Friday, November 12, 2004

Pleased and depressed

An article making the rounds of the blogs appeared in the November 10 Washington Post. It reported on a survey by liberal Christian groups that found that
the moral values held by most Americans are much broader than the handful of issues emphasized by religious conservatives in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Battling the notion that "values voters" swept President Bush to victory because of opposition to gay marriage and abortion, three liberal groups released a post-election poll in which 33 percent of voters said the nation's most urgent moral problem was "greed and materialism" and 31 percent said it was "poverty and economic justice." Sixteen percent cited abortion, and 12 percent named same-sex marriage. ...

The poll found that 42 percent of voters cited the war in Iraq as the "moral issue" that most influenced their choice of candidates, while 13 percent cited abortion and 9 percent same-sex marriage. Asked to name the greatest threat to marriage, 31 percent said "infidelity," 25 percent cited "rising financial burdens" and 22 percent named same-sex marriage.

Tom Perriello, an organizer at Res Publica, said the poll shows that "while there may be a solid 20 percent who are very focused on abortion and gay marriage, for most Americans of faith, there are other moral issues of greater urgency, and that's where the religious middle is."
Perriello added that the answer to the "God gap" between right and left "is that progressives need to embrace the deep moral critique that people are looking for and make that case on poverty and Iraq, and not just try to talk more about God or outpace the Republicans on gay marriage or abortion."

Encouraging results and excellent advice. There is a lot of talk today about "reality-based" versus "faith-based" ways of viewing the world, with the former depending on facts, logic, proof, and the latter drawing inspiration from belief and conviction, even if divorced from any demonstrable basis. I'd say all of us demonstrate both of those, the differences being to what extent and under what conditions each emerges. Arguing with a strongly faith-based person is an exercise in futility for any reality-based person - they are untouched by any facts or logic you can present and feel no need to offer any of their own, even in support of their own factual assertions, e.g., "Osama bin Laden endorsed John Kerry" or, as one I saw assert recently, "John Kerry refused to release his military records because they show he got a dishonorable discharge."

The reverse, I suppose, can be true for a faith-based person arguing with a strongly reality-based one. It could seem to them that their opposite number has no sense of right and wrong, that everything is a matter of cold-blooded calculation. In that can lie some of the charges of "arrogance." And indeed, there is that difficulty with the reality-based worldview: It needs to justify everything as a logical gain, a calculable benefit. Think, for example, of the arguments in favor of affirmative action seeking to show there actually is an overall economic benefit. While true, they raise the possibility that if the reverse was true, that there was no demonstrable economic benefit, affirmative action should be dumped. That is, the reality-based view has trouble accounting for doing something simply because you believe it's the right thing to do, without regard to gain or loss.

So it's important for those of us on the left to remember that there is a clear, strong, undeniable moral case for what we believe, a case we have neglected for far too long. It's, again, encouraging to know there is a constituency, a big one, for that kind of case and I'm pleased we are being reminded of it.

So why am I depressed? Because even in the face of this, even in the face of finding that far more people are concerned with moral issues surrounding poverty, greed, and the war in Iraq than the hot-button issues of the radical right, even after discovering that more people share our concerns than theirs, still
[s]ome said it was time for "moderate and progressive" religious groups, as well as the Democratic Party, to rethink their positions.

"One of the things a few of us are talking about is a reassessment of how the Democrats deal with an issue like abortion - could there be a more moderate ground, where even if they retained their pro-choice stance, they talked about uniting pro-choice people together to actually do something about the abortion rate?" said Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal evangelical journal Sojourners.

If the Democratic Party were to "welcome pro-life Democrats, Catholics and evangelicals and have a serious conversation with them" about ways to reduce teenage pregnancy, facilitate adoptions and improve conditions for low-income women, it would "work wonders" among centrist evangelicals and Catholics, Wallis said.
Maintain a pro-choice position while working to make abortion less likely? Sounds like a plan. So let's see, what are some ideas to make abortion less likely?

How about, say, reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancies through sex education and wide availability of birth control? Or how about reducing the financial burden of child-bearing and raising by, oh, I don't know, improved availability of pre- and post-natal care for those who now can't afford it? How about nutrition programs like, uh, WIC? How about economic justice for the poor? How about an increase in the minimum wage? (Reality-based factoid: Economic security is linked to subsequent reductions in birth rates.)

How about improved and expanded adoption services for those wishing to go that route?

How about the fact that every damn item on that list is already on the agenda of the left? So what the hell are we talking about, "rethink our positions?" We are the ones who are proposing ways to reduce the demand for abortion. They are the ones whose answer comes down to "don't have sex and if you do and get pregnant, t.s., you're screwed for life." And for those among them who don't say that, who have enough of that reality-based worldview to realize that just saying "don't have sex" doesn't work (and never has), sure, let's talk - but I want to hear what you will bring to the table beyond ineffective moral condemnation. "Rethink" our position? "Moderate" our position? We are already the ones offering the ideas. Moderate to what?

I applaud the assertion that we need to present a moral as well as a factual case for our positions. And if they had said we have to find ways to advocate our views more clearly, more forcefully, my praise would have been unrestrained. But responding to the findings as yet again a cause for a "rethink," a "reconsideration," a "moderation" of our views, taking even encouraging news as a cause to fall back, is thoroughly self-defeating. And depressing.

Footnote: And if we're going to address teenage pregnancy, we should start from the fact that both teenage birth rates and teenage pregnancy rates have been declining for more than a decade. Yes, declining, despite what you may have heard. According to the latest figures from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), December 31, 2003,
the teen birth rate declined by 30 percent over the past decade to a historic low and that the rate for black teens was down by more than 40 percent. For young black teens (15 to 17 years) the results were even more striking - the rate was cut in half since 1991. ...

The average age at first birth was 25.1 years in 2002, an all-time high in the United States. In 1970 the average age at first birth was 21.4 years.
What's more, in another report a few months earlier (October 31, 2003), again the latest one available, NCHS reported that
[t]een pregnancy rates have reached historic lows, dropping 25 percent from 1990 to 1999. The birth rate dropped 19 percent and the abortion rate was down 39 percent in this age group. More recent data indicate the teen birth rate has continued to drop through 2002 - down 28 percent.
There is dispute as to how much this is due to increased use of birth control, HIV- and other STD-awareness, promotion of abstinence, or other factors including economic opportunity; some consideration of those factors is in an article from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, available here. But no matter the cause (or, more likely, causes), it is happening and any consideration of the issue has to start from there.

Extra note: The links at Res Publica are messed up. The link above gets you to the main site but the links from there are broken. If you want to access the other areas, you can but you'll have to put in the URL manually. Thus, for "About Us," the addy is And so on for the others.

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