Monday, April 25, 2005

An analysis by a Democratic think tank argues that Democrats are suffering from a severe “parent gap” among married people with children, who say the entertainment industry is lowering the moral standards of the country.

The study, published last week by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), the policy arm of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, admonishes Democrats to pay more attention to parental concerns about “morally corrosive forces in the culture,” and warns that the party will not fare better with this pivotal voting bloc until they do.

In the 2004 election, married parents supported President Bush over Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts by nearly 20 percentage points. Mr. Bush frequently talked about the importance of faith and morals in his campaign and the role that parents played in raising their children. Mr. Kerry and his party, much of whose campaign funding and political support came from liberals in the entertainment industry, rarely touched the issue.

“Democrats will not do better with married parents until they recognize one simple truth: Parents have a beef with popular culture. As they see it, the culture is getting ever more violent, materialistic, and misogynistic, and they are losing their ability to protect their kids from morally corrosive images and messages,” said the study’s author, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project of Rutgers University and a senior fellow at PPI.

“To be credible, Democrats must acknowledge the legitimacy of parents’ beef and make it unmistakably clear that they are on the parents’ side,” Ms. Whitehead said.

But all too often, she said, “Democrats have been on the losing end of Republican appeals to a conservative cultural populism. Too often lately, the party does not counter these appeals but merely tries to change the subject, from cultural values to bread-and-butter issues.”

Urging Democrats to change the way they look at cultural issues, the PPI report calls on party leaders to “use the bully pulpit regularly and aggressively to identify with parents’ concerns and to attack the irresponsible marketeers of violence and sleaze to young kids.”

It praised a campaign by Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat, to ban the sale of violent video games to anyone younger than 18 and said Democrats had to come up with similar initiatives to take “the side of parents against the marketing of graphic sex and violence to kids.”

Some Democrats, chastened by their losses in last year’s elections, are beginning to test a variety of social, cultural and religious appeals that have been at the core of the Republican Party’s success at the ballot box.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has called on “people of good faith to find common ground” in the debate over abortion.

She also has praised faith-based and religious organizations for promoting abstinence, noting that polls showed “the primary reason teenage girls abstain from early sexual activity is because of their religious and moral values.”

In an attempt to reach out to evangelical Christians in the Republican red states, Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has been talking much more about values and “the culture,” and sprinkling his attacks on Republicans with phrases from the Bible.

“We need to kick the money changers out of the temple and restore moral values to America,” he said last week in Florida.

But an online survey of 11,568 Dean supporters released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center found that such religious or culturally conservative appeals may not play well with liberal Democrats.

Among the Pew findings, 38 percent of Dean supporters polled said they had no religious affiliation, compared with 11 percent of all Americans; 91 percent supported same-sex “marriage,” compared with 38 percent of all Democrats; and 80 percent said they were liberals, compared with 27 percent of all Democrats.

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