November 9, 2004


It's the Wealth, Stupid: Right-wing class warfare swung the 2004 election (Rick Perlstein, November 9th, 2004, Village Voice)

How did the "people voted for the Republicans because of moral values" meme become the gospel truth about this election? The exit poll question, after all, signifies little: If a pollster went up to you and asked what was more important, your moral values or your economic well-being, what kind of cad would you be to tell a stranger that money meant more to you than morals?

All that the message about "moral values" dominating the proceedings last Tuesday means is that the Republicans have succeeded in their decades-long campaign to get what should plainly be called "conservative ideology" replaced, in our political language, by this word "morality." They have reworked the political calculus so thoroughly that liberal definitions of what is or isn't a moral value don't count. It's as if liberals didn't have any morality at all.

It's amazing how many people Republicans have been able to punk with this. Even Senator Charles Schumer, appearing Wednesday night on The Daily Show, said that Republicans won on "these values issues."

Hey, Chuck: Don't fall for their crap, it only encourages them. You have values too.

Around the time of the Democratic convention, John Kerry began making that very point. Using the word "values" more and more often, he argued (if obliquely) that morality did not come down merely to who you slept with, how often you mention God, or whether you oppose abortion and support any war the president decides to prosecute; that values also reside in being straight with the American people, in fighting for economic justice ("Faith without works is dead," he said in the third debate, quoting James 2:20), in tolerance, in running the government transparently.

As David Klinghoffer said, what divides the two sides is that the faithful know themselves to be bound by morality, necessarily God-given, while the secularists think themselves entitled to make up their own values.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 9, 2004 3:56 PM

No, no, no they don't make up their own values. They get them through the New York Times, which has editors. Otherwise there would be chaos, right?

Posted by: luciferous at November 9, 2004 4:36 PM

Verbal semantics aside, there is a distinction between personal character virtues and social policy. Both affect the welfare of society, but differ according to the way government can improve them.

Simply calling them a different name to make them the same does not fool anyone. All it does is cause cackles to rise in those voters who put a primacy on the first who suspects that any politician combining the two does so because he does not feel the first is important.

While the issue is arguable, this rhetorical obfuscation is not winning votes. Better to just realize that while both sets of issues are important, you can't call them the same thing.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at November 9, 2004 5:25 PM

Republicans make up their own canons of "moral values" by ignoring, say, James 2:20, Deuteronomy 15:7-8,
Matthew 19:23-24, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 6:24-25, 1Timothy 6:10...

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at November 9, 2004 6:23 PM

Mr. Perlstein

That's pretty weak. You think the virtue of charity translates into higher tax margins and welfare from the central government and that Christ's teachings on the spirituality of the rich was a general license to get rid of them? You are into liberation theology I see.

The only time the left ever talks about values is in a sniffy "me too" way when they suddenly have a vague sense that making fun of the whole concept would be a tad insulting at election time. If I understand some of your previous writings, you think all talk of morality is just a smokescreen to prevent the less enlightened from seeing how everything is material and economic.

Posted by: Peter B at November 9, 2004 7:03 PM

Besides which, how dare you try to impose your religion on me. Clearly, any government program that falls into the category of "good works" is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Which leaves the military and not much else.

Posted by: David Cohen at November 9, 2004 7:14 PM

Actually, I'd say that until Republicans came uop with the comprehensive set of social programs they now back Rick's point was arguably true. Those days ended some time ago though. Today it's Democrats who fight tooth and nail to prevent the improvement of conditions for the poor, from Social Security accounts to school vouchers.

Posted by: oj at November 9, 2004 8:03 PM


We need some indifference on the part of the government if we are truely going to allow people a chance to improve their lives.

Social Security accounts and school vouchers (which you mention) are not new, better government programs, but rather a turning the clock back on how liberals went about providing in those areas as they significantly raise the indifferance level compared to past government programs (again in those areas).

If Republicans come up with a "comprehensive set of social programs" (I think you advocate, not sure on your post), they will be just as bad as liberals and no longer conservative.

Posted by: Perry at November 9, 2004 9:03 PM

Mr. Perlstein:

Democrats need a huge dose of economic literacy before making any claims for pursuing economic justice.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 9, 2004 9:10 PM

Democrats over the past quarter-century seem to like their values to be as avante-garde as possible, and have to expect people to push back if they indiscriminently try to push the envelope further and further out from what the rest of the country considers normal.

It's a legacy of the 60s when the liberal Democrats were on the right side of the civil rights issue, but getting that right doesn't entitle them to a lifetime free pass on all questions of moral values, which seems to be one of the things they're angriest about after last Tuesday night.

