I've greatly enjoyed the post-election traumas of the Democratic party. I loved those few days when Nancy Pelosi was ostentatiously dropping a soundbite from "Matthew" into every media appearance. Who is this Matthew guy she's on such chummy terms with? Matthew Meadows, Florida state representative for District 94? Matthew P. Denn, the Democratic candidate in the race for Delaware insurance commissioner?
No, turns out it's Matthew as in the Gospel according to. Big name in Jesusland, to use the new designation. A little too big, indeed, to be cited plausibly as evidence of one's acquaintance with Scripture. Anyone can refer in a vague way to Matthew. Had Mrs. Pelosi managed to rattle off a couple of verses from Philemon or Habakkuk, all over the vast Bush-voting swamp, millions of stump-toothed rednecks would have briefly stopped speaking in tongues as their jaws hit the floor. By the way, it's only two k's in the middle of "Habakkuk" — not like Amerikkka or John Ashkkkroft.
Anyway, after a week of trying to turn the Democratic whine into holy water, the House minority leader decided to chuck the saint-dropping. As the whole Jesusland thing suggests, her base isn't entirely on board with the outreach. And frankly the Democrats never do well when they try to square contemporary liberal pieties with religion. For one thing, they recoil from the very word "religion." Al Gore prefers to say, "Well, in my faith tradition . . ." As a rule, folks with a faith tradition tend not to call it such. At Friday prayers in Mecca, the A-list imams don't say, "Well, in my faith tradition we believe in killing all the infidels."
Second, prominent Democrats seem to have great difficulty getting even the well-known bits right. Christmas, according to Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1999, is when those in that particular faith tradition celebrate "the birth of a homeless child." Or, as Al Gore put it in 1997, "Two thousand years ago, a homeless woman gave birth to a homeless child." For Pete's sake, they weren't homeless — they couldn't get a hotel room. They had to sleep in the stable only because Dad had to schlep halfway across the country to pay his taxes in the town of his birth, which sounds like the kind of cockamamie bureaucratic nightmare only a blue state could cook up. Except that in Massachusetts, it's no doubt illegal to rent out your stable without applying for a Livestock Shelter Change of Use Permit plus a Temporary Maternity Ward for Non-Insured Transients License, so Mary would have been giving birth under a bridge on I-95.
Had a Matthew principle
Since everyone's tossing in post-election generalizations, here's mine. One of the features of the geopolitical landscape revealed by 9/11 was the widening gulf between Americans and Europeans. Some of us (ahem) noted that fact in the columns we wrote that very day. Nonetheless, the Democrats spent the next three years getting more European. That was hardly likely to improve their electoral prospects, though it got them great press across the Atlantic, and continues to do so. The Guardian's Timothy Garton Ash, returning from a tour of the blue states, says Europeans need to modify the famous expression of solidarity of September 12, 2001: "Nous sommes tous amÈricains." "Hands need to be joined across the sea in an old cause: the defence of the Enlightenment," writes Garton Ash. "We are all blue Americans now." That at least has the merit, unlike the phony-baloney Le Monde headline, of being sincere.
But I doubt whether it's terribly helpful to Democrats. American exceptionalism is better understood as the exceptionalism of Americans — the refusal of a (thin but decisive) majority of the citizenry to submit to the definition of "advanced Western democracy" as it's understood by Germans, Belgians, and Scandinavians. By contrast, the Democratic party for the most part believes wholeheartedly, as the Europeans do, in the great secular religion — the state as church. That's why when Al and Hill start talking about their faith tradition it somehow veers off into a lesson on the need for social programs. It's also why Democrats remain wedded to issues that have no resonance even in blue states. The Dems are the party of gun control not because Vermonters or Minnesotans are clamoring for it but because it's part of the transnational conventional wisdom.
I doubt very much whether a Europeanñblue state alliance is the horse you'd bet on to save the Enlightenment. The EU, with its over-regulated economy, unaffordable social-welfare liabilities, and shriveled post-Christian birth rates, is a glimpse into a Democratic future. If you're chit-chatting with blue-staters in your average Ivy League college town, they express disbelief at this prognosis: Why, everything seems so much better ordered and agreeable over there. The electoral prominence of Jean-Marie Le Pen; the murder of Theo van Gogh; the banning of Belgium's major opposition party, the Vlaams Blok — oh, but these are freakish disconnected events, of no wider significance.
I think not. Over the next few years the news from Europe will get worse. We're about to witness the messy implosion of the secular West's last surviving faith, the state church. And, when that happens, what will the Democrats have left?