Monday, March 13, 2006

That's Heavy, Doc!

Someone sent me a link to this story from the American Prospect on what Democrats need to do to talk culture to the electorate. I would call it fascinating, because it did illuminate to a degree, but I got lost in some of the impenetrable verbage. With all the talk of "measurable components of worldviews," "anomie-aimlessness" and Tim Kaine's religious strategy, it's an op-ed article only a Princeton grad could fully appreciate. (And I ain't one of those.)

Then I saw on kausfiles a somewhat coarse summation of the American Prospect piece, in which Kaus ennumerates six main "ideas" he took from the article, which he understatedly calls "dense and academic." (Scroll down to Saturday, March 11). Here are his verbatim thoughts, which I found helpful and thought you might as well:

1) Underneath, America's becoming like a videogame--"a more atomized, rage-filled outlook that values consumption, sexual permissiveness, and xenophobia." Yikes.

2) The half of the population that votes reacts against the growing anomie by embracing "moralistic politics." That's especially true of lower-income voters, who need moral order to survive in a more chaotic social environment.

3) In fact, "traditional values have become aspirational," complicating Tom Frankish efforts of Democrats to get less affluent voters to drop the Republican cultural nonsense and vote their pocketbooks.

4) Suddenly it's 1960 again, and Democrats like Franke-Ruta are worrying how to deal with "relative affluence" and "relative isolation" in a "post-scarcity society."

5) The last time around, in the actual 60's, JFK's Democratic answer to affluent isolation was not so much to embrace traditionalist values as create new, patriotic values ("Ask not," etc.) Is this national service answer now a) a harder sell than ever, b) needed more than ever, or both? If not national service, is there another non-traditionalist Dem morally-ordering institution out there? My instinct is that in 2006 health care--the social effort to beat back death and disability--is a more potent basis for egalitarian community than Peace Corpsing. For one thing, it's solidly rooted in individual self-interest.

6) Webbische Dean-friendly "progressives" like Franke-Ruta aren't likely to be the paleoliberal threat to the Democratic party many centrists fear. Why? As Matt Bai has pointed out, they have little allegiance to old Dem interest groups--unions and civil rights groups, in particular. At bottom, they're desperate reformers open to new ideas.


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