Values and Voting

Over at Phronesisaical, Helmut discusses values and voting.

“Value voters” and their prophets (James Dobson, etc.) maintain, however, that they are in the exclusive possession of a sense of social value. This is, of course, flatly false. The old idea of liberal procedural and structural neutrality has come under theoretical assault even by liberals. It’s extremely difficult or impossible to articulate a fair-because-neutral set of political procedures without importing in some other set of values about, for example, what broad objectives ought to be sought through politics, what goods ought to be distributed, what those “goods” are in the first place, etc. But that’s really not what is in play in the “value voters” discussion.

What is in play is what I mentioned above: an ignorance about social and non-social values, combined with one group’s particular beliefs posing as universals, combined with a stupid media that has no capacity to make any of these distinctions and thus who run with the expression “values voters.” The continued propagation of that misnomer simply builds an accidental political power into what is essentially a rightwing view on socio-cultural politics.

Yet, at the same time, the left and progressives haven’t been terribly adept of late at spelling out in clearer terms just what kinds of social and non-social values they reasonably think ought to be at the core of the broader political discussion. As such, they’ve found themselves defending particular policies but not providing terribly compelling reasons to accept those policies over others. The religious right provides such a substantive explanation to its constituents, even if, in my own view, its wrong, exclusionary, and even punitive.