The party’s conventions are over, and if there is one thing they showed us, it’s that Democrats and Republicans live in very different realities (as the President noted in his speech, Democrats understand that climate change is not a hoax) and have starkly different approaches to the age-old question: how should we live together?
From the composition of the crowds to the policies offered by the speakers, Americans saw two very different messages. It wasn’t simply that–as the President memorably noted–the GOP’s prescription for everything and anything that ails us is “Take two tax cuts and call me in the morning.” It was the difference between a longing for the past–for an America that only existed, if it existed at all, for a small group of middle-class white guys–and a determination to build a fairer, more inclusive, more stable future.
That difference in focus goes a long way toward explaining why the GOP has so much more party discipline than the Democrats do. When you are focused on defeating the other guys because you believe that will magically reinstate a time when women knew their place, gays were hiding in the closet where they belonged, immigrants picked the crops and then went home (or at least stayed out of sight), and black people did not occupy statehouses and most definitely did not live in the White House, the goal is clear and cohesion around that goal relatively easy.
When you are trying to cope with real problems, trying to come to agreement about the future you are trying to build, rather than focusing solely on the man and party you are trying to defeat, the conversation is different. There are many more areas of disagreement–where, precisely, do we want to go? What are the policies most likely to get us there?
Despite the Tea Party’s insistence that Obama is a socialist, what was striking about the rhetoric coming from the Democratic convention was its full-throated endorsement of market economics, of the meritocratic vision that used to be a Republican vision before the party was captured by its anti-rationalist extreme. That affirmation of an economics that rewards hard work and innovation differed from the exaltation of wealth we saw at the Republican convention, however, because it was situated in a larger concept of citizenship and mutual obligation.
The President said it clearly. “We also believe in something called citizenship – a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”
In November, we’ll see which worldview American voters endorse.