Monday, October 17, 2011

Return on value

Okay, here's something else that really yanks my chain. The so-called "Values Voter Summit" that took place in Washington, DC a week and a-half ago is this wacko confab sponsored by groups like the Family Research Council, the American Family Association (both ranked as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center) and the Heritage Foundation. It's a required stop on the GOPper presidential trail, one where the candidates pitch their woo, hoping to win the hearts of the fringe of the fringe.

What really angers me about this is that they are called - not only by themselves but more importantly by much of the media - "values voters." That is, they are the ones who are "voting their values."

So what the hell are the rest of us voting? Are we voting our shoes? Our yard sale? Our yesterday's lunch? What the hell can they mean?

Moreover, the "values" they proclaim are sick. The ones they are best known for are being anti-choice and anti-gay rights - that is, against freedom of choice and against human rights (except, of course, for the choices and rights they would have for themselves). But it goes well beyond that.

The conference was a days-long cavalcade of bigotry, of racism, of homophobia, of xenophobia, of Islamaphobia, of hatred for the poor and the struggling - of hatred for anything and anyone different, of anything and anyone who is "other." It was a festival of celebrations of putrid paranoia and insouciant ignorance coupled with, as they often are in such people, appalling arrogance about their own moral superiority over anyone who is not them.

Just for the heck of it, I looked up the word "value" in an online dictionary. The first definition referred to "relative worth, merit, or importance." That is, to be of value, something must have some worth - but what these people offer is worthless. What they offer, what they hold, what they promote, are not values. They are crap, indeed such vile crap that it's like pond scum that mosquitoes wouldn’t deign to lay their eggs in.

Even as a political category, even in the purely political sense, they don’t deserve the title "values voters." Because, again, if they are “values voters,” what are the rest of us? What, does this mean we don’t have values?

Actually, they would respond, yes, that's exactly what it means: They have "values" and the rest of us don't. But as columnist Joel Connelly, who called the conference "a cacaphony of discord and false witness," wrote at
Others among us have values, too. My values leave me unsettled that wealth and power are, increasingly, concentrated in an elite. My values tell me that is wrong when there are no jobs and people are losing income, when ordinary Americans' homes are foreclosed while Vanity Fair showcases the monster houses of hedge-fund billionaires. My values recoil at the despoiling of God's earth, and changing its climate by recklessly burning fossil fuels.

Values of community, so essential to America, get trashed if we shut down homeless shelters, lay off thousands of teachers, and slash social programs for mothers and babies. The value of "life" does not begin at conception and end at birth.
And in fact those, not the bigotry and fear that fire up the fringe, are closer to the real values of the American people. Consider this: The 2004 presidential election was described in the media as the year of the "values voter," that it was "values voters" - understood then as now and even defined as the anti-choice homophobe crowd - who "put Bush over the top." But a post-election survey of actual voters undertaken by three liberal Christian groups found that moral values held by most Americans range far beyond the handful emphasized by the right wing and religious conservatives

In that survey, and remember this is a survey of people who actually voted,
- 33% said the nation's most urgent moral problem was "greed and materialism."
- 31% said it was "poverty and economic justice."
- Only 28% mentioned either abortion or same-sex marriage.

When they were asked what "moral issue" - and that was the term used in the question - most influenced their vote,
- 42% cited the war in Iraq.
- Only 22% referred to either abortion or same-sex marriage.

(And as a sidebar, I think it can safely be said that the vast majority of that 42% consisted of war opponents since it was and still is that camp, rather than war supporters, who were most likely to address the issue in moral terms.)

Getting back to the boiler room of bigotry, to give you an idea of how bad it was, one of the speakers - in fact, the one who followed Twit Romney - was one Bryan Fischer, who is the Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association. That is, he is a top honcho in one of the sponsoring organizations. Among the things he has said (not that he said these at the conference, but has in the past) are these:

- Muslims have no First Amendment rights. In fact, no non-Christian has First Amendment rights: "The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the free exercise of the Christian religion."

- The US should have "no more mosques, period," because "every single mosque is a potential terror training center." Muslims are to be barred from immigrating and ones here should be deported.

- Oh, and in case you're wondering: No, Mormons are not Christians, which means they have no First Amendment rights, either.

- The US should impose "legal sanctions for homosexual behavior" including sending gays and lesbians to prison for "therapy." "Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews." What's more, Hitler used gay soldiers because they "had no limits to the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after."

- Even Native American get the treatment: "In all the discussions about the European settlement of the New World, one feature has been conspicuously absent: the role that the superstition, savagery and sexual immorality of Native Americans played in making them morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil."

That is the heart of the American Family Association, laid bare.

Why do people swallow this sort of bilge? Why do they not only swallow it but enjoy the taste? It can't be that the whole audience was as bad as the speakers. Consider, for example, that a coalition of atheist groups set up a table outside the hall where the conference took place and reported having had "mostly respectful" discussions with attendees.