Posted by: John at November 9, 2004 10:29 PM

Perlstein, who the bleep died and appointed you and your ilk God's tax collectors?

Posted by: joe shropshire at November 10, 2004 1:23 AM

It's the wealth, stupid

No, actually, it's the insufferable solipsism of the ABB posse.

And the incessant spinning, endless whining, and self-indulgent whingeing.

Think about juicing up the righteous indignation routine, hysterical ranting and crass condescension with something constructive.

And then, some people might actually begin to listen.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at November 10, 2004 4:23 AM


Explain how it's libertarian for the government to make you save 15% of your salary for retirenment in an account where it tells you the investment options? Or to take your tax dollars and give you back an education voucher?

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 7:34 AM


It's all relative. It is a heck of a lot more libertarian than confiscating your money and giving it to someone else via a Ponzi scheme.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 10, 2004 7:37 AM

Who decides the questions asked at exit polls? It seems to me that the question was written to confuse the issue. As others have stated we all have values and morals. I care more about men dying in Iraq then the fact two gay people may get married. Voters were manipulated. Any discussion of morality should question why the President waited until after the election to visit with wounded soldiers, did God tell him to wait, or did Karl Rove point out that visiting wounded soldiers and their families just before the election would only remind people of the cost of Bush's war.

Posted by: Barbara at November 10, 2004 9:40 AM


Then you would hasve chosen Iraq, rather than values.

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 9:48 AM

Any discussion of morality should question why the President waited until after the election to visit with wounded soldiers

Except that he did visit wounded soldiers. (Google "Bush visits" + "wounded soldiers") and you'll get more than a few results.

But if your question is why didn't Bush visit wounded soldiers close to election time, the most lkely reasons is that the Kerry camp would howl--and I do mean howl--that the president was exploiting his position to manipulate the electorate and earn votes.

Actually a dead cert. (Though I imagine there are one or two, perhaps more, who would prefer to believe that the reason is because he's a lying hypocrite who does't give a damn.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at November 10, 2004 9:50 AM


Yes, as I said, libertarianism is dead. your argument that a massive government mandate is "more libertarian" nicely establishes the ground ceded.

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 10:03 AM


Indeed, a recent story about the improved relations between McCain and W says that one of the things that most impressed McCain was W's empathy for wounded soldiers they visited with.

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 10:34 AM


That is just silly--I was speaking in relative terms.

It is, in fact, more libertarian.

It is also true that not all things benefit from a strictly libertarian solution. I'll bet most libertarians are in favor of what works best.

It is just that in too many cases, what is happens to be a lot less libertarian than what would work best.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 10, 2004 12:20 PM

Is yellow more blue than red is?

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 1:39 PM

Exactly right Jeff. I guess Oj will have to come to the realization that Libertarians are not so Utopian after all.


Jeff's point is probably more important (as a country, we donot need a Libertarian final solution for libertarian ideals to become part of our conservative fabric).

But my answer to your question is that mandated SS accounts would be owned by the individual as opposed to having the government steal the money.

Posted by: Perry at November 10, 2004 5:57 PM


I think education vouchers are very libertarian. The voucher is another form of currency earned by having a child needing education and spent by taking that currency into a free market for education.

Posted by: Perry at November 10, 2004 6:08 PM


The government takes your money and, only if you have a school age child, gives you a voucher that can only be spent on education. That you consider that libertarian amply proves my point.

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 7:27 PM

No, it doesn't.

It does demonstrate that wholesale imposition of any particular approach is bound to fail. Full stop libertarianism is just as doomed to failure as full stop tyranny.

As a country we could at this point do with a government that pays rather more attention to governing better through governing less.

I know that collides with your devotion to statism, a stand dripping in irony.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at November 10, 2004 8:28 PM


Yet it will instead govern better by governing more, making these programs universal sop that each provides his own safety net. And thereby liberty will be served.

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2004 8:32 PM

The bottom line is libertarianism does not work.

Posted by: Vince at November 10, 2004 9:54 PM


It did well enough in building the country, except for mabe a little to much mercury dump into lakes and rivers. (but that lake Erie walleye sure is tasty)

Posted by: Perry at November 11, 2004 5:24 AM


Judao-Christian values hold stealing immoral. How do you justify theft by the state?

Is it moral for me to steal from my neighbor if I use the money for what I think are good works?

This may be old ground but I did read your link you posted recently to the Perry DeHaviland email discussion, (Semolina response). This point was not addressed.

Posted by: Perry at November 11, 2004 5:34 AM


Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.

Posted by: oj at November 11, 2004 8:44 AM

Yea right.

Posted by: Perry at November 11, 2004 10:41 PM