Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money responds to the latest Amy Sullivan crusade. Here's a key passage:
As with abortion, Sullivan's punchline seems to that there's a crucial demographic for whom cultural issues are important enough that people who would otherwise vote Democratic wouldn't, and yet can be persuaded without offering substantive policies but with minor shifts in rhetorical tone. My problem with this argument remains that these voters, for all intents and purposes, don't exist.
The argument Lemieux identifies is one that I've come up against pretty frequently, often in the form of the complaint that if Kerry had just been more forthrightly liberal (and anti-war) in his campaign, he would have won the election. Of course, there's absolutely no evidence to support that contention, certainly not in the actual vote totals (where if you add all the non-Bush votes together, Bush still wins -- the very definition of a "majority") nor in the results of the GOTV efforts. The argument assumes that there were large numbers of liberal and anti-war voters who sat out the election, but I've seen nothing to indicate that. Certainly my experience, and that of everyone I've ever talked to about it, is that liberals were extremely energized about the election, and voted for Kerry even if they weren't entirely happy with him and his stance on the war.
For me to take this argument, or Sullivan's seriously, someone is going to have to show definitively that there are large pools of untapped voters out there who either can be switched off of the Bush-track or who have been withholding their votes. I don't think this can be done, which is just another reason why we should avoid drinking the "moral values" Kool-Aid.
Lemieux has more:
Those who believe that moralizing rhetoric is the key to Democratic success have an obvious problem to explain: the 2000 campaign. That year, the Democratic candidate was someone who rose to national prominence based on a campaign against rock music. And, just to be very safe, they picked as their Veep the most moralistic windbag they could find. We know what happened, and it should be noted that Gore was utterly savaged by the same pundits who say that Democrats need to pander to people's cultural anxieties more. It's true, of course, that Kerry (who was extremely timorous on cultural issues anyway) got less of the popular vote. But in context, Kerry was much more impressive. Kerry came closer than anyone else has come to unseating a wartime incumbent in a decent economy. Gore did very poorly for an incumbent in a time of peace and prosperity. I'm not saying that Gore lost because if his identification with cultural moralism, but I am saying that it's a trivial factor.
Right, here, again, there's no supporting evidence for Sullivan's continuing (and, let me say, highly annoying) claim that embracing cultural conservatism is a winning strategy for the Democratic party.
Why do we have to play the game on their "culture war" turf? Why can't we say that the principle of free speech is more important than politics (which I actually believe has the virtue of being true.) Why can't we say that it is wrong for people to impose their religious views on others? Are these not principles worth fighting for? Do they not have the ring of clear common sense? These seem like first principles to me.
Why people continue to believe that we can convince people that we "believe in something" by validating the GOP's calumnious rhetoric about deviant liberal culture I will never understand. I think we convince people that we believe in something by well ... believing in something. How about the constitution, for a starter?
This is precisely right, and yet another reminder that one battles back on the "morals" front by emphasising what are legitimately liberal moral values.
Is the problem that these values are so well-established that they no longer seem "sexy" or relevant?
Update (4/17): My good friend Roger and I had a discussion about this in the comments thread to this post. Right now we're at a state of threadus interruptus, as I have some research to do to butress my point, but in an e-mail to me he recommends what Billmon has to say on the subject, and since a trip to the Whiskey Bar is always a good idea, I'm more than happy to pass it on.
The "values" debate fits in extremely well with the GOP's on-going propaganda campaign to paint Democrats, particularly progressive Democrats, as out-of-touch elitists who sit around sipping lattes while they gloat about the "little Eichmanns" killed in the twin towers -- that is, when they aren't high fiving each other for having pulled out Terri Schiavo's feeding tube.
The thing that has to be said -- first, foremost and always -- is that this image is complete bullshit: the modern day equivalent of a Nazi propaganda poster filled with fat, big-nosed Jewish capitalists in top hats.
Almost half of the American electorate voted for John Kerry last year. About 30% voluntarily identify themselves as Democrats, and 20-25% as liberals (despite the three-decade-long GOP campaign to vilify the word.) The idea that 49% -- or 30% or even 20% -- of all Americans are "out of touch" with mainstream American values is absurd on its face. Unless, of course, the goal is to define the "mainstream" so narrowly that no Democrat who isn't named Joe Lieberman can fit in it. But if the fallout from the Terry Schiavo case is any indication, we're not the ones who are out of touch with mainstream cultural values, at least not when it comes to the "culture of life."
And yet, the predicate of the entire "values" debate is that Democrats and progressives are amoral cosmopolitans who don't care enough about "protecting families" or "defending community standards" -- or whatever the latest catchphrase is for bashing the entertainment industry.
Do I worry about America's cultural descent into mindless vulgarity and desensitized violence? Hell yes. I think it helps condition the American people to accept the imperial status quo -- and the stupidity, corruption and arrogance that go with it. I think it breeds political passivity and the blind acceptance of authority. (There's a reason why the guy who gives us Fox News also gives us Fox Sleaze.) And yes, I think it's bad for the kids, even though the empirical evidence for any direct link between bad culture and bad behavior is still weak. ...
But I also think popular culture is primarily a reflection of a society's health, rather than the other way around. I don't believe the American obsession with violence grows out of a TV tube, and I don't think controlling what's on the tube -- or the radio, or the Internet -- will eliminate it.
I'm pragmatic enough to accept that gestures can sometimes be politically effective, even if their practical value is almost nil. But I seriously doubt they're the key to swinging the elusive married white female voter, or whatever. In the end, voters who put cultural cleansing at or near the top of their political shopping list aren't likely to find what they want in the Democratic department store. The Republicans will always make them a better offer -- even if they have no intention of actually delivering it.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.