In Morals We Trust, Part I:
Faith-Based Faith-Debased, Moral Immoral Values
The proximity to the rollout of the GOP's nuclear option and some related posts in lefty blogs (example) triggered some thoughts on the Democrats' handling of "faith" and "moral values". I thought I'd take a brief break from media blogging to write about this.
In response to the Far Right's recent debasement of "faith", namely their "Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith", Jim Wallis wrote that:
...Despite the fact that many Democrats who oppose some of President Bush’s nominees are themselves people of faith, Republicans and their religious supporters are questioning the faith and religious integrity of their opponents.
That is an escalation of the religious/political war. The two together sound like assertions of a Republican theocracy. Behind these activities lies the fundamental assumption by Republican operatives and their conservative religious allies that they own religion in America. They demand that religious people vote only their way. They claim that “values voters” in America belong to them, and they disrespect the faith of those who disagree with their agenda.
There are better phrases for this than just “politically divisive” or “morally irresponsible.” For these are not merely political offenses, they are religious ones. And for offenses such as these, theological terms are better — terms such as idolatry and blasphemy.
Wallis understands that you cannot effectively fight back such blasphemy (aka fraud) on morals and faith without discussing morals and faith. I'm not sure how many Democratic leaders fully understand the significance of this though (there are some who do). They are, perhaps, understandably afraid to sound too moralizing or too religious in public, but you can't reasonably engage people who make emotional connections or decisions on "moral values" or "faith" without also appealing to them at an emotional level (I've learned that the hard way in my own life). Likewise, in response to fake moralizers, denunciations that are stripped of moral or religious overtones will not cut it. Such denunciations may seem "unemotional", clinical or mere legalese (as I have pointed out before), and also fail to highlight that the moralizers have no moral standing to judge those whom they are judging. Expressed another way: you can't win on "moral values" if you are unprepared to say what (who) is moral and what (who) isn't.
My point has nothing to do with politics - it is merely a specific example of a broader principle that applies to most realms of private and public life. An analogy from the business world illustrates this best. The simple lesson that Democrats need to learn from the world of business (something the Republicans have already learnt) is that it is very difficult to prevail over a far more powerful and entrenched competitor by continuing to allow the competitor to portray its self-proclaimed "strengths" as strengths. You have to convince your customers that what the competition claims as their "strength" is actually a "weakness" (compared to your own strength). This is important because if your customer selects a vendor based primarily on that particular "strength" (think single-issue voters), he or she will continue to select your competition even if the competitor's product is otherwise weak. It's a no-brainer to see how this analogy applies directly to politics - especially the battle over "moral values".
The immediate imperatives for Democrats are obvious.
First, take the upper hand on moral values because it is easy to do. It is incredibly easy to point out that, on the whole, liberalism / progressivism represents a philosophy that is far more moral and faith-based than is the Far Right's self-claimed moral superiority (which is centered on a few highly-selective issues; a recent, well-illustrated example from Digby is here).
Second, don't let charlatans continue to portray themselves as religious or brimming with "faith" or "moral values". Amy Sullivan, who wrote an interesting article in 2003 titled "Do the Democrats Have a Prayer?" made this mistake (emphasis in italics is mine):
They could be courted by the right kind of Democrat--one who, like Bush, can speak the language of faith sincerely.
It takes about a nanosecond to figure out that any claims of religiosity, faith or moral values from George Bush, Bill Frist, Tom Delay and all their partners in corruption - both in the GOP and in the media - are a complete sham. So, don't give the GOP a false talking point they can use - that somehow Progressives or Democrats feel Bush is "sincere" in speaking of his "faith". What Bush is sincere in is finding a way to bamboozle people into believing he is a "man of faith". The distinction is quite important.