Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What are moral values?

A final (for now) thought about the election and the fallout: I've been reading some of what's been written about the whole moral values debate and how it swung the election and I think everyone on both sides is missing the point completely. The Saturday following the election, the NYT ran an opinion piece by David Brooks about the fact that moral values was the number one issue for voters. The point of the piece was that unlike Social Security, the war on terror, homeland security, etc, "moral values" is a nondescript issue. Everyone knows what Social Security is and (hopefully) knows where the 2 candidates stood. But if you ask 10 different voters what are "moral values" you are liable to get 10 different answers. Throughout the blogosphere, many people have questioned whether it is more "moral" to protect things like civil liberties or the definition of marriage. And both sides are correct because both points are important and an individual is the only one who can decide on what is moral to him or her.

The ultimate point of the commentary was that since "moral values" is a meaningless term by itself, it was probably used as a proxy for "other" by those who were polled. The fact that those people went 80-20 in Bush's favor does not necessarily portend a strong, sudden rightward shift in the electorate as much as people voting for Bush (or against Kerry, as the case may be) for something other than the other "obvious issues of the campaign. My personal guess is that the Republican refrain of Kerry being a flip-flopper led a lot of people to say something to the effect of, "I may not love what Bush is doing but gosh, I just don't trust that Kerry guy." Personal integrity would probably fall under most people's definition of "moral values", and deserved or not, Bush was probably viewed by most voters as the candidate they could trust because you know very clearly where he stands on different issues.

One of the points the political pundits on both sides seem to have missed is that both parties encompass lots of different views on lots of different issues. Arnie, Rudy and Pataki are all from the left wing of the Republican party. Many people who voted for Bush in this election do not agree with his views on stem cell research, abortion, gay marriage, etc. And believe it or not, there are people in this country who agree with him on some or all of those issues, but voted for Kerry. Colorado, as only one example, went to Bush by about 9%, but the Democrats won control of both houses of the state legislature. Democrats made great strides at the state level in many red states. That doesn't indicate confusion; on the contrary, I think that indicates an informed electorate that chooses who it believes to be the best candidate for each position.

I believe (IM not-so-HO) that the overwhelming majority of this country is not nearly as fiercely partisan as the talking heads would lead us to believe. I think that there has been somewhat of a rightward shift in terms of propriety in this country over the last 25 years (as there has been in most religious communities, including Judaism), but I don't think it is a massive shift in the tectonic plates; it is far more subtle and slow-moving than that. And the pendulum will inevitably swing back at some point. But this is only one election, one that was decided because the electorate liked one candidate better than the other. And it is silly for either side to assume that the result of this one election portends the election results for the next 40 years of our country's civil rights and "moral values".

So both sides should chill out and relax. The liberals do not need to fear we are embarking on an age of nazism at home and the conservatives should not celebrate that we are about to eliminate all the shameful practices our society currently seems to espouse (Desperate Housewives appearing to be just the latest example.

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