Monday, November 15, 2004

Genetically Speaking, Values Is a Recessive Trait and Politics Is the Dominant Trait

I am a column behind--my anger-at-the-results column ran on 11/7, and my paper that morning got soaked in some unseasonable rain that day, and I haven't gotten around to pulling another copy off the Internet, so I'll post it someday, now that everybody is getting over the anger and is moving on, as former Scottsdale resident Dr. Kubler-Ross would posit, to acceptance. Hey, at least I got out of bed on Nov. 3.

This week's message is that if you want politics to have more discussion of values, it'll sound more like politics than a discussion of values. Careful what you wish for.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 14, 2004

I read the emails. But people who spent eight years hating Bill Clinton (how “tolerant” are Arkansas jokes, anyway?) really shouldn’t lecture about being reasonable and respectful. After months of “anti-Kerry hatred,” it’s pretty obvious it’s not about “values”; it’s the “politics of resentment.”

Sure, Democrats will have an earnest discussion of values, making it clear that we do too believe in religion and stuff. But the election wasn’t a philosophical discussion, it was a knife fight.

Kerry won among independents. Instead, Republicans motivated their base, despite controlling the whole federal government, with wedge issues to convince them to resent Massachusetts gay matrimony and liberal media bogeymen more.

But it’s called popular culture because it’s popular. It’s not elite liberal snobs buying Britney Spears records. Why were Democrats responsible for Janet Jackson’s breast? She was hired by the NFL, a pretty pro-Republican group.

If Democrats bear responsibility for all media, aren’t Republicans responsible for sports? If we’re stuck with Michael Moore, then Republicans better do something about the Diamondbacks.

Notice how Republicans, having beaten Tom Daschle, have switched to all Michael Moore, all the time. Moore isn’t a Democratic official; he’s a popular (among some people) entertainer, and just as accurate as the Republican’s Rush Limbaugh, but without the drug addiction and divorces. But no Republican need apologize for Limbaugh’s excesses, while every Democrat somehow bears responsibility for everything Moore does.

So far, the “values” discussion is being conducted on the humor-impaired level of “You Democrats are all alike, always making generalizations about Republicans.” But so-called “values voters” weren’t reacting to calm discussion of policy or faith-based social programs’ efficacy, but to visceral arguments like the official GOP mailer with a picture of the Bible labeled “BANNED” and two guys holding hands. That was this year’s discussion of “values.”

Was Dr. James Dobson making a respectable “values” argument when, according to The Daily Oklahoman, he said Sen. Patrick Leahy “is a G-d’s people hater. I don’t know if he hates G-d, but he hates G-d’s people.” This isn’t a polite debate among people of different faiths but common beliefs; it’s war between believers and infidels.

Watch the framing. First, 48 percent of Americans no longer matter. Bush got 51 percent, so the beliefs of everybody who voted against him became irrelevant. It’s a mandate!

Second, it’s supposedly Democrats who aren’t tolerant enough, when it’s Republicans empowering people with strictly limited tolerance of those who don’t believe exactly as they do. Mark Scarp complains that most Americans want abortion to be rare but legal, but the debate is between zealots who want to ban abortion and those who want to -- well, keep abortion rare but legal.

The anti-choice side wants to impose its morality, by law, on everybody. Only the pro-choice side accommodates the desire to keep abortion safe, legal, and rare. So who’s really intolerant?

Third, take a page from the Republicans, who discuss values in terms of “the other” -- gays, atheists, Bostonians -- and certainly not in terms of results. How often did you hear that abortions have increased under Bush? It’s rhetoric, not results, that matters! Being positive won’t work. Talking values means going negative, just like Dr. Dobson.

Some Democrats say we should use Clinton as a model for talking values. Yes and no. If the Clinton model means Kerry should have supported the Defense of Marriage Act, then include me out. You don’t fight anti-gay prejudice by showing kinder and gentler bigotry than your opponents.

When Clinton succeeded, he used values as a sword, not a shield, attacking GOP proposals as incompatible with American beliefs. Real Americans don’t ask if people with different beliefs hate G-d. Real Americans don’t think it’s right to make only wages taxable so coupon-clippers and rich kids avoid paying their share. Real Americans don’t want James Dobson deciding how (and with whom) we can live.

It makes me personally queasy, but if both sides get to fight using the same rules, “values” will become just another political fad. We’ll see if swing voters can be taught to resent GOP bogeymen as much as Democratic bogeymen. It worked for you; with practice, it could work for us.

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