Suzanne Fields

In this season of the Democratic primaries, everything is perceived in dichotomies of red and blue. We're reminded that the electorate is evenly divided, that ideology is rampant and that the voter sees the issues in negatives and positives.

Polls suggest that George W. Bush will get a large majority of the white male vote and John Kerry will get a majority of the female vote. Conservatives are supposed to appeal to the NASCAR dad, the hard-drinking, hard-living workingman in the stands at the Daytona 500. Democrats will get the vote of the softer, socially conscious liberal ladies. "Democrats trolling for votes among NASCAR dads," says one Republican analyst, "is like a Republican trolling for votes at a NOW convention."

The most cynical observation based on exit polls is not constructive but destructive, not substantive but anger-driven: Democrats will vote for anybody they think can beat George Bush.

Dichotomies galvanize the already committed, creating broad caricatures that defy the complexity of the individual voter, especially the independent voter who can swing an election. Dichotomies reflect the sloppiness and shapelessness of a presidential campaign in its earliest stages. What these observations do is grossly oversimplify what's really at issue here, the future of the United States as seen from the beginning of the 21st century.

The Democrats look back in anger at Florida, but what do they look forward to? Where's the moral vision? George Lakoff, a linguist who studies how political language frames the substantive debate, is hard on his fellow "progressives" for lacking an intellectual framework with a positive vision for the future.

Lakoff describes the two political parties as opposing models of an ideal family. In his scenario the Republicans look for leadership with a "strict father" who sees the world as a dangerous place and who will inspire discipline, self-reliance, a sense of right and wrong in his children so that they can persevere in a tough and fearful world.

Democrats, by contrast, are the "nurturing" party, where the father encourages empathy with others as the route toward responsibility; government grows as a caretaker for the weak. In this perspective, Bill Clinton was the ideal nurturing president, who could feel the pain of his voters and who was willing to move to the right when it suited him. He signed Welfare reform because it was time to change the incentives for getting Welfare recipients off the dole for their own good.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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