Political fads and fashions come and go in American life, and sometimes we barely notice when they're gone . It recently occurred to me, for example, that we don't hear as much these days about “values” as we did about a decade ago. Yes, there's still an annual gathering of right-wing extremists called the Values Voter Summit, or […]
Political fads and fashions come and go in American life, and sometimes we barely notice when they're gone .
It recently occurred to me, for example, that we don't hear as much these days about “values” as we did about a decade ago.
Yes, there's still an annual gathering of right-wing extremists called the Values Voter Summit, or some such thing, but the V-word somehow has lost whatever impact it once had.
The oratory in last year's primary and general election campaigns may have touched upon “values” here and there, but the speakers rarely seemed to use the V-word as a weapon.
Back in the winter of 2008, at the peak of values-talk among politicians, I wrote this:
As they run around the country seeking to curry the favor of voters, our Democratic and Republican presidential candidates almost never fail to express their admiration for the “values” of the people to whom they're speaking.
I'm always a little suspicious of such talk. I mean, if one of these pols actually knew anything about my so-called values, he or she probably would want me kept in isolation from polite society.
I'm even more suspicious when the political rhetoric includes references to “Midwestern values.” What values, exactly, are those? Illinois and Iowa are both Midwestern states. Do their respective populations represent the same values? Not entirely, methinks. Illinois, for example, is a more Democratic state than Iowa. It's also more urban and demographically diverse.
If I catch one of these White House hopefuls telling me about the wonderful values of us Illinoisans, I'm going to reply: “You told the Iowans they have the best values, but those folks generally are different from us. Make a choice, pal. Their values or ours? Which is it going to be?”
Another annoying bit of political bunkum is “heartland values,” which is frequently employed no matter the locale, Midwestern or not. President Bush has been known to extol “heartland values” in speeches far from the nation's actual heartland, especially in the South.
A few years ago, the editorial board of the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee took umbrage at Bush's frequent references to “heartland values.”
“Where exactly is this heartland so chock full of values?” the paper asked. 'Is it just those red states, the ones Bush carried on the map of last year's presidential election?…
“Homicide rates are higher in places like Texas and the South than in 'sinful' places such as California and New York, and three times higher than in New England. Teenage binge drinking is most common in the upper Midwest states such as the Dakotas. The list of states with the highest rates of dependence on alcohol and illicit drugs includes Iowa and Wyoming. Gonorrhea rates are about twice as high in Kansas as here, and Indianapolis leads the country in syphilis.'
The paper could also have mentioned the problem of meth abuse, among other pathologies, in the rural Midwest.
Of course, all this blather about “values” is a not-so-subtle effort to divide Americans into camps of “us” and “them.”
This effort often is meant to convey the message that people who are different from you have no values at all. Witness the “Values Voters Summit” held in Washington this past fall under the sponsorship of the Family Research Council and attended by theocrats from across the fruited plain.
These are the values people? What about the rest of us?
Well, this is America. You don't have to be religious or conservative or from the heartland to have values. Everybody has values of some kind or another, worthy or otherwise.