Monday, June 26, 2006


Do you think that your political positions are morally superior to positions you've rejected? Sounds strange when you put it that way, doesn't it. Why would you hold a position you weren't convinced was morally superior? Only two possibilities come to mind, unthinkingly following tradition and practicing self-interest divorced from morals. There are some positions that seem to be adopted by reason alone but since just about everything government does has an effect on the well being of someone, those certainly have a moral dimension, thought about or not.

The first post on this blog claimed our right to believe the moral superiority of our political positions and their firm base in reason. We have to stop cowering in conditional statements and apologetic poses of false modesty. Those are ineffective, weak and are not honest. It's not our personal virtue that is at question, it doesn't all come down to us. It's that our political positions are firmly grounded in the common good, reason over superstition, generosity over greed and facing that large parts of our law favor the wealthy few over the rest with no basis other than that they have the power to bend the law to their liking. If anyone doesn't agree that our positions are superior we should require better arguments than "that's the way it is" and "you're self-righteous" because that's about all there is to most of it.

The fear of asserting the moral superiority of liberalism is that we'll be as obnoxious as William Bennett, that moral exemplar of the right, and the rest of those modern moral exemplars who lecture us continually while enjoying lives that would make ancient Roman aristocrats blanche. Now that Ann Coulter has joined that number there is no doubt that morality or even sanity are not requirements to march in with them. There are people who like to lord their own superiority over other people but they are mighty few on the left as compared to those on the right. Conservatives certainly haven't suffered any ill effects from their being moral nags.

Of course, if we stand behind our convictions they will accuse us of self-righteousness. They do now even when there is a total absence of any assertion of righteousness on our part. As mentioned this is in the face of the tidal wave of finger waving everyone but the wealthy gets from the right wing axis of drivel. They'll do it anyway but why should we listen to them? Are you afraid of annoying conservatives? If one of us gets too full of themselves that 's the time to tell the person to cut it out but it's no reason to stop believing in our positions.

Conservatives, as always, make the mistake of thinking that morality is all about them, an adornment of their sacred selves. That's how they see it and they think that's the way everyone does. But that's their problem, not ours.

People on the left have some great examples to follow. There is no doubt that Martin Luther King had a deep knowledge of his moral failings. There isn't a great moral leader who isn't aware of their flaws. And there were people like J. Edgar Hoover to remind him if he ever forgot. But can you doubt that he had absolute faith in the rightness of his beliefs? He put his life, the lives of his family and friends, the bodies and lives of countless people on the line for those beliefs over and over again. And no one knew more about what that really risked than he did. He knew from experience that some day the attacks he and his family had survived would likely end in one that would kill them. He knew what that looked like, he had seen it with his own eyes. Keeping on with that knowledge doesn't come without complete conviction.

If we don't have the courage to believe in the morality of our positions, we won't ever have the courage to change anything.

The title of this post says it all -- and it also is why we liberals will never capture by moving to the right on social issues the votes of those voters citing "morality" as a determinant in their voting choice: voters looking for politicians to take "moral" stands not only do not necessarily disagree with social liberalism but they also are wanting a politician to take a stand based on the politician's "morality" rather than based on what stand would be popular.

If we Dems act like, e.g. by saying "we must move to the right to get more religious folk to vote for us", our liberal positions are completely amoral, nobody who wants "moral folk" in office will vote for us. If we make a case that it is our positions that are moral, at least in our opinion, well then we'll get the votes of more people who care about morality. The trick to winning the morality vote as liberals is not to run away from the liberal label but to embrace our choice of liberalism as a moral choice.

If you want evidence for this, ask any religious conservative from Cali. which of their Senators they like better: the moderate Feinstein or the more liberal Boxer. The response will almost invariably be Boxer (and there is a chance that the conservative in question may have actually voted for Boxer). Why? Because Feinstein as a "I wanna look tough" centrist gives the impression all she cares about is how her positions are perceived by electoral crowds while Boxer as a "I'm supporting this liberal cause because it's the right thing to do" liberal attracts the respect of the right.

People like Amy Sullivan have it backward. Our problem is not that we liberals don't respect religious conservatives -- the Republicans who patronize religious conservatives are just as disrespectful of them as the Democrats, not that the fundies deserve to be respected anyway -- it's that religious conservatives don't respect us 'cause we don't act respectable. Thus the solution to our electoral woes is not to pander to the unwashed middle but to tell them the right thing to do is to wash up. These people respect authority -- if we act authoritative and like morality is important to us, we'll start maybe even getting a few votes from people we thought would never vote for us!

The point is not that social liberalism is outside the mainstream -- it is actually very mainstream and those who don't think so, no matter how good their (often Faux News) "liberal" credentials or reputations are, are suffering from pathological low self-esteem and guilty of willful ignorance ... at best. The point is that people don't necessarily respect their own points of view but rather are looking, fair enough even or possibly especially in a democratic republic, in an election to hire a leader who is, among otherthings, gonna use her bully pulpit to lead things in a moral direction, which may not be mainstream.

Liberals need not worry about whether our views are mainstream -- we need to say "look we may or may not be mainstream, but we feel we are right and we have the courage to lead you in the right direction". As soon as the Dem party realizes the American people are, when asking for "moral leadership" and "courageous leadership" not necessarily asking for social conservativism and warmongering, we might have a fighting chance in providing people alternatives and hence in winning elections. So long as too many Dems. think that a desire for "moral leadership" means a desire for social conservativism and "courageous leadership" means warmongering, we'll just be running against Republicans in a market they've already cornered.

Of course, the first step would be for such Dems. to stop listening to the media and to realize that the media are not our friends.

But maybe I'm asking for too much?
alberich, I'm going to have to read your comments later, work being the curse of the blogging class, but will write a response tonight. Thank you for commenting.
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