From the discussions taking place online, on editorial pages, and on university campuses since the election, it’s easy to see that progressives have gotten themselves in a bind. Under the assumption that “the values thing” really is what led to their loss, they are wondering about how to craft a sustaining myth of their own that is as powerful and comforting as whatever it was the Right was using.
In the face of a defeat apparently based more on emotion than logic, it’s not a surprising conclusion to have reached. After all, a vast majority of Bush voters actually agreed more with Kerry’s policies than those of their own candidate. And a full eighty percent of them thought Saddam Hussein was involved with Al Qaeda. Clearly, the facts and issues meant less to many of these people than the intangibles Bush was selling: character, packaging, and, perhaps most importantly, a good story.
As the Left now sees it, Bush’s articulated faith in America’s role in world and heavenly affairs was strong enough to get poor people to vote against their own financial interests, and even to feel good about having sent their kids off to a war that has yet to be adequately justified through traditional logic. The people of this nation – particularly the poor – had every good reason to vote for Kerry, yet didn’t.
That’s why progressives have concluded, reluctantly, that people in the red states cannot be reached through reason. It seems as if no quantity of factual evidence can outweigh the conviction of a person’s heart. So, like advertisers suddenly realizing that people don’t care about product attributes, defeated Democrats are looking to market their candidates and ideology using brand image, instead.
Sure, it’s shrouded now in self-flagellating rhetoric about elites from the northeast condescending to the average Joe. Intellectuals and college graduates don’t take Christians seriously enough, the argument goes, and are paying the price for alienating the good, hard-working people of this nation, whose faith fuels them through their days.
The real thinking is entirely more cynical. The Left is kicking itself for having misread the heartland’s values and underestimating the importance of conveying a more faith-based rhetoric. People don’t just want a more qualified candidate, the Left now reasons, they want a candidate and party that can make them feel good about themselves and their place in the divine scheme.
So progressives are finally bringing themselves to confront the unthinkable: It’s time to let tactics trump truth, and create a myth for the Left that’s more fanciful, triumphant, and sustaining than the other guys’.
It’s going to be a tough sell, in more ways than one.
The biggest problem is that this strategy cuts against the grain of every value on which the progressive agenda was based – from the Enlightenment-era conviction that our higher faculties should command our collective destiny, right on through the Marxist emphasis on education and rationality. Progressives fancy themselves as intellectuals for whom science trumps religious doctrine. They cling to the separation of church and state not just because they think everyone should be able to believe what they want to, but because they don’t want religion clouding reason in public affairs.
But now, despite the Lef’ts own reluctance to doll up the truth, progressives are entertaining the notion of developing a mythical context for their own policy agenda. Even Plato’s Republic was to be sustained by a foundation myth in which the elements making up a person’s blood decided which class into which they would be born. If a well-conceived myth was good enough for the high-minded Greeks, isn’t it good enough for today’s desperate Democrats? It would certainly play better on Crossfire.
Still, I’ve been asking myself: Can’t the Left just eat it’s principles for as long as necessary to get in office, and then go back to the business of applying reasoned and substantive policies? Wouldn’t it be better to develop a more benevolent religious narrative than th triumphalism currently passing for foreign policy? Especially if it’s a myth that has some sort of half-life, and dissolves itself once people feel safe enough to let go of it?
Alas, no. (As I tried to show in my last book, Judaism was invented to serve that purpose – yet can be easily turned to do the opposite.) Progressives can’t pursue their values by abandoning them. Instead, they must come to acknowledge and bolster the faith they do have – in reason, observed truth, and, most of all, in the innate ability of all human beings to make rational decisions. Sure, they can mine the parables of Jesus for their basis in social justice and fair play – and the inspiration and motivation such stories can provide. But they must not surrender the very foundation of an Enlightenment-inspired society to the expediencies of pandering to fear and superstition.
Progressives simply can’t have it both ways. To peddle their agenda in a faux-religious package, without any real faith in its underlying premise, would be to install a regime even more cynically devoid of spirit than the one they mean to replace.