Monday, January 16, 2006

Why Values Matter And Why Democrats Will Lose In November If They Fail To See Why

I frequently get accused--with no basis in reality whatsoever--by conservatives of being "anti-Christian" or "anti-morality" simply because I self-identify as a progressive who generally votes Democrat and because I criticize some of the idiocy I see in churches and some of the hypocrisy I see in self-proclaimed moralists. Ironically, I am both an ethicist and a Christian, and on Enclave I frequently provide links concerning issues of moral gravity and I regularly address religion from an insider's perspective, especially as those issues might affect neighborhoods.

While I think that conservatives are wrong, I lay some of the blame for their stereotyping ways at the feet of other progressives, especially those Party faithful, who seem loath to fight conservatives on moral grounds and who cede matters of faith to conservatives. And liberals can charge "gerrymandering" all they want; until they develop an agenda that connects with voters hungry for value-based ideas, they only have themselves to blame for losing one more national election this year.

Now comes a study in The American Prospect that confirms my beliefs about Democrats and values. That study finds massive demographic shifts away from the traditional Democratic base with the shift from industrial to information-based society. As a result, Americans are more locked into a "survivalist" mentality of "every-man-for-himself" with little hope of finding solidarity in neighborhoods or public institutions. Republicans have been not only savvy in addressing the fear that results from social isolationism and anomie, but have advanced policies that sustain a social Darwinist society of all-against-all. Thus the cycle: generate moral relativism on a broad scale; appeal to local moral institutions like churches to step into the breach, which seems more like a jump into a nihilist gorge. Voters respond just enough to keep Republicans in control.

Democrats have had plenty of opportunities to break that cycle by focusing on values, but they choose to focus on economic issues, which have lost their appeal because voters in "red states" sense the erosion of a moral core because of the dog-eat-dog world:
People in states like Massachusetts, for example, which has very high per capita incomes and the lowest divorce rate in the country, are relatively unconcerned about gay marriage, while those in Southern states with much higher poverty, divorce, and single-parenthood rates feel the family to be threatened because family life is, in fact, much less stable in their communities ....
American voters have taken shelter under the various wings of conservative traditionalism because there has been no one on the Democratic side in recent years to defend traditional, sensible middle-class values against the onslaught of the new nihilistic, macho, libertarian* lawlessness unleashed by an economy that pits every man against his fellows [emphasis mine].
For progressives, this is not simply a matter of parroting Republican talking points in order to get just enough plurality to put you on top. It is about fielding candidates who are embedded in communities of value and who can honestly appeal to values that inform their progressive agenda. If the Democrats do not do this, they will be ceding territory to Republicans, most of whom are comfortable pushing an agenda that sells survivalism in a life they maintain as nasty, mean, brutish, and short.

*I highlight "libertarian," because that is the latest fashionable term that conservatives misuse to wed ideals of individual initiative in a sometimes unjust world with government policies that sustain and often increase unfair conditions just to see who will survive and who will not. I think libertarianism is misused by conservatives in so far as it is self-serving. Rarely do they apply their social Darwinist views to influence their "right to free speech" or their "right to own fire arms." But if they were consistent in their views, they would argue that only those strong enough to speak or to get a gun by superior means are worthy of free speech and owning firearms.


  1. Hello Mike, I'm sitting here wondering if Robertson County (my home) would benefit from a community oriented blog. I wonder if I have the discipline or writing skills to do it. I wonder if anyone would read it...

    I consider myself a recovering Christian, that is, I have weaned myself away from the need to participate in big box, endorphine drenched, runner's high kind of services that seem to only exhalt, not clarify or at least dissect what Scipture actually means. The message of service and love has been hi-jacked and morphed into one of control and division. It apparently plays well. As for the failure of the Democratic Party to align themselves with the average person's values, I don't disagree entirely, but I am curious as how we can accomplish this. The demise of the Fairness Doctrine has assured that until we control more of the major media outlets, our message will never get out to the masses unfiltered. The Snake oil salesmen on talk-radio have managed to take over every so called news station, and there is nary a Progressive voice for balance. The marriage of media ownership and direct mail propaganda seems impossible to counter. At any rate, I have bookmarked your blog, and will be a regular reader.

  2. First of all, thank you very much for linking me. I appreciate your support.

    Second, now's as good a time as any to start a local blog. It's one of the few open niches left in the blogging world, and it provides you a ready-made target audience that others have to try to attract. Do it if you think you can blog at least once a day, or you may lose readers. And link others in your writing.

    Third, take a look at the American Prospect article. It cites Virginia's newly-elected Democratic Governor Tim Kaine, who is a former Catholic missionary in Latin America. He appealed to his religious grounding to explain to people why he is opposed to the death penalty, which seemed to make more of a difference than falling back on tired Democratic cliches. I'm not saying that this approach is a cure-all, but it may make a very real difference in borderline red states. Given the Democrats' track record in national elections back to 1996, their candidates need to try something else. I do think that talk-radio has an impact, but Air America didn't seem to make much of a difference for Dems in 2004, and I do not think that voters are sheep who blindly follow whatever Rush says; so, I think that even if there was more balance in programming, there would still be a disconnect between the traditional Dem message and voters in "Bible-belt" states.