Illustrated | Spencer Platt/Getty Images, PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images, Scott Olson/Getty Images, saenal78/iStock
If Democrats want to unify the country, they should stop talking about wanting to unify the country.
That’s one of the paradoxes of living in a highly polarized political culture. What once might have sounded uplifting and public spirited now sounds banal and naïve. Democrats need to propose a distinctive account of the country’s past and present and an alternative vision of its future — one that contrasts sharply with the one emanating daily from the White House and the president’s Twitter account. Positioning themselves above it all, as ready and eager to work and compromise with the party of Donald Trump, can’t help but make them sound weak and defensive. It certainly won’t defeat the president and win back the Senate from the GOP in 2020. The time for such pabulum is over.
As recently as 2004, things seemed very different. Barack Obama launched his national political career with a speech at the Democratic National Convention that was a masterpiece of bipartisan happy talk. Yes, he was a Democrat, but he was really beyond all merely partisan labels — and so were the rest of us. It was only the “spin masters,” “negative ad peddlers,” and “pundits” who convinced us otherwise. Their cynicism needed to be rejected.
The most acclaimed passage of the speech is worth quoting at length.
[T]here are those who are preparing to divide us…. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America. [They] like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.
We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. [Obama]
How quaint that now sounds — on the far side of Obama’s eight years in office fighting GOP intransigence every step of the way, and with that pitched battle followed by the thoroughgoing Trumpification of the Republican Party and subsequent lurch of the Democrats to the left.
Obama was right about one thing: There aren’t really blue and red states. But there most certainly are blue and red neighborhoods and counties and regions of states — and far more so now than 15 years ago. Voters who live in places with relatively…