[democratic wedgies]

The Republicans have been taking a bit of a beating lately. But I’m beginning to think they’re just sharpening their wedges to divide the Democratic party from centrist swing voters.

The first wedge is already being deployed to ensure that Kerry, not John Edwards, gets the nomination. By engaging Kerry in a bit of sparring, the Bushies have made it seem like Kerry is already the nominee while diverting media attention from Edwards. The Republicans think they can beat Kerry, who has leaned left for most of his Senate career. Edwards, by contrast, has so little record that there is nowhere to attack him, and his populist message and folksy Southern style undercut Bush’s similar charms. Our political system is perverse enough to make Edwards’s inexperience an advantage, just as Bush’s was in 2000, and the Governator’s in 2003.

I imagine Republicans rubbing their hands with glee as they watch gay marriage sashaying into the center of the national debate. Much as I would like to see gay marriage legalized and gender-based discrimination eliminated from our legal system once and for all, a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a mere 32 percent of Americans share my view, while 64 percent believe that “marriages between homosexuals … should not be recognized by the law as valid.” A Democratic candidate might bridge that gap by saying something like, “While I support gay rights, I believe that each state must make its own decision.” But I fully expect Kerry to alienate both supporters and opponents of gay marriage with some sort of tortured locution, followed by a retraction, followed by a counter-retraction.

Republicans are likewise drooling over the prospect of a national debate about Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was thrown out of office after he violated a U.S. Supreme Court order to remove a giant statue of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse steps. CNN/USA Today/Gallup found that a mere 19 percent of Americans dug that little decision by the Supremes, while a whopping 77 percent disapproved. A similar poll found that 70 percent of Americans would approve of a display of the Ten Commandments in a school or public building, but only 33 percent would approve of a monument with a verse from the Koran.

Guess what, folks? We live in a Christian country.

Democrats need to realize — and accept — that most of this country disagrees with them on religious and social issues. Bill Clinton was able to lead because he veered to the center (or the right), angering many long-suffering Democrats who wonder why their party has gone limp on traditional liberal social values, including strong separation of church and state and vigorous defense of minority rights. The answer, in part, is that these views simply don’t jibe with what America believes. We live in a country whose majority is still of the opinion that the world was created by God in six days and that the Devil is real. Like it or not, America is a Christian polity with conservative Protestant values that have always clashed with our egalitarian and libertarian strains. Democrats will win not by railing against those tendencies, but by sharing in the small-c-conservative values of honesty, fiscal responsibility, fair dealing and compassion — concepts the Bushies barely even acknowledge as existing. America may not be ready for gay marriage, but it’s ready for honest leadership, a balanced budget, help for those who are suffering in this economy, and a foreign policy tempered by compassion and wisdom.

Please keep all that in mind when you cast your primary vote.