So why do they swallow it? Why do they cling to - the phrase is used deliberately - their narrow-minded views? I say it's because they’re scared. They find the world as it is confusing, overwhelming, their place in it uncertain; they see it changing in ways they can't understand and can't control. (I've addressed this in several guises before, including considering the effect of the constant economic stress of the past decades in ways I'm not including here.) They can’t deal with the world as it is and so they embrace what one psychologist called "a black-and-white certitude" and fasten on to an image of how - or, more correctly, how they imagine - it "used to be."

The truth of the matter is that on the whole, conservatives are far more nostalgic for a dimly-remembered but still shining past than the most cliched gray-haired hippie in sandals and love beads.

I've maintained for some time that the great emotional attraction of conservatism in all its forms is its certainty: You don't have to decide if something is fair or unfair, right or wrong, good or bad. You just have to know what someone else told you. It's already been decided. The doubt, the fear, the questions, the responsibility are all gone.

On the other hand, those on the left, particularly the more radical parts of the left, have most often at some point in their lives experienced what for lack of a better term I'm going to call a crisis of confidence. A moment when what you had believed no longer seemed sure and (and this is the important point here) you had to make your own way through to a set of values - ethical, moral values - that made sense, that worked for you.

Bluntly, this is why being on the left is a more emotionally mature position than being on the right and why the left is more moral than the right: Because we have had to think it through for ourselves and so deal with changes in the world rather than simply absorbing ancient prejudices. As a direct result, it's the left, not the right, that declares the existence, the importance, of community, of people having a mutual responsibility each to the other for their welfare.

The fact is, it's the right that says "I," the left that says "we." It's the right that says "gimme," the left that says "we'll give." It's the right that says "compete," the left that says "cooperate."

Where the left says "us together," the right says "me first." Where the left says "hope," the right says "fear." Where the left says "you can come for help," the right says "you can go to hell."

Barring violent insurrection, minority political movements gain political power in one of two ways: either by speaking the truth (as least as best as they understand it) over and over again, trying/hoping to convince enough people with facts, logic, evidence, and moral persuasion of the correctness of their position - or by playing to people's prejudices, telling them what they want to hear, and giving the truth a twist (and sometimes a wrench) that works to their immediate advantage. When political issues arise, which side is it, the left or the right, that will challenge the prejudices and widely-shared assumptions of the audience and which side is it that plays to them? (Speaking of the "Values Voters" Summit....)

The simple truth is, the advances we've seen over the last century that have benefitted the poor, the elderly, women, blacks, working men and women, and on and on have come at instigation of the left over resistance of the right. Even now-familiar things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child labor laws, anti-monopoly legislation, civil rights laws, and more were all originally regarded as the wild-eyed ravings of a lunatic left out to destroy the "American Way of Life." Just a few decades ago, even something as obviously and universally-beneficial as environmental regulation was being denounced by corporations as a communist plot intended to destroy our economy. It has been the left, not the right, that has been on the side of morality in all these cases.

Another way of judging this same same question is to ask: Who benefits?

When the left argues for national health care and the right proclaims the glories of "free choice," who benefits from having their side of the argument prevail? Whose motives appear the more selfish? When the left argues for housing for the homeless and the right spins tales about "voluntarily" living on the streets, who benefits from having their side of the argument prevail? When the left pushes for more social spending and the right pushes for cuts in welfare and taxes, who benefits? When the left demands action on global warming and the rights screeches "hoax" and wails about "unwarranted government intrusions into the economy," who benefits?

Time after time after time, the left argues for choices that primarily benefit the needy. Time after time after time, the right argues for choices that primarily benefit the needless.

Time after time after time, when folks on the left benefit from their proposals it's because they're part of a broader community. Time after time after time, when folks on the right benefit from their proposals it's because they're part of a narrow clique.

So yes and yes again, the left is more moral and more emotionally mature than the right. Because it is the left, not the right, that knows that the real answer to Cain's question is "Yes."


DaisyDeadhead said...

Reading the Joe McGinniss book about Sarah Palin, during which I veer from cackling about her fake-ass Christianity (she has never been caught reading an actual Bible, except for photo-ops) to abject fury over her naked hypocrisy, i.e. spending money to get Wasilla declared "A City of Character" while talking all that fiscal conservatism! Obviously, she is the prototype for OUR Tea Party governor, spending major money on herself and her Rethuglican friends, while cutting funds for the poor in every possible way she can.

But see, they never think their evangelical stuff (Palin had prayer meetings on taxpayer time) is costing money; somehow, THAT is always exempt.


Cain's recent squirming over the sexual harassment charges has been a joy to behold. Tee hee!

LarryE said...

My wife is reading a book called something like "The Lies of Sarah Palin." About once a day she starts to rant to me about some outrageous Palin-thing she's found in the book. :-)

BTW, thanks for coming by. It's nice to know someone remembers this place.

It's been kinda tough around here lately and what energy I have has been going into the show. (Which is going for taping #30 on Wed. Good for me, I say.)

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