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Shades of 1828

Politics | This isn't the first time cultural differences have loomed large in a presidential campaign

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

A New York journalist called me the day after Sarah Palin's convention speech and asked what lots of evangelicals have against "community organizers."

In one sense, nothing, I replied. Evangelicals love most community organizers. They call them "church planters." Sometimes they call them homeschool co-op founders or crisis pregnancy center volunteers.

These dedicated individuals don't call themselves community organizers. Sometimes they call themselves hockey moms.

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The big difference between them and left-wing "community organizers" (aka community agitators) is that my heroes and heroines try to bring people together. They don't set employees against employers. They follow the evenhanded teachings of chapter 23 of Exodus: Don't "be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit," but also do not "pervert the justice due to your poor."

I don't like culture wars, but cultural differences are looming large in this election, and that's nothing new. The 1828 election was between "John Quincy Adams,/ Who can write,/ And Andrew Jackson/ Who can fight."

Adams wanted a bigger government that would create a national university and work for "the progressive improvement of the condition of the governed." He proposed that Americans look east to Europe, where countries were making "gigantic strides in public improvements." But Jackson wanted small government that allowed individuals "full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruit of superior industry, economy, and virtue."

Jackson versus the incumbent Adams. Western frontier fighter versus elegant eastern writer. Women at Adams parties wore French dresses. Hostesses at Jackson parties dressed in American calico without ruffles or ornaments.

Jackson won.

In office, he opposed pork-barrel spending "unauthorized by the Constitution, subversive of the rights of the States, and dangerous to the liberties of the people." He wanted to "leave individuals and States as much as possible to themselves."

Sounds a lot like John McCain's convention line about "government that doesn't make your choices for you, but works to make sure you have more choices to make for yourself. . . . We believe in rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their labor."

Bring in Sarah Palin and the pattern becomes even more evident. Much has been made of the way she combines in her own person many conservative talking points: pro-life, pro-character, a strong woman who stands next to her man. Fighting for liberty and virtue, and speaking from experience of how "children with special needs inspire a special love."

What she gets in return from liberalism's upper crust are class-based sneers such as that of The New Republic's Martin Peretz: "I give her her due: she is pretty like a cosmetics saleswoman at Macy's."

Jackson also faced press snorts. They increased his resolve. When he opposed one measure demanded by Philadelphia elites, he said he would never feed a "monster of corruption. . . . I will not bow down to the golden calf."

At least Sarah Palin, like Clarence Thomas, is now inoculated against illusions that the cultural differences are not huge. She put it as Jackson would have put it: "I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this great country."

Today's "community organizers" say they serve their neighbors: Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said, "Community organizing is how ordinary people respond to out-of-touch politicians and their failed policies." That's not true. Most ordinary people in America face disappointments and worse-think of Hurricane Katrina-by volunteering to help their neighbors and calling on God.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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