CommunityPam's House Blend

Liberals bite back, thank you. Finally there’s a story on (AP) where folks are taking back the “morals” argument with framing that addresses all the issues the Right doesn’t want to touch with a ten foot crucifix.

Family values, traditional values and now, “moral values.” Most American adults would say they have them, and yet that two-word phrase is the focus of an ideological tug-of-war heightened by President Bush’s re-election, with conservatives declaring principal ownership and liberals scrambling to challenge them.

“We need to work really hard at reclaiming some language,” said the Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the liberal-leaning National Council of Churches.

“The religious right has successfully gotten out there shaping personal piety issues — civil unions, abortion — as almost the total content of ‘moral values,'” Edgar said. “And yet you can’t read the Old Testament without knowing God was concerned about the environment, war and peace, poverty. God doesn’t want 45 million Americans without health care.”

Many of the advocacy groups that helped mobilize conservative voters for Bush concentrate on a narrow range of issues — notably opposing abortion and gay rights. Conservative leaders say these were the main issues on voters’ minds when many, in exit polls, designated unspecified “moral values” as their foremost Election Day priority.

“Those who view the appeal to ‘moral values’ as mere political manipulation and ideological posturing have a basic misunderstanding of people of faith,” said Janice Shaw Crouse of the conservative Concerned Women for America.

“The ‘moral values’ that were a top priority in this election — abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, same-sex unions — are rooted in deep religious beliefs.”

Such statements of moral grounding have frustrated Democratic-leaning activists — in past campaigns and particularly this year. They question the vagueness of the “moral values” exit poll question and contend that their own political priorities, such as fighting poverty and discrimination, have moral weight and popular support.

Proponents of same-sex unions, for example, believe it is moral to afford partnership rights to two men or two women who have committed themselves to each other and, in many cases, are raising children.

“We have a thing or two to say about the ‘moral values’ involved with permitting a couple who wish to build a life together to enjoy full legal standing as a family,” said Ron Schlittler, director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Similarly, abortion-rights advocates believe it is moral to allow the option of abortion to a poor, newly pregnant woman, rather than compel her to bear a child she didn’t plan for and cannot afford to raise.

“When the religious right co-opted the term ‘pro-life,’ that was a coup,” said the Rev. Carlton Veazey of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “Sometimes ‘choice’ sounds too casual.”

“We have to go back and examine what we are we saying, why is it not resonating,” Veazey added. “We don’t just cave in and say they’ve got a monopoly on morality.”

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding