Shush, They’ll Hear You

The syndicated columnist David Limbaugh, Rush’s brother, made an interesting observation about the brouhaha over Howard Dean’s over-the-top rhetoric about “evil Republicans” and their plans for country. Limbaugh contends that the Congressional Democrats took Dean to the woodshed in early June not because he was misrepresenting their positions on the issues, but because he was representing them too clearly.

Limbaugh’s contention is that what Dean has been saying is what most Democrats believe, but are reluctant to say in public for fear of alienating the voters; that most Democrats understand that they cannot be “completely open” about their beliefs “without risking an electoral bloodbath.” This, says Limbaugh, is why “on some issues they vacillate, saying one thing to certain people — their rabid left-wing constituency groups — and different things to others.”

Limbaugh maintains that left-wing constituency groups are the Democratic base; that liberal Democrats favor a weakened military, world federalism, abortion on demand, and tax policies motivated by socialistic leveling impulses, but that Democratic leaders understand the public is not with them on these matters. This, he says, is why they camouflage their true positions with talk of “supporting the troops” and keeping abortion “legal but rare.”

It is why they “patronizingly peddling taxes as ‘contributions’ and government expenditures as ‘investments.’ They shroud their socialistic proclivities to redistribute wealth by portraying confiscatory tax hikes on major producers as a refund of money that properly belongs to government. Similarly, they shamelessly depict across-the-board tax-rate reductions as gifts to the rich.” Limbaugh concludes that Democrats “wouldn’t disguise” these views “so readily” if they were not afflicted with a “nagging feeling — mostly accurate, I might add — that the majority of the electorate is not on their side.”

Is Limbaugh right? I say he is. Can I prove it? What I have to offer is only anecdotal evidence. But I think my observations can be generalized. I spent much of my life listening to liberal Democrats talking in private, with “their hair down,” if you will. I taught in a public high school in the northern suburbs of New York City for 30 years. My colleagues were public school teachers, the core of the Democratic base. My hunch is that the staff at the school where I taught was similar in its thinking to what you would find in most high schools and colleges around the country.

I was friendly enough with most of my co-workers. I heard their conversations in the faculty dining room and lounge on a daily basis. My colleagues knew I was conservative on most issues, but they humored me, sometimes needling me in a friendly way. Often, I responded in kind. I was not the only conservative on the staff, but conservatives were a decided minority, especially in the social studies and English departments. It was the liberals’ turf. They could be candid.

I have been retired since 1998, but off the top of my head I can think of 10 people I used to work with who fit Limbaugh’s description of the Democratic base. If you gave me some time, I could probably expand the list to 30. Some of my colleagues were tweedy suburban WASPs who took their cue from groups like the League of Women Voters; others were liberal Jews from New York City who sounded pretty much like Dianne Feinstein or Edward Koch; others aging hippies, counterculture types who continued into middle-age in an adversary relationship with the “establishment.”

But they all shared certain a common denominator. They harbored an aversion to the United States military based on their memories of the war in Vietnam; they knew what the young Bill Clinton meant when he said he “loathed the military.” They opposed “unilateral” applications of American force and longed for the day when the United Nations would assume more power over the sovereign nations of the world. The first Gulf War was the only time I heard any of them offer the slightest support for the projection of US power in the world arena. Saddam Hussein’s threat to Israel made him a villain for them in a way that Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh had not been.

Only a few of my colleagues were admitted socialists, but all favored one version or another of the European welfare state. Holland and Sweden were frequently offered as models of enlightened governments. They favored a single-payer medical system like Canada’s, and were willing to accept whatever level of taxation was required to bring it about. They reacted favorably to leveling concepts such as a negative income tax.

Were they atheists? Some were. Most called themselves agnostics. But all would bristle when religious leaders spoke out around election time on issues such as abortion and censorship. (The issue of homosexual marriage had not come up back when I was teaching.) They condemned it as a violation of the Fist Amendment. (No, they didn’t mind it when religious leaders spoke out against war, racism or for more government spending on education and poverty programs.) I can remember one women teacher who was aghast — literally livid and short of breath — when she learned that I favored a voucher system for parochial school students.

All favored the sexual revolution; saw it as liberation of society from the oppressive, Puritanical Eisenhower years, when the narrow-minded bourgeoisie imposed its lifestyle on those who yearned for freedom. They resorted to the “consenting adults” guideline to deal with any question of sexual propriety. You would hear that phrase even from family men and women in traditional and stable marriages of many years. It was an unchallenged maxim in their world, what separated the enlightened and progressive thinker from the provincial masses. They were unanimous in their support for “a woman’s right to choose.”

Where is this going? My colleagues understood that their views were not in step with a significant portion of the local residents, the folks who paid their salaries. They would use terms such as “gun club yokels,” “rednecks” and “Bible thumpers” to describe those in the community who thought “anyone to the left of Attila the Hun was a pinko.” They would caution each other to be careful not to say anything in the classroom or to local reporters that would be inflammatory when the school budget was up for a vote. Just the way Harry Reid and Joe Biden have been telling Howard Dean to cool it in recent days.

James Fitzpatrick's novel, The Dead Sea Conspiracy: Teilhard de Chardin and the New American Church, is available from our online store. You can email Mr. Fitzpatrick at

(This article originally appeared in The Wanderer and is reprinted with permission. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)

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