Everyone starts with values. Only they are sometimes different values, even incompatible ones. Some people start with values of inclusion and tolerance. Some start with values of family stability and tradition. These approaches can conflict; not always, but often. Each side thinks the other has the wrong values, or in the wrong quantities and with the wrong emphases. It is unproductive and untrue, however, to assume that one side has values and the other not. The question in any such dispute is – which values and what priority?
Some values strike us as absolute. For one who believes abortion is murder, genuinely murder, it is an absolute value. The key is that in the public square you have to make a general appeal; values cannot be the special preserve of your tradition or faith. I cannot answer an argument by declaring this a Christian nation. Nor, conversely can I insist that religious beliefs not influence another’s political positions. What we cherish ought to guide us. No election runs on pure technocratic questions. Every contest incorporates values.
There is a danger nonetheless in seeing technical questions as value questions. If someone believes the free market will eventually be the greatest boon to all, that does not mean they do not care about the poor. If someone thinks that the rich are undertaxed, it does not mean they foster class warfare. These are easy insults that each side tosses out to fire up their own troops, but they are unworthy.
Those who are capable, smart, innovative and wealthy need to be able to contribute to society to the maximum of their capacity; those who are poor, bereft, discriminated against or shut out need to be helped to the limits of social utility. How one does this reflects values, to be sure, but more than treasure the poor or coddling the rich, it is a calculation about how to get to a better society. Nobody has gotten it exactly right in our complicated, heterogeneous country. Screaming across the divide is gratifying but unproductive. Of course it is about values. It just isn’t about a monopoly of values.
David Wolpe | Mar 30, 2011 10:31 AM