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As the 1996 election returns suggest, this bitter alienation turns off a lot of Americans. The typical suburbanite does not see our culture as "irretrievably diseased" merely because it is not perfect. Telling voters that America is awful is the fastest way to electoral defeat. And that gloomy, repressive vision especially repels the party of life. It strikes at their core values, attacks their identity.
Nowadays, the GOP's agenda is set by people whose highest legislative priorities include finding some way to regulate the Internet, which they portray as nothing more than a sea of sin, and banning human cloning and related medical research. For the party of life, these are neither cheap, symbolic issues nor narrow, wonkish concerns. They are cultural touchstones, every bit as charged with identity as matters of race or gender. The Internet is, for millions of forward-looking Americans, what Israel is to Jews. When Dick Armey gives speeches about mad scientists and suggests that biomedical research defies God's will, he may win some points with Gary Bauer. But he is handing the future--and all it represents--to the Democratic Party.
Like Hewitt, I believe that the high-tech entrepreneurs who hang out with Al Gore are politically naive. They are giving their time and money to a man who wrote an endorsement blurb for Jeremy Rifkin's anti-biotech screed, Algeny, and whose career has been marked by an impulse to slap regulations on technologies old and new. They are implicitly endorsing a vision of the future as designed by Washington bureaucrats. The Democrats' zest for higher taxes is the least of their worries.
But identity trumps interest. Whatever he may have said in the past, nowadays Gore courts innovators, says they're important, affirms their values. Bill Clinton does the same. The Democrats may be lying, but the national Republican Party is hardly even trying. It is too busy advancing its own agenda of new regulations--and too busy appeasing activists who think Ralph Reed is a moderate squish. It is too busy heaping contempt on the people who are creating the future.
Yes, there are many fine Republican officeholders--people like Reps. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) and Rick White (R-Wash.) or Sens. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Spence Abraham (R-Mich.)--who support opportunity and openness. But they are virtually invisible. Theirs is not the message of the national party, a message that is carried not only by official spokesmen but by the Bauers and Bennetts, Kristols and Dobsons--all the pundits and activists for whom the party is a vehicle to attack contemporary America. To the values of creativity, enterprise, and progress, the Republican Party says nothing, except occasionally, "Shut up, Newt."
Maybe the problem is all those Washington-based intellectuals whose professors taught them that civilization has been going downhill since the Renaissance. Maybe it's too many fund-raising dinners for Team 100, where party leaders address entrepreneurs as mere sources of big bucks. Maybe it's a reaction to Newt Gingrich's jargon-filled enthusiasms. Or maybe it really is the conviction that the upwardly mobile Republicans of the South care only about banning abortion, denouncing television, and censoring the Internet--and that the South is all of America.
Whatever is going on, the GOP has reclaimed its old status as "the stupid party," deaf to the language of achievement and hope. With the 2000 presidential race fast approaching, it has two years to get smart --to re-embrace the Reaganite ideal of a city on the hill and stop bashing America. It has two years to affirm the values of creativity, enterprise, and progress. If it doesn't, it will lose much more than another presidential election. It will lose its claim on the American Dream.