Tuesday, November 09, 2004

kerry stigmata

Democrats and Moral Values

It’s been a week of keening in the mainstream media about exits polls indicating that “Moral Values” was the top concern of voters this year – more than “Terrorism,” “Healthcare” or “The Economy.”

Obviously it was a surge of fundamentalism and bigotry that swept away the Kerry juggernaut.

Well, actually not. “Moral Values” was the top voter concern in 2000 and also 1996 according to exit polls reported by The Los Angeles Times. If it’s a surge it’s neither sudden nor unexpected.

Nonetheless, Values is the flavor of the day and cranks of all stripes are reacting to the “news.”

Jerry Falwell says he will revive his Moral Majority. This is like Chrysler reviving its K-car in response to increased auto sales. Falwell already played his role back in the 80s. We’re far beyond him now.

On the left you have folks like Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the secular National Council of Churches. Rev. Bob says, “You can't read the Old Testament without knowing God was concerned about the environment, war and peace, poverty. God doesn't want 45 million Americans without health care."

I do vaguely remember God discussing health insurance in his Third Letter to the Humana Regional Managers.

If this whole values discussion devolves into a shouting match about whether God supports estate tax exemptions and tighter CAFÉ standards it will certainly be entertaining . . . but hardly illuminating.

The fact is Republicans have a natural edge in the values debate not by design but by default. Democrats are unable or unwilling to talk about values. The best they can do is take existing policy positions throw a values tarp over them.

Thus, when John Kerry spoke about abortion during the debates he was forced into an intellectually untenable position. He said he believed life began at conception but that he couldn’t stop anyone from ending that life once conceived. He claimed his private beliefs were separate from his public positions although in the same breath he said his faith informed his positions on the economy, healthcare, and national security.

Strange how deeply held religious conviction is containable when it comes to a politically uncomfortable issue like abortion (or infanticide if you truly believe life begins at conception.)

Religion makes liberals feel creepy, which is odd since many of the icons of the progressive movement have been explicitly spiritual . . . Rev. Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, Reinhold Niebuhr.

So rather than accept that religion is an important part of many people’s lives, most Democrats would rather ignore it or mock those who believe it.

My take is that people who are hostile to religion are 1) every bit as absolutist and intolerant as those who do believe in religion, and 2) they are simply too literal in their thinking.

It seems clear that many human beings, regardless of culture or ethnicity, have a strong desire to express themselves spiritually. This is not a rational or practical act. It is a passionate act. It is akin to artistic expression.

An agnostic scratching his head at a devout Christian is like a person looking at Da Vinci’s Last Supper and thinking “This is not the real last supper. It’s just a blurry drawing.” Yes, it is drawn. It is not the actual event. But that doesn’t make it less real. In fact, it’s more real because it was drawn by the hand of a person who never observed the event itself.

It’s odd that progressives are willing to grant validity to any number of dubious artistic expressions, yet are largely intolerant to spiritual expression, which is arguably more authentic than status quo art.

Perhaps all the worry on the left is due to understanding that the coalition that makes the Democrats a meaningful force in politics fractures along religious lines. African-Americans are among those who are most concerned about Moral Values. Yet the Democrats have nothing to offer them on those issues without alienating other parts of the coalition.

John Kerry campaigning from the pulpit of a church in an African-American community is a particularly jarring image not only because that sort of thing is crass, but because he seems so awkward and out of place. Blue state Democrats think that to compete on Values they need to out bible-thump the Republicans. But actually, all they have to do is relax and open their minds to alternative views on some sacred cow issues.

Moral Values is not about excluding others -- it's about recognizing human frailty and making do.

Listen to almost any country music song and you’ll find values and morality discussed frankly and inclusively.

There Goes My Life by Kenny Chesney is a good example or Red Rag Top by Tim McGraw – these two songs hinge on the abortion issue, yet they are not about abortion. They are great songs because they’re not afraid to recognize a fact of life without rendering a verdict.

Play me a song or show me a movie that portrays someone wrestling with the dilemma of abortion and I’ll bet that it was produced in a Red state. For the establishment left, there's nothing to wrestle with. That issue is decided and no one dares to open that box without risking ostracism.

There are no pro-life Democrats in leadership positions. (UPDATE -- I am pleased to eat my words now that Harry Reid will be Senate Monority Leader) There are lots of pro-choice Republicans and the debate is lively in the GOP. In the DNC there seems to be no room for debating abortion.

The same seems increasingly true of gay marriage. That's unfortunate because the country needs to debate this and most of us are adult enough to do it maturely.

It’s been said that conservatives look for converts and liberals look for heretics. This week proved once again that when faced with choice between understanding the concerns of Red state voters, or digging in and not compromising, many Democrats find it easier to not surrender.

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