Friday, November 12, 2004

Expressing our values

I talked a while back about how Democrats are making a mistake when we say that Republican voters are voting against their best interests. I argued then that the mistake in this argument is in assuming that economic self-interest is the thing that people should be most concerned about. For many voters, there are concerns of a much higher nature than universal health care and social security entitlements.

I quoted the passage from Luke 9:25 ("What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?") to illustrate my point. We simply can't assume that what we consider to be in our best interest is what others consider to be in their best interest. I would argue that a source of the lot of distrust directed towards Democrats derives from the fact that many of us simply don't appreciate the different priorities that others have.

Chris Bowers posts in full a TNR article by Brad Carson, the recently defeated Democratic candidate for Senate in Oklahoma. Carson explains the nature of this divide:

For the vast majority of Oklahomans--and, I would suspect, voters in other red states--these transcendent cultural concerns are more important than universal health care or raising the minimum wage or preserving farm subsidies. Pace Thomas Frank, the voters aren't deluded or uneducated. They simply reject the notion that material concerns are more real than spiritual or cultural ones. The political left has always had a hard time understanding this, preferring to believe that the masses are enthralled by a "false consciousness" or Fox News or whatever today's excuse might be. But the truth is quite simple: Most voters in a state like Oklahoma--and I venture to say most other Southern and Midwestern states--reject the general direction of American culture and celebrate the political party that promises to reform or revise it.

We could well argue that these voters are being lead down the garden path by the party that only appears to promise the reform of American culture. But in doing so we risk feeding the stereotype that Democrats are just a bunch of arrogant busy-bodies who presume to know what is best for everyone else.

Let me be clear on this: We don't need to change our values to win. But we must understand that the narrative structure of Republican values does have a logical structure to it that works for the people who follow it. We can't win people over by simply tearing down that narrative structure. When we do so we simply inspire its adoptees to defend all the more vigorously. We must, instead, provide a competitive narrative that celebrates our values.

We can't talk them into changing their perceptions of us. We must show them that our values are good and worth defending. The best way to do that is to stick with them regardless of their political viability. It is when we abandon them in the face of tough times that we most live up to the stereotype of having no real values at all.

We will show our real character when we are willing to lose rather than sacrifice our values. Because it is only then that we can begin to win.


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