This weekend, six religious-right groups sponsored “The Washington Briefing 2007: Values Voters Summit” in Washington D.C. Most Republican presidential candidates – recognizing the importance of such a summit – were in attendance, armed with tear-jerking speeches aimed at the hearts of evangelical voters.
John McCain unleashed an anecdote from his prisoner-of-war days in Vietnam: At Christmastime, one of his North Vietnamese captors drew a cross in the ground in front of McCain with his shoe. Fred Thompson fired back with more subtle ammunition that still brought the “values voting” audience to their feet: The first thing he would do if elected president would be to shut the door to the Oval Office and pray. Rudy Giuliani, for his shot at an audience that was predisposed to be steely towards him, described crossing himself on his first day at the New York University Law School, to the confused glances of his classmates.
As proven in 2000, and again in 2004, evangelical voters have shaped the direction of our country. These voters hold dear the ideals of Christianity – sanctity of life and marriage, religious freedom, combating Islamic radicals. And their voting record proves it.
But let’s deconstruct the words “values voters” for a minute. This term connotes many things, including purity, morality, piety, superiority and a recognition of its own importance in American elections. However, such a connotation is not enough to define it. For “values voters” to hold any meaning both as a political movement and as a term to describe political evangelicals, there has to be something in opposition, a block of “non-values voters”, if you will.
In their implicit definition, “non-values voters” describes the non-evangelical segment of America, including the dreaded liberals, who have no morality, no religious faith and, apparently, no concern for values whatsoever.
Never mind that the “non-values voters” in America support a health care plan for living children, support women who wish to have control over their own bodies and lives, support working against religious extremism but not with the death of thousands of innocent people, and support homosexual men and women who want to share the same rights of marriage as heterosexual couples. In the world of values voting, these values are inferior to those that are backed by fundamentalist Christian faith.
This is where values voting as a political movement begins to erode. Presumably, we all vote in a way that is relational to how we view the world and the values we hold dear, and even some non-values voters have a faith that defines their voting decisions. There is, essentially, little moral difference between “values voters” and the rest of us, even atheists, feminists and homosexuals.
The only difference are the talking heads, the Dobsons, Brownbacks and Santorums, who spearhead the movement and assure everyone within it that their values are more important, more urgent and more ethical than the values of everyone else. Just because they say so, however, doesn’t make it true.
They might cite God as their ultimate authority, the guy who determines what is “values voting” and what isn’t, but would God not find caring for our children’s health, treating those who are different as equals and preserving life in the Middle East to be worthy values? Turning a subjective text like the Bible into an objective guide, and even then cherry-picking only certain passages to define “values”, does not afford them a higher moral authority passed down from God.
As far as the candidates themselves, shouldn’t there be inherent value in uniting the country rather than further dividing it by pandering to the values of the extreme right?
When Giuliani spoke on Saturday, he highlighted what unites him not with the entire country, but with the evangelical movement – his record of reducing crime in New York City, including the sins of drug use and prostitution, among other things. Giuliani’s very message, and the fact that he was invited to speak at the Summit despite being pro-choice, evidences the subjectivity of values voting.
Certainly, evangelical values voters will continue to have immense influence despite the instability in the definition of what they promote. However, maybe they should pause and acknowledge that they aren’t the only values voters who can, or hopefully will, make a difference in 2008.
© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.