On the December 30 edition of ABC's This Week, George Will neatly characterized the differences between social conservatives - that big chunk of Right wing Republican voters - and everybody else, by helpfully explaining that social conservatives are "those who worry most about virtue." How simple; thanks, George for clearing that up. It was so quickly passed off as conventional wisdom, that even the two members of the panel with ties to the Democratic Party - George Stephanopoulos and Donna Brazile - failed to challenge him. The obvious conclusion of their silence - that the simple difference between liberals and conservatives is that one is interested in virtue and the other is not - is one that progressives cannot afford to let slip by. I have a few questions for George Will about what his definition of virtue entails:
What kind of virtue does it take to deny desperately needed health care funds to poor women in countries that try to save women’s lives through family planning?
“78,000 women die every year from unsafe abortion, a statistic that could be virtually eliminated by the provision of appropriate health information and services and law reform efforts.”
Such efforts, of course, are denied by the Bush Global Gag Rule. But it sure sounds virtuous.
What kind of virtue does it take to force a young woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, or to turn a blind eye to the desperate ones who turn to the coat-hanger? Choosing blastocysts over our daughters may not be pretty - but it sounds good in the abstract.
What kind of virtue does it take to stand in the way of research into life-saving therapies, because they make use of stem cells from embryos that will be discarded anyway? It took the agony of Alzheimer’s for Nancy Reagan to see past this one, even though it sounded good for a while.
What kind of virtue does it take to turn the private act of worship into a tyranny of the majority, turning religious minorities into second class citizens? What kind of virtue does it take to deny people the right to marry the person they love, and to share that love with children who need it? Better to have no parents at all? Oh, but it paints such a nice “family-friendly” picture.
In George Will's world, virtue is not defined by actual outcomes: the mitigation of pain, the celebration of life, or the spread of joy. Instead, it is defined as an idealized version of reality, cozily enjoyed by those who don’t have to suffer its consequences.Bill Clinton's weakness, against the backdrop of the stereotype of the 1960's, made it easy for Republicans - as Bush did in his 2002 State of the Union address - to accuse the Democrats of belonging to the "if it feels good, do it," culture. But, in truth, it is conservatives like Will who are the real "feel gooders." It may not actually save lives to deny women control over their bodies, or to fight against gun control, or to champion the death penalty. But it sure feels good to hold those positions up as proof of virtue.
I hope some progressive candidates choose to challenge this warped definition of virtue.