We interviewed Michelle on Earth Day when she was cleaning up Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. She's a lawyer and was very careful about the definition and meaning of the words; values, progressive, liberal, conservative, etc. She sees complexity in these words and doesn't like to generalize. However, she did see equality, fairness and social justice as core liberal values. Michelle also talked about how she finds it insulting the way conservatives talk about values and imply only they have them.
Michelle: I think everybody talks about values. The idea that values are this very short list of maybe ten things that people talk about – we all talk about values, whether you are on the right or left, you opinions are routed in your ideas of right and wrong, and what you think the world should look like. And those are people’s values.
I think to divide the list of politicians or people with values or non-values, is kind of insulting.
Joan: You said you were not feeling comfortable discussing values.
Answer: I think it’s a term that is maybe overused, and so because it’s used so much, it’s gotten to a point where its meaning is kind of muddy. So it’s not clear exactly what that means. And so it’s not that I’m not comfortable with it, but that I’m not sure exactly what – if you come to me and say “I’m a person with progressive values”, I’m not sure what that means. I’d have to talk to you and find out where you’re coming from. I think in that sense I don’t now – it might have lost some of its use just because it’s not as precise as it should be.
Joan: What would you call values of say, the Democrats versus the Republicans.
Answer: The Democrats, I think it’s both a strength and weakness of them, it’s that there are lots of different subgroupings of values within the Democratic Party. I don’t know if there is any one phrase I could use about what Democratic values are.
I mean obviously, there are things that bind us together as Democrats. There are interests in equality, fairness, social justice. In terms of details and specifics, those obviously range from left to right, with those same goals in mind, but how to get there, you don’t always agree.