A Common Sense Approach

A conservative reflects on the "Moral Values" debate

Liberal Democrats are enemies of religion and corruptors of children. Or so it seems to some conservative Republicans. (Of course, to some Democrats, Republicans want to establish an intolerant despotic theocracy, so there’s plenty of demonizing on both sides of the political fence!)

After an election in which “moral values” were named as the primary motivator in selecting a candidate, the Democratic party needs to recognize its deficiencies in this area. Despite their support of social programs that benefit the poor, middle class and elderly, the “values” Democrats project leave a lot to be desired. After all, modern politics is as much about perception as it is about policies.

Sex and the City and the Heartland
When conservatives talk about values, they primarily mean sex. While sexual ethics seem to be a matter of personal responsibility, an argument can be made that the ?if-it-feels-good-do-it” mentality of the 1960’s has contributed to societal problems like divorce and the breakdown of the family. Conservatives therefore support politicians who promote marriage and commitment in public affairs. Despite some policies that support working families, Democrats tend to be seen as lacking in sexual ethics. That’s in no small part because of their association with Planned Parenthood, Hollywood celebrities, and Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. Injecting conservative values like abstinence education into government affairs may seem like an imposition of values on a pluralistic society. But by not reflecting those values, a different philosophy is being imposed. Conservatives, at least, want equal time. Though I’m not a parent myself, I can see where they’re coming from. When I ride a New York subway and hear 12-year-olds discussing their sex lives, I know there’s a deeper problem that can’t be solved by handing out free condoms (an idea which Democrats tend to support and Republicans reject). It involves the values these kids are being taught. Though parents are the primary purveyor of values, sexual messages kids get in school and through the media also have an impact on their development.

In terms of popular culture, even moderate conservatives like myself can see there are fewer taboos on TV and radio. And with boundaries being pushed to extremes in recent years, we’re now witnessing an equal and opposite reaction by concerned citizens and, in turn, our government. Janet Jackson’s nipple is simply bearing the accumulated brunt of a long list of media moments that crossed the line of decency. Parents who want to protect their children’s innocence have a right to complain that the public airwaves are being abused. Conservative politicians generally speak up about broadcasters’ responsibilities to uphold the public trust and work to fine them if they don’t. Liberals tend to invoke free speech and say this is simply something you have to live with in a free society. Unfortunately in these instances, it’s the extreme right-wingers and extreme left-wingers that get all the press. But really, the application of standards should revolve around common sense, not censorship. The Democratic party is now suffering for letting things get pushed too far.

Christmas Trees As Instruments Of Conversion
Another problem area for the Democrats is religion. In terms of the social justice aspects, they’re on solid ground. But when it comes to expressions of religious belief, they come across as biased. In my opinion, they misinterpret “freedom of religion” as “freedom from religion.”

Judge Roy Moore’s insistence on keeping a “Ten Commandments” monument on courthouse grounds is a popular ? and debatable ? example. But the conservative response to that incident was likely influenced by an accumulation of smaller incidents with less media attention. For instance, consider this excerpt from a 2003 press release on the Catholic League’s web site:

“Town officials in Glenview, Illinois, a northern Chicago suburb, have ordered all Christmas decorations removed from the inside of a firehouse. Some residents complained that they could see Christmas lights, a Christmas tree and a Santa Claus inside Glenview’s Station No. 7 when they drove down Glenview Road. Village officials declared that they want “to make sure that our public buildings remain neutral.”

Wow! So now people are so sensitive that merely seeing Christmas decorations comes across as imposing my religion on them? When Christians feel they’re being attacked, they’ll stand up for their beliefs. And who generally comes to their defense? Conservatives. Is it any wonder that the party of the rich comes across as the party of the common, God-fearing man?

I’m not in the camp of the extreme religious right and I’m guessing there are other moderates like me out there too. But as progressive evangelical Jim Wallis said in a recent ChristianityToday.com article, “The secular fundamentalism of the left is as much a problem as the religious fundamentalism of the right.” Until the Democratic party starts applying more tolerance and common sense to social values, their tallies on Election Day may keep falling short.