At the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, three dozen Broadway stars sang “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” creating a spectacle so nauseatingly saccharine that Pepto-Bismol sales spiked nationwide.
It was the culmination, but hardly the only invocation, of “love” at this week’s BenGay-sponsored Woodstock reboot. “We are called to be a nation of love,” New Jersey senator Cory Booker declared. Thought-leader Lenny Kravitz performed his song “Let Love Rule,” adding after the set: “Love is the only solution.” “Love trumps hate” (wordplay!) was a regular chant, and, inevitably, the phrase found its way into the highest-profile event of the week: Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech. This was, recall, the same woman who, last October, said that the “enemy” of whom she is proudest is “Republicans.” Feel the love!
But Democrats love love. They’re like Ewan McGregor’s character in Moulin Rouge: “All you need is love” (and a single-payer health-care system)!
It would be more accurate, though, to say that Democrats love “love.” They love the rhetorical power of “love.” After all, everyone loves love. No one is anti-“love.” Well, except the “haters,” that is. Conveniently, hatred seems to be in ample supply this election season.
Hatred — the Left’s all-encompassing pejorative — is a way of dismissing the need for reasoned debate. Hatred is irrational; you can’t debate someone who “hates.” Declaring that political opponents are ruled by wicked and unfathomable impulses is a way of avoiding having to engage opposing arguments. President Obama used this tactic in his DNC speech on Tuesday, when he dismissed as doomed to failure “fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues.” Nudge nudge.
“Love” is the positive complement to “hate.” It’s instantly legitimizing. Where someone who “hates” is Bad People, someone who “loves” is Good People. That was the message implied by the “Love is Love” campaign for same-sex marriage: There are no arguments against same-sex marriage; just bigots. Just as debate is impossible with haters, there’s no need to debate someone who “loves.” They’re with you.
Or, more precisely, With Her. After all, Hillary Clinton is the Lover-in-Chief this cycle (yet another devastating blow to Bill). She “loves” people of every creed and color and shape and size. She “loves” Hatfields and McCoys. She “loves” the Yankees and the Red Sox. She “loves” waffles and pancakes. If the DNC is to be believed, there are Care Bears less big-hearted than Hillary Clinton.
It should be clear that the Democrats’ love, in almost every case, reduces simply to this: We’re not them.
Obviously, the Democrats have an ideal foil in Donald Trump, who gained electoral traction by letting his mouth far outstrip his minimal brain. Hence Mexican = “rapist,” Muslim = probably a terrorist, &c. It has never been easier to cast the Republican party as the party of “hate.” But it’s not anything new. George Bush hated blacks. Mitt Romney hated poor people. Paul Ryan hates the elderly so much he is scheming to shove them off cliffs. The Republican party has always been animated by “hate,” and the Democratic party is the party of “love.”
But it should be clear that the Democrats’ love, in almost every case, reduces simply to this: We’re not them. If that seems somewhat less than loving, well, what would one expect? It was inevitable that the appropriation of “love” as the banner of one side of the political spectrum would diminish, not elevate, the place of genuine love in our public life. And in a way, Democrats are correct: We do need more love in our public life — but love in a completely different sense from what they intend. As Hillary rightly noted, “bonds of trust and respect are fraying” and “powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart.” But the thin gruel that Democrats have in mind when they talk about love — insights of the sort one might find on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic — is clearly not equal to restoring those bonds. It’s not love to disrupt a moment of silence for fallen police officers, or to burn the Israeli flag — both of which happened this week in Philadelphia. Nor is “love” a synonym for more-generous welfare programs or for higher levels of low-skilled immigration or for “not Donald Trump.”
#related#Inasmuch as love is, and must be, an element of our common life, it must be a substantive love grounded in something more powerful than policy preferences. Giving real and concerted thought to what that might mean, particularly in an age of pluralism, is an urgent matter.
In the meantime, a word of caution to politicians of all stripes: Invoking “love” as nothing more than a weapon with which to batter political opponents is almost sure to yield love’s opposite.