At lunch on May Day last week, my friend Marcel Leroi, publisher of
the “Trumpet Messenger,” and I reminisced about the bygone days of the
class war. We recalled the May 1st marches of the depression era. The
labor movement then added new verses to the civil war song “John Brown’s
Body.” The last verse was:
- In our hands is placed a power
Greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies
Magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world
From the ashes of the old
— When the union makes us strong.
The chorus was:
- Solidarity forever!
The union makes us strong.
But in those days the marchers did not consider “solidarity” as
a synonym for “conformity.” We were bedraggled. We didn’t march in
lockstep. We were cheered on by Oklahoma cowboy Will Rogers, who said,
“I’m proud I don’t belong to any organized political party — I’m a
In the ’30s we considered Republicans to be die-hard conformists,
committed to conserving the presidency of Herbert Hoover and “laissez
faire” capitalism. They promised “A chicken in every pot, and two cars
in every garage.” Our own demands were more modest. We hoped to supply a
family with necessities on a single decent salary.
For us solidarity did not mean, “follow the leader.” Indeed, our hero
was Samuel Gompers, founder of the “Wobbly” union (The International
Workers of the World.) He warned the rank and file, “Anyone who can lead
you into a promised land can also lead you out again.”
In today’s “newspeak” a new term has also been coined: “culture war.”
Like “obscenity” it’s hard to define but we recognize it when we see it.
It’s waged in the media with words — and with live ammunition in more
and more schools.
These days the “new” Democrats are hardly bedraggled. They are well
groomed. They march in tuxedos with celebrities at televised parties.
They have also tailored the meaning of “solidarity” to include loyalty
to no cause other than the defeat of the opposing party.
The first of our leaders to publicly declare war on the Republicans
was James Carville — who is no Will Rogers. Inspired by his political
acumen in touting the economy above all, most congressional Democrats
have lost the ability to laugh at themselves.
At our May Day reunion in the Sandy Hook Diner, Marcel and I (who are
more concerned with words than sticks and stones) asked ourselves, What
is the “culture war” about? We’re not sure we know the answer — but we
have a few tentative theories.
Apparently, the Clinton concept of victory has something to do with
the creation of both a “global village” and “pluralism.” For us it is
hardly a promised land. It doesn’t take a “village” to foster pluralism.
Indeed, a village tends to foster conformity. As we see it, the World
Wide Web fosters less provincialism and more diversity.
Pluralism is enshrined in the Constitution. In 1789 there were great
cultural clashes. Our founders were divided into factions. “Theist”
protestants disagreed with “deist” protestants. Both classes clashed
with Catholics — who were themselves divided into “Roman,” “Anglican”
and “Greek orthodox” factions. With the aid of divine providence our
founders agreed on “ex pluribus unum” — a concept that is now sadly
In the 19th century, Orwell was preceded by Gilbert and Sullivan —
whose famous nanny, “Buttercup,” warned in song that “Things are seldom
what they seem; the skim from milk is often sold as cream.” And so it is
now with the word “pluralism” — which is now being homogenized into
In today’s culture war there are at least two, if not more, competing
factions: the Hollywood faction and the Bible Belt faction. The Clintons
have joined the former — which the Bible Belters contend would turn the
world into a suburb of Los Angeles. For Marcel and me there is a joke
that defines the distinction. Question: “What is the difference between
yogurt and Hollywood? Answer: “Yogurt has a live culture.”
For us the best culture is brewed in political ferment. As a
Democrat, I now lament the lock-step new solidarity that prevails in my
party. On May Day, Marcel, who is more non-partisan than I, reminded me,
“Today, it’s Bob Barr and Henry Hyde who can truly say they belong to no
organized political party — they’re Republicans.”
My hope now is that bedraggled workers from two-income families will
soon bring to birth a Democratic Party rebuilt “from the ashes of the
Jerome Zeifman formerly served as the House Judiciary Committee’s chief
counsel. His book “Without Honor: The Impeachment of President Nixon
and the Crimes of Camelot” is now out-of-print but is being republished
in e-book form. Comments may be sent to