Republicans are still mournful over this month’s defeat and envious of the winning Democrats. Lots of liberals, though, have a sadness of their own.
Four years ago they were part of an idealistic movement, unrealistic about hope and change but excited about a candidate who promised to transcend politics. They also relished the chance to slay the vampire of racism by electing an African-American president.
Now the movement is dead, and liberals are only the pistons of a political machine. They won, but they won dirty by appealing not to the better angels of our nature but naked self-interest. And that appeal is also a subset of sadness: We can rage against “the takers” and wish more Americans were “makers,” but it’s far more productive to understand the fears that went into Barack Obama’s victory.
Ross Douthat, the conservative voice of The New York Times (see “Ahead of the Times,” WORLD Magazine, Feb. 25 issue), put out a productive column yesterday. He wrote of an Obama coalition “created by social disintegration and unified by economic fear.” Douthat wrote of “the growing failure of America’s local associations—civic, familial, religious—to foster stability, encourage solidarity and make mobility possible.”
Douthat analyzed “the Hispanic vote. Are Democrats winning Hispanics because they put forward a more welcoming face than Republicans do—one more in keeping with America’s tradition of assimilating migrants yearning to breathe free? Yes, up to a point. But they’re also winning recent immigrants because those immigrants often aren’t assimilating successfully. … [T]he weaker that families and communities are, the more necessary government support inevitably seems.”
He also wrote of “the growing number of unmarried Americans, especially unmarried women. Yes, social issues like abortion help explain why these voters lean Democratic. But the more important explanation is that single life is generally more insecure and chaotic than married life, and single life with children—which is now commonplace for women under 30—is almost impossible to navigate without the support the welfare state provides.”
Douthat then analyzed “the secular vote, which has been growing swiftly and tilts heavily toward Democrats. The liberal image of a non-churchgoing American is probably the ‘spiritual but not religious’ seeker, or the bright young atheist reading Richard Dawkins. But the typical unchurched American is just as often an underemployed working-class man, whose secularism is less an intellectual choice than a symptom of his disconnection from community in general.”
His conclusion: Conservatives don’t comprehend the economic struggles that lead some to vote Democratic, and liberals “minimize the costs of disrupted families and hollowed-out communities. … Transfer payments are not a sufficient foundation for middle-class success. It’s not a coincidence that the economic era that many liberals pine for—the great, egalitarian post-World War II boom—was an era that social conservatives remember fondly as well: a time of leaping church attendance, rising marriage rates and birthrates, and widespread civic renewal and engagement.”
Liberals pine but they know they cannot truly yearn for such a time because it depended on what they don’t like: strong churches, traditional families, and a civil society that constrains government. Now they depend on a machine of disgruntlement. God is not dead but their movement of hope is.