Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What is a Values Voter?

Last week at the Values Voters Summit in Washington D.C., Texas Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry introduced his speech with an off-the-cuff comment about how really, we’re all values voters. “The only question,” he said “is whose values are you voting for”?

This is true of course. The belief that abortion is wrong is undeniably a values based position—as is the belief that women have the right to end the life of their child if it happens to be inconvenient to them. There may be factual disagreements about whether or not it is a child, or disagreements over whether mitigating factors are relevant to the rightness or wrongness of the final decision. But ultimately, whatever your conclusion, it is a values based conclusion based on your belief about what is right or wrong, good or bad.

Such is life in all of public policy.

However, for too long, the left has claimed a sort of moral high ground by positioning themselves as the liaise faire lovers of freedom while denigrating the right as moralists intent on imposing their narrow view of right and wrong on the masses. They self-righteously condemn those who want to “moralize” issues of life and marriage while failing to recognize their own moralism reflected in zoning restrictions, hate-speech legislation, graduated income taxes, or land use regulations.

Ultimately, the discussion about who is the greater moralist is a fruitless conversation because it distracts us from talking about actual issues. And as much as I know this will pain many of my friends on the left, we should all be willing to admit that, regardless of our conclusion, we have a values based understanding of the world which informs our preferences.

Fortunately, there is evidence that this truth may be penetrating the American psyche.

Robert Reich, a leftist talking head who served in the Ford, Carter, and Clinton administrations, referred to President Obama’s recent proposal to increase taxes by $1.5 trillion as a “moral battle”. And he seems quite pleased about it.

He explains the moral imperative of raising taxes by explain how unjust it is that so much of America’s wealth is in the hands of our countries’ wealthiest individuals. The point is not to debate Mr. Reich’s tax policy preferences, but to highlight the admission that his preference for higher taxes is a moral one. And the need to raise them is not necessitated simply by budget realities, but by a fixed standard of right and wrong that he apparently expects the rest of us to know about. No relativism here.

So far, neither the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the ACLU, or the Freedom From Religion Foundation have compared Mr. Reich to the Taliban nor have they warned us of the looming theocracy that will be established if these moralists get their way. That, of course, is reserved only for situations in which James Dobson makes a moral argument.

But we can hope that the silence in response to Mr. Reich’s moral appeal is a foreshadowing of a future in which we can admit that all of us really are values voters. Perhaps then, instead of obsessing over who is the worst person, we can move on to the more important discussion of who is right.


Joseph Backholm
Executive Director

1 comment:

  1. Seems so obvious. Who, after all, would want to live a life in which s/he valued nothing? And as soon as you value something--anything--and vote, you are a values voter of one kind or another.

    But the code is the point, of course. Mainstream society in the U.S. is not quite to the point yet of demonizing conservative Christians *as* Christians but when we speak of "values voters" or "the *religious* right" or (generally) "people of *faith*" . . . well, we all know which set of values/religion/faith we're talking about, don't we?