Thursday, November 11, 2004

Moral Values up the Wazoo

The fascinating debate over the importance of "moral values" in the election is starting to produce good summaries and analyses like this Frank Rich column, which does a wonderful job of arguing that the moral values idea is dead on delivery.

Rich makes his point primarily by delineating the close ties between the GOP and the very companies which turn out the movies, TV shows, magazines, and other stuff that the red-state votes supposedly find so objectionable. Look no further than Rupert Murdoch.

Rich could go further with his next point: that red-state voters are painfully deluded if they think the radicals they just sent (back) to Washington are really going to do anything about the "moral values" issues. Why would they, after all? Ban abortion, and you surrender a key way of getting your supporters to the polls, forever and ever. Try to censor the mass media, and you might drive away a major donor or ten.

It is a permanent feature of political culture that symbols matter as much as actual deeds, and probably, at least in the American context, that the symbols are utterly unserious, completely divorced from political-economic reality, and very, very appealing to a certain kind of white Christian.

None of this is new, really. Rich mentions Tom Frank's book, What's the Matter with Kansas?, which is the best book on contemporary American politics and which directly addresses the moral-values topic. Michael Berube thoughtfully critiques Frank here, here, and here. Very much worth reading, now more than ever, because, as Rich says, of a red-state voter profiled in the Washington Post, "maybe by 2008 some Democrat will figure out how to persuade him that it might be a higher moral value to worry about the future of his own family than some gay family he hasn't even met."