We don't feel their pain
Nicholas Kristoff offers a cogent diagnosis of the Democrats' ailments in wake of John Kerry's loss in Tuesday's election. Simply put, much of middle America views the Democratic Party as cultural elitists who don't respect their values:
To put it another way, Democrats peddle issues, and Republicans sell values. Consider the four G's: God, guns, gays and grizzlies.
One-third of Americans are evangelical Christians, and many of them perceive Democrats as often contemptuous of their faith. And, frankly, they're often right. Some evangelicals take revenge by smiting Democratic candidates.
Then we have guns, which are such an emotive issue that Idaho's Democratic candidate for the Senate two years ago, Alan Blinken, felt obliged to declare that he owned 24 guns "and I use them all." He still lost.
As for gays, that's a rare wedge issue that Democrats have managed to neutralize in part, along with abortion. Most Americans disapprove of gay marriage but do support some kind of civil unions (just as they oppose "partial birth" abortions but don't want teenage girls to die from coat-hanger abortions).
Finally, grizzlies - a metaphor for the way environmentalism is often perceived in the West as high-handed. When I visited Idaho, people were still enraged over a Clinton proposal to introduce 25 grizzly bears into the wild. It wasn't worth antagonizing most of Idaho over 25 bears.
Democrats don't know how to talk to most Americans, and this is something to which the left wing of the party can't reconcile itself. The left thought in 2002 that the Republicans cleaned up in the midterm elections because the Democrats had drifted too far to the right; but the real reason the Democrats lost then, and the reason they lost Tuesday, is because they do not have a clear message, a coherent governing philosophy or a well-organized party structure.
What's really amazing is the Democrats have a successful role model in the form of Bill Clinton, who as a Southern Baptist knew how to talk to evangelicals. (Keep in mind that one of the most religious segments of the population are African Americans, and cultural issues matter a great deal to them.) When Clinton said that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" he may not have satisfied die-hard pro-lifers, but he reassured the majority of Americans who, as Kristoff notes, think abortion is wrong but don't want to send women scurrying to back alley butchers.
Clinton wasn't perfect; in addition to his ethical problems, he was too quick to compromise, but I can't think of too many Democrats who wouldn't pick him over George W. Bush in a heart beat. Clinton stood on principal on health care and gays in the military, and he failed; but he survived his failures and lived to fight another day.
So the question is, when the inevitable bloodletting begins in the Democratic Party, who will win? The left, which is still mired in the grievance politics of the past, or those who understand that it is more important to win the support of people who go to church than people who go to Starbucks?