The problem with the Paul Wellstone memorial service--which arguably cost Democrats their hold on power--was not just that it was rude, as the crowd booed Republicans who had come to pay their respects to the Minnesota senator. Nor just that it was inappropriate to turn a memorial service into a political rally. The problem with the service was that it was downright scary.
Resembling one of Hitler's Nuremberg rallies more than either a memorial service or a typical political function, the event featured speakers screaming into microphones, demonizing their opponents, and whipping the crowd into a frenzy with emotional call-and-response oratory. ("Will you continue the struggle?" "WE WILL!")
Americans tend to distrust the kind of collectivist emotionalism that can turn an ordinary person into a member of a crazed mob. That is what it started to sound like, with all of the yelling and reviling of the non-Democratic dignitaries in attendance. The event, broadcast throughout the country, was a disturbing spectacle of unrestrained fanaticism.
Funerals in the Christian tradition were always thoughtful meditations on life and death, focused on the promise of everlasting life through Christ. The purpose was to give those who grieved comfort.
Many funerals today, though--both among non-Christians and even churches that are in conscious reaction against their own spiritual heritage--are quite different. Instead of giving mourners comfort with the objective truths of the gospel, they deal with grief by means of catharsis. That is, they ratchet up the grief so that it reaches an emotional crescendo.
This can be done by forcing grieving family members to stand up before everyone to say how much they miss their loved one, crying, and making everyone else in attendance cry with empathy. The idea is to let the emotion out. When it is over, everyone is emotionally drained, burnt out with grief, marking a kind of "closure." This approach is in stark contrast to the classic Christian service, which ends not in closure but in the confidence that the loved one has entered everlasting life.
Actually, the service for Mr. Wellstone was not a funeral. This was a "memorial service" for the public. The religious service took place privately, for just the family and close friends. Still, the emotional bloodletting of America's new way of handling death was evident, and perhaps should be excused as such.
But when emotions are unleashed, underlying beliefs and attitudes that tend to be suppressed in polite company are brought out into the open. What came out in a torrent at the service for Mr. Wellstone and what has since been coming out in more measured tones from defeated Democrats is the rhetoric and the ideology of Marxism.
The "struggle" hailed by speaker after speaker, to which the attendees vowed their collective allegiance, is the class struggle. "Working men and women" are pitted against "corporations." "Ordinary Americans" are portrayed as being in a death struggle against the exploiting "rich." This is the worldview developed by Karl Marx, who saw all of culture as nothing more than an expression of class struggle.
The economy is indeed in a slump, but this is because businesses are struggling. The Democrats' proposed solution is to punish corporations, put more regulations on business, and tax the rich. So how is this going to help workers?
Low-income folks struggle not because capitalists are exploiting them but because they need jobs. Most Americans realize that the economy will grow when businesses grow. They also realize that socialist rhetoric of the 1930s will accomplish nothing.
When communism collapsed in the Soviet Union, left-wing theorists began advocating "post-Marxism." Instead of interpreting life in terms of a struggle between economic classes, they substituted a struggle between other kinds of groups: whites oppressing blacks; men oppressing women; heterosexuals oppressing homosexuals.
This rhetoric was also prominent at Mr. Wellstone's memorial service, and it has been a mainstay of Democratic campaigns, such as that of Al Gore in the last presidential election.
Incredibly, after their election losses put them out of power, many Democrats blame their failure on having been too accommodating to President Bush, and on being insufficiently liberal. Many Democrats are trying to revamp their leadership and their platform so as to go further to the left.
As they try to rekindle the old anti-war sentiments of their glory days in the 1960s, and as they search for a national leader with the ideological purity of a George McGovern, Democrats do have one issue that can keep them from joining communism in the ashcan of history. Their liberal economics has failed them, but their liberal stand on cultural issues keeps them powerful. Many Americans will do anything to preserve abortion, gay rights, feminism. And this is even scarier.