Friday, December 31, 2004

The Rhetoric of Morality

Ed Kilgore makes some useful observations regarding moral rhetoric and substance in contemporary politics.
The first step towards clarity about "moral values" is to distinguish the two very different ways in which this term is typically used: (a) the relative ability of politicians to frame their biographies, their principles, their agendas, and their messages in terms that convey a distinct sense of the values that matter more to them than personal power and ambition; and (b) a set of concerns about "moral issues" which typically touch on various perceived threats to "traditional values," including the nuclear family, parental and social authority, personal responsibility, the strength of faith communities, and in general, the belief in the ability of Americans to perceive and enforce clear standards of "right" and "wrong" behavior.

There is a pretty strong consensus among Democrats today that we need to do something to strengthen the party on the first definition of "moral values."

...This should not be a matter of simply wrapping Democratic policy positions in "values language" or, God forbid, "God Talk." What's needed is a re-engineering of Democratic message to place values first, policy goals second, and programmatic ideas third and last.

...What did Clinton do that Al Gore and John Kerry couldn't do on cultural issues? He did two simple things: (a) projecting a message that acknowledged the legitimacy of cultural concerns, and found common ground, as in making abortion "safe, legal and rare," and defending both gay rights and the right of states to define marriage; and (b) directly addressing concerns about cultural threats to the traditional family by advancing a limited but family-friendly agenda of proposals (derided by pundits at the time) like expanded family leave, youth curfews, school uniforms, and V-chips. And had the issue fully emerged during his presidency, there is almost zero doubt that Clinton could have found a way to support public partnerships on social projects with faith-based organizations in a way that honored religious communities' contributions without abandoning separation of church and state.

Simply emulating Clinton's approach would be a good first step towards de-toxifying cultural issues, but in today's more polarized and mistrustful atmosphere, Democrats must do more. And the obvious place to start is by extending the routine Democratic demand for corporate responsibility to the entertainment corporations which purvey the sex-and-violence saturated products that emblemize the threat to traditional culture so many Americans perceive.
He also notes an interesting irony about the common lament from those who feel threatened by what they perceive as the decline of our culture: "History, of course, shows repeatedly that the most culturally threatened people are those who are complicit in the transformation of culture from what they honor to what they desire." Why are people becoming so immoral, backbiting, childish, selfish, deceitful, and downright nasty these days? I don't know, but be quiet because Survivor is about to come on.


Post a Comment

<< Home