate, unjust violation of human rights in contemporary culture: namely, the abortion of human infants.
The practice can be defended, but not on moral grounds. Studies show that the majority of Americans do believe in legalized abortion, but they also believe that abortion is murder. In other words, they know it's wrong, but they want to be able to do it anyway. There may well be lots of votes to be won from this amoral majority. But it comes across as insufferably sanctimonious to be moralizing at the same time.
Democrats, riding the economic surfboard, are now sounding like the Republicans of yore in their praise of capitalism, the stock market, and balanced budgets. Despite a few of the old-time liberal qualms, they have, for the most part, cooperated with the GOP in reforming welfare and globalizing the economy. As Roberto Rivera of the Wilberforce Forum has pointed out, about the only ideological cause they are willing to stand for at all costs is sexual liberation.
The Democrats have become the party of abortion, feminism, and homosexual rights. Their de facto platform is that there should be no limits or consequences to what human beings want to do sexually. This is what the party of Roosevelt and Truman has come down to, an ideology embodied in President Clinton, whose unbridled sexual appetite led to his impeachment without harming his popularity.
The Democratic grab of the moral high ground was impressive. Republicans, after all, had freed the slaves, while some Democrats erected Jim Crow laws in the South, largely to keep blacks from voting for Republicans. Grover Cleveland and other leaders had influence within the party, but so did numerous racists and even Klan members.
Roosevelt, though, helped both poor whites and poor blacks to get through the Depression, starting a more beneficent tradition in the party. It was the now-reviled Lyndon Johnson who pushed through the Civil Rights Bill, turning the Democratic Party into an advocate for minorities. In his exuberant but often ill-considered do-gooderism, LBJ also launched the "Great Society" and the "war on poverty."
But LBJ also waged the Vietnam War. It is often forgotten how, just recently, the Democrats were the party of patriotism-"ask what you can do for your country"-and of Cold War anti-communism. The Vietnam War turned leftists, academics, and the cultural elite against the old Democratic Party, in all of its moral idealism. The turning point was the Chicago convention of 1968, in which the '60s radicals trashed the party, and when the dust settled, took it over.
Al Gore, born and bred a good Southern Democrat, used to be against abortion. Today, he not only advocates abortion with no limits-even when the baby is partially delivered-he is reconstructing the truth, in a grotesque Clintonian way, by insisting that he never actually had any qualms about it after all. His wife Tipper used to be a culture warrior, leading the charge against immoral lyrics and pushing for parental guidance labels. Now, to make up for that fault (for which many Green Party radicals can never forgive the Gores), she finds the opportunity to play drums with a lesbian rock band at a gay-rights event.
The Democratic Party has become captive to the "lifestyle left." Until the party liberates itself, its moralistic rhetoric can only sound hypocritical, manipulative, and cynical. The moral high ground, in the meantime-from the language of compassion to policies for social reform-will be left to the Republicans.