Correction to This Article
An Aug. 11 Federal Page article mischaracterized a group that was addressed by Tim Goeglein, White House deputy director of public liaison. He spoke at the 27th annual National Conservative Student Conference, put on by Young America's Foundation. The foundation is not affiliated with the Republican Party.

The Art of Telling Parties Apart

Republicans do not want their children to be artists or writers, Tim Goeglein says.
Republicans do not want their children to be artists or writers, Tim Goeglein says. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Sam Coates
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 11, 2005

Forget tax cuts, the abortion issue and whether they wear the American flag as a lapel pin. We have, it appears, a new way of distinguishing Republicans from Democrats, at least in the federal city.

It emerged last week, without fanfare, at an annual gathering of young Republicans, from Tim Goeglein, White House deputy director of public liaison.

Working under Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Goeglein spends his time trying to mollify various conservative groups, and then transmitting concerns and demands to President Bush. As a political high-wire artist, he knows how difficult it is to distill the different strands of conservatism into a single idea or theory.

While addressing more than 200 Republican students aiming to be tomorrow's leaders and federal highfliers last Friday at George Washington University, the White House official managed just that.

Goeglein recalled a dinner party that he and his wife recently attended in Northwest. Out of the six couples around the table, Goeglein and his wife were the only Republicans.

As is inevitably the case, he said, the conversation soon turned to the couples' children -- most 5 or 6 years old -- and aspirations for their future occupations. One parent said editor; another, publisher; a third wanted the child to go into education.

"I was intrigued by the question, and the answers of every one of our Democratic friends," Goeglein said. Not one parent, he said, gave an answer that would be more typical of Republicans. "Our party, in the way it is constituted, we think of medicine, we think of law, we think of business. We don't think, gee, I hope my son grows up to be a great playwright or painter or poet," he explained.

Whether a future government employee, a bureaucrat, would win the approval of a GOP parent, he did not say.

Author Mark Helprin, who considers himself a conservative, agrees. "Of course, you would have to be insane to hope your child grows up to be a playwright or poet. Given the odds, you would have to be quite cavalier about your children's future."

He recalled that at one point, a million people reported to the IRS that they were writers. Helprin believes only 50 to 100 people at a time can be successful in that occupation.

Helprin's father was deeply upset when his son became a fiction writer because it was a "difficult" career that can lead to an unfulfilled life. But his father's fears proved baseless: Helprin has written a string of successful novels and two decades' worth of articles for the New Yorker, for which he has won a number of prizes including the Prix de Rome and the National Jewish Book Award.

As for his offspring, one is at Harvard studying classics -- "not exactly law or medicine" -- while the other is studying public health at Johns Hopkins.

Helprin said that over the centuries the arts community embraced figures from the right of the political spectrum as well as the left. He said this is no longer true, pointing out that George Orwell and Graham Greene were both vilified when they moved to the right.

"There's a deterrent effect for Republicans from joining that community. I recently wrote an apolitical book of short stories, and I was attacked for my politics. When I wrote a book about a World War I soldier, the New York Times book review said in paragraph one that I was a Republican. They wouldn't point out that Norman Mailer is a Democrat."

Political scientists have long identified how certain professions lean toward particular political parties. According to data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group, 69 percent of contributions from people in the television, music or film industry go to Democrats. There is no category for writers.

"A lot of people tend to vote for their economic interest. So doctors see their interests more aligned with the Republicans, believing that Democrats favor more of a standardized health care plan, while 86 percent of those in movie production give to Democrats," said Larry Noble, the center's executive director.

But what about parents' ambitions for their children? Noble said there were no data available to answer that. "That's almost too anecdotal: I know Democrats who want their kids to be doctors, and I know Republicans who are writers," he said. "I do think it's one thing to look at political contributions. So maybe it's [Goeglein's] experience or his circle."

Robert Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts, also was not convinced by Goeglein. "I would say that it makes a great dinner anecdote, but I don't think it's true." He pointed out that congressional Republicans sided in favor of the National Endowment for the Arts when the Reagan administration was threatening to close it down.

But for Helprin, the divide remains. "The arts community is generally dominated by liberals because if you are concerned mainly with painting or sculpture, you don't have time to study how the world works. And if you have no understanding of economics, strategy, history and politics, then naturally you would be a liberal."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company