My lament over the 2014 mid-term elections doesn’t always harmonize with the nation-wide liberal blues. Perhaps that’s because I’m an old-style, New Deal political liberal with a traditional theology and time-honored family values, at once more progressive and conservative than today’s cultural reformer. I mourn of hidden elephants, orphaned Democrats, and a ghettoized intelligentsia.
My first stanza: Only a third of all eligible voters made the trip to the polls. Behold the elephant in the room: We, the victim-pleading American non-voters, are the system’s glitch. We’re convinced the soldiers at Omaha Beach were mowed down so we could play video games on Election Day. We’ll caw like demoralized crows when Senator James Inhofe, a climate-change denier, grabs the gavel in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He needn’t worry that 70 percent of Americans see climate change as a crucial issue. Most are too busy flipping channels to drive to the polling site.
Remember the black-and-white photos of the lynch mob’s victims. Honor them. Don’t vote for Democrats or Republicans if you favor neither. Vote for the Greens instead – or for any other party. Stop acting like lifeless data points on a campaign manager’s chart. Rise up. Threaten our current parties with the fate of the Whigs and Federalists.
My second stanza: The Democratic Party – my party – flees from its own accomplishments. The Affordable Care Act is a proven success; unemployment rates are down; the deficits have dropped. But party leaders speak their subculture’s in-the-Beltway “wonk” and tremble before “Obamacare” as if it were the attic’s crazy aunt. The Tea Party thanks them.
What’s more, those leaders remain tone-deaf to people of traditional faith, especially evangelical Christians – many of whom, incidentally, feel no Republican love. Yet we’re snubbed. I’m Exhibit A: I agree with President Obama’s expressed convictions in 2008: “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.” I also agreed with him in 2011: “Every single American — gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society.” I easily befriend homosexuals; I would protect their jobs; I have voted for at least one; and I advocate civil arrangements for consenting adults (their relationship needn’t be sexual): All standard Democratic fare until May 9, 2012, when the president articulated his change. I don’t doubt his sincerity and I understand the compelling gay narratives – but, as a (mostly progressive) evangelical Christian, I’m faced with what appears to be the plain meaning of a text I’m convinced is sacred. I’m tempted to yield to mounting pressure and lop off inconvenient passages and historic precedent, but then I remember CS Lewis: “Whence comes the Innovator’s authority to pick and choose?”
But never mind. I cannot merely differ with contemporary thinking. I’ve been told I’m “hateful,” despite my agreement with Pope Francis and every 2008 Democratic candidate. At best, I’m a cast off from the Inevitable March of Moral Progress – so I’d better blend with the times because the trend lines are etched in stone …
Maybe not. A September Pew Center poll showed a five percent drop in support for gay marriage. Slightly less than half of all Americans were for it.
My third stanza riffs off the second: somebody hijacked the term, “liberal,” which once heralded union workers, civil rights activists, and conservation advocates. They lionized Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, saluted the flag, populated VFW meetings, attended churches and synagogues, and plotted communism’s containment. John F. Kennedy seized the brand in his 1960 presidential campaign: “If by a ‘Liberal’ they (his opponents) mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people – their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties – someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal,’ then I’m proud to say I’m a Liberal.’”
Many vied for the “liberal” label – until liberals mutated into secular puritans laying gauntlets of inviolate rules. Damon Linker, hardly a right-wing extremist, cites several examples. Among them: Mozilla Founder Brendan Eich stepped down amid a boycott threat because he donated $1,000 to the “wrong” side in California’s Proposition 8 campaign five years before. The message: Watch your back if you’re not rigidly “open-minded” like us.
Such fundamentalism chokes our universities. Christine Lagarde, chief of the International Monetary Fund, withdrew under pressure from speaking at Smith College’s commencement ceremonies in May (protestors disagreed with her organization’s policies). Condoleezza Rice suffered the same humiliation at Rutgers. Most ominously by far, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – a moderate evangelical organization – lost its access to California’s state universities because it requires its student leaders to affirm its doctrines. Vanderbilt University followed suit.
These actions spoil Kennedy’s description and feed Liberalism’s critics. Suddenly, Bernard Goldberg articulates our fears: “Once, liberals were the ones who said: Even if I disagree with you I’ll defend to the death your right to speak. That was then. Today, too many liberals – especially on college campuses – not only will not defend your right to speak, but will do all they can to silence you.”
Elections – always rough and wearisome – are now tawdry cartoons churned by gaudy ad agencies hired by lackluster political parties. And so it will remain unless the listless elephant arises. Timid Democrats and orphaned liberals will unwittingly sing a monotonous chorus with dysfunctional Republicans in 2016, complete with the robo-call parade, until American non-voters stop hiding behind their fatalistic and self-fulfilling cynicism. No more blaming. Congressional gridlock is the outcome, not the cause, of empty polling booths.
Only an elephant stampede in 2016 will begin to crack the lock.