According to a story in the January 16th New York Times, “Democratic congressional leaders say they are committed to governing from the center.” This newfound centrism focuses on social issues. Democrats are alarmed by 2004 exit surveys that showed that religious voters favored Bush by an overwhelming margin. Part of the response has been the creation of a “faith working group,” led by Representative James Clyburn, the new House majority whip. This group, according to the story, aims to “broaden . . . the definition of values-related issues . . . to include economic issues like raising the minimum wage, assisting low-income children with health insurance, and shoring up Social Security.” “That’s Old Testament Bible, taking care of widows and orphans,” says Clyburn.
This is the social-issues version of Michael Dukakis’s memorable ride atop a tank during his 1988 presidential campaign. He was trying to show voters that he was strong on defense, but the photo op backfired because many voters understood that if the Democrats, inveterate critics of defense spending, had had their way, there would have been no tank.
Back then, aside from riding on tanks, the Democrats tried to persuade voters that they were not weak on national security by seeking to “broaden the definition” of national security to include these very same social insurance policies that today they are claiming are “values” issues.
Whatever the merits of the minimum wage, Medicare, and social security, they are of little avail against foreign enemies or terrorists. And whatever they may do for your body, they do little for your soul. They make poor substitutes for ethics, self-discipline, and other traditional virtues that churchgoing voters presumably prize.
The Democrats’ problem for the past thirty-odd years has been that they are much more liberal than the electorate. Senator Lieberman was their one leader who was conspicuously devout. He also happened to be deeply serious about national security, so they hastened to chuck him out. In thinking they can solve their problem through semantic games, the Democrats are showing their contempt for the voters. Notwithstanding the anomalous results in 2006, the voters will continue to return the compliment.