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Conscience Voters

By       Message Carol V. Hamilton     Permalink
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The Rovian wordsmiths on the Right have coined the phrase “values voters” to imply that we on the Left, with our hedonistic, urban lifestyles, our internationalism that precludes any patriotic feelings, our tolerance for weirdos and perverts, and our eagerness to consume strange meals thought up by Berkeleyites like Alice Waters, lack any moral sensibility. But of course, we’re values voters too.

We’re authentically pro-life. We want to preserve the lives of our troops by
extracting them from an unnecessary war; to protect foreign civilians threatened by military carnage; to end the death penalty, with all its inequities; and to use stem cell research in order to save the lives of people already born and beloved by their families and friends. We favor universal health care, rather than a for-profit system, and we prefer birth control and the morning-after pill to prevent unwanted pregnancies, rather than “abstinence education” and prudish pharmacists. We’re concerned about a bloated military budget that benefits Halliburton and Blackwater more than it does American soldiers in the field. Most of us are so pro-life that we find the gun culture disturbing, even psychopathic. Some of us are so conscientiously pro-life that we won’t eat our fellow creatures. Because we are not blindly obedient to everyone in a position of authority, and because we recognize, like General Sherman, that “war is hell,” we believe that the country should go to war only after Congress examines accurate intelligence, debates the pros and cons, and comes to a thoughtful collective decision--as the Founders intended.  

Of course, when liberals and leftists have served this country in battle,
hypocritical pundits on the Right sneer anyway.  George McGovern, a fighter pilot in World War II, was mocked in 1972, while Ronald Reagan, who did his tour of duty in front of movie cameras during that war, is celebrated.  Max Cleland, who had three limbs amputated in Vietnam, lost reelection thanks to shameless right-wing ad-hominem attacks. And John Kerry, of course, was “swiftboated.” Yet George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle,  Newt Gingrich, and others known as "chickenhawks," escaped censure for dodging the Vietnam draft while shamelessly supporting the war itself.
We on the Left are for the preservation of the earth from thoughtless depradation, unnecessarily accelerated by ostentatiously huge trucks and SUVs, often seen carrying a single passenger who, like some French aristocrat before the revolution, pridefully menaces smaller cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. Our values include tolerance for people who aren’t like us: who don’t share our sexual preference,nationality, ethnicity, race, or views about religion.

The more blunt-spoken among us might describe so-called “values voters” as fearful, provincial, xenophobic, ignorant of history, and deeply convinced of the inferiority of women. Even though Mary Wollstonecraft published her Vindication of the Rights of Women back in 1792, even though suffragettes won the vote for American women in 1920, “values voters” think that feminism began in the 1960s. Women, they think, belong in the kitchen, bedroom, or—-since this is an attitude they share with Osama bin Laden—-burka.

Yet what are the values that “values voters” endorse? They are largely negative:
against stem cell research, against reproductive freedom and autonomy, and against gay marriage.  I wouldn’t call these “values” at all.

It is curious, too, that when “values voters” quote the Bible, it is the Old
Testament they favor.  It’s the Ten Commandments they want carved on official
buildings, not the “bleeding heart,” pinko aphorisms of Jesus: turn the other cheek, bless those that curse you, give all you have to the poor, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, etc.
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The Right used to call us “bleeding hearts” because of our concern for the welfare of our fellow citizens and hapless foreigners. Now the heartless Right, which has long admired the “selfishness” of Ayn Rand’s shallow, self-serving “philosophy,” claims to have “values” other than the value of money-—other than the unimpeded right to profit by polluting the environment, taking short-cuts on product quality, underpaying and maltreating workers, shipping American jobs abroad, and bombing the holy hell out of any country it pleases.
But since those on the Right have coined and claimed the term “values voters,” since that term implicitly puts the Left in disrepute, and since the media pundits will mindlessly repeat it, we need a succinct way to describe ourselves.

I propose that we on the Left call ourselves “conscience voters.” I encourage every Democrat, Green, and leftist to use this term, publicly and
privately. Because that’s who we really are — people who have pondered social issues like inequality, discrimination, and suffering, arriving at the conclusion that we should speak out against injustice, even when we are not victims of a particular injustice.  

Unlike too many on the Right, authentic conscience voters don’t want to shield
ourselves from our fellow Americans by living in gated communities and driving
Hummers. Instead, we believe in education, public health, sensible forms of national security (like safer ports and airports), the preservation of our national parks (including battlefields), the rebuilding of our domestic infrastructure, a living wage for American workers, and liberty and justice for all.

We’re conscience voters, and we deserve more respect.

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Carol V. Hamilton has a Ph.D. in English from Berkeley and teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. She also writes for History News Network (hnn.us) and CommonDreams.org.

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