: What scares me most about the aftermath to Tuesday’s election is how people will use the alleged American concern about “moral values” as an issue.
See NBC’s exit poll as I summarized it: “The top issue (21%) was “moral values”; 78% of those who cared about that went for Bush, 19% for Kerry.”
Get past the necessary caveats:
First, the exit polls are proven now to be utterly, laughably discredited.
Second, know that in polls such as this, who the hell is not going to say that “moral values” are important? If you say that taxes are more important than “moral values” then you’ll fear that Jesus is going to come into the polling place smashing the tables of the vote counters.
Third, if they’d asked what “moral values” means, they would have found a nation divided; it’s a vague as air.
But that’s just the problem: Many will ascribe to the words “moral values” a mandate to impose their values on the rest of us — whether that’s abortion, stem-cell research, homosexuality, birth control, free speech, Vietnam, education… you name it.
But as my sister, the Rev. Jarvis, said in an op-ed she sent to the NY Times (they should be smart enough to run it) and read to me last night over the phone, the rest of us have values, too. We go to church, too. As she eloquentlyl concluded in her piece, “Hard as that change is to imagine today, maybe four years from now, when the number one issue cited by voters in exit polls is again ‘moral values,’ those values will have something to do with economic justice, racial equality and the peaceable kingdom for which we all were made.”
We all have moral values. They’re just different. That’s the issue. That’s why we fight over these things. It’s not as if one side has moral values and the other side doesn’t and that’s why we fight. We fight because we all have conviction about what is morally right and different definitions of what that means.
The further problem with this exit-poll question is that the attack squads who went after John Kerry will take it as their Second Amendment for mudslinging: They’ll say that they won the election — and they perhaps did — by attacking the character and “moral values” of Kerry because he publicly opposed the Vietnam War and that the voters counted that as a top issue. And so watch them now loading up their mud pies for a Hillary run. And watch Michael Moore in his own pen making mud pies to aim at the other side. They’ll all be slinging mud under the banner of “moral values.”
And one more issue, as Glenn Reynolds points out, is that big media and the left will latch onto this faux statistic to argue that all the people who voted for Bush are actually religious reactionaries, which is unfair to them and ultimately condescending to the electorate and brushes off all the other real issues that voters considered. It’s also a tactical mistake, for it only makes it seem as if the religious reactionary fringe is much bigger than it actually it; this complaint only thus gives them more clout in media and politics.
But forget all that.
The real problem with all of this is that it perverts the very essence of the Constitution and its intent regarding government.
Our government exists to perform a set of fairly well-prescribed tasks amounting to running the business of government: military defense, making and interpreting laws, maintaining the currency, foreign affairs, you know the list (and you can argue about whether it has been expanded too much or not enough another day in another post). We call the president the “executive” because we expect him (or her) to run the business of the United States.
But our government should not operate in loco priestus. [Sorry for the mangled Latin version of in loco parentus; can anybody with a decent classical education give me the right phrase?]
Our government is not meant to be a church. That is the real intent of separating church and state. It’s not just about keeping state away from interfering with church. It’s about state not becoming church.
The Constitution is about not letting the state interfere unduly and uninvited in our lives — in our bedrooms, our speech, our thoughts, our families, our beliefs.
That is a matter of both principle and also common sense. Even back then, the founding fathers certainly knew that power corrupts and that politicians should not be the people we turn to for moral guidance! They’re politicians. They are on the front line of human corruption — the wrong side of the line.
And the truth is that most of us would agree about most of what I just said. We don’t want government in our homes. We don’t want government restricting our rights. We don’t want government legislating morality.
Yes, some extreme religionists would have government interfere but I believe they are a minority. But they are a powerful minority because as Virginia Postrel points out in today’s Times, it’s possible to mobilize such voters to come to the polls as a matter of moral duty. The religious right organized well, contributed heavily, spoke loudly, and came out to vote. They unquestionably helped make sure that George Bush got elected.
But not everybody who voted for George Bush is therefore a Bible-thumping member of the religious right. Many of them cared first instead about jobs or the economy or small government or terrorism or the war or…..
I know many who voted for George Bush who say that they are “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” They wouldn’t agree with the religous reactionaries.
I know many who voted for George Bush who are conservative on some issues but not on others.
I know many libertarians who would agree that we don’t want government interfering in our lives.
And I certainly know many liberals who would agree that we don’t want government interfering in our lives or setting the nation’s moral agenda.
And most Americans I know are, in fact, open and tolerant people who want to live and let live and not interfere in or judge their neighbors’ lives. We’re already moral, thank you very much, and we don’t need politicians and their pals telling us what moral means.
It’s time that we stand still and look around and realize that on “moral values” we all have much more in common than media and politicians of certain stripes would paint us to have and we’re not ready for any moral jihads or inquisitions or dark ages. We are the great middle of America.