SIGH….I’m going to give Matt the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was just providing a helpful demonstration of what those “cultural elites” Dan Gerstein referred to yesterday might sound like. (If you want more examples, take a stroll through our comments, bearing in mind that they represent less than one-tenth of one percent of our overall readership and are therefore to be taken with an entire pantry full of salt.)

Matt’s main contention with the argument Gerstein and I are making seems to be that there is no problem, so if Democrats talk about popular culture as if it is a problem, they will be guilty of shameless political pandering.

Maybe we just have a fundamental difference of opinion here about the definition of “pandering.” Matt seems to think it’s talking about things you can’t fix with a policy solution. I think that acknowledging the concerns of many Americans–even if you can’t fix them with a policy–is sometimes just the obvious and right thing to do, and shouldn’t always be given the perjorative label of pandering. Most parents don’t care that statistics of child wellbeing are improving overall; they worry about whether their kid is going to use drugs or start having sex early or become a victim of violence. Some twenty-something blogger telling them not to worry about it isn’t going to make them feel better.

For the 352nd time: This is not a choice between Democrats doing/saying nothing or becoming Christian Coalition clones. It’s just not. Anyone who insists on posing that false choice is being willfully narrow-minded. There is a heck of a lot of ground between those two poles. I worry about a crisis of imagination in our society if we can’t see that.

All too often, however, Americans find themselves faced with a stark choice, choosing between one side that says, “We know you worry about raising your kids and about our culture” (even as they exploit those fears), and one that says, “Bah! Culture! Not a problem!” So far, liberals don’t seem to have done a bang-up job convincing Americans that those silly little things they worry about aren’t that big a deal.

I believe there are actually policies Democrats can pursue that don’t involve censoring free speech or impacting how adults consume popular culture. But sometimes it’s not about policies. It’s about proving that you’re not hopelessly out of touch with the real anxieties and concerns of many Americans. Maybe I’m starting from the wrong square, though. Maybe the Democratic Party really is out of touch. If so, it’s time to settle in for a looooong winter’s night in the minority.

UPDATE: As one reader has already reminded me, I’ve neglected to remind people that popular culture doesn’t begin to encompass the concerns of many parents. Sometimes I forget that doesn’t go without saying. We’re also talking about the fact that parents are working more than ever before, and that’s a major reason why they aren’t around to monitor their kids. The fact that with our country’s woefully inadequate child care system, the mere juggling of work and kid schedules is enough to drive the most resourceful parent insane. These are issues policymakers can do something about, but policies won’t mean a thing if voters don’t believe you understand their concerns.

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Amy Sullivan

Amy Sullivan is a Chicago-based journalist who has written about religion, politics, and culture as a senior editor for Time, National Journal, and Yahoo. She was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2004 to 2006.