Sunday, June 03, 2007

What U.S. liberals believe in

By Libby

Well isn't that just like a man? He tells you he's too busy to help around the house and then sneaks off to hang out with his buddies. (Just kidding Jim).

Our friend Michael van der Galien has a really interesting post that seeks to define American liberalism. He makes some good points in general but then hones in on the question of morals.
It seems to me that liberals who say that the state does not have anything to do with morality, are a bunch of hypocrites: they do talk about morality when they talk about taxes, helping the poor, etc. Then, suddenly, it is about ‘helping’ the other and not being overly selfish. That is, of course, a moral value. In other words, liberals too pick and choose moral values they believe the goverment should defend, and criticize those who want the government to defend moral values they’re not happy with.

So, the question is, I guess, what kind of morals do liberals believe in and what kind of morals should the government defend?
Our own Jim replies in comments:
When morality is used by the government to grant more rights to people it seems to be a good thing. If the government invokes laws to take rights away then it seems to be bad. That’s my position.
Michael says it's not that simple but I have to disagree. It really isn't that complicated. I think he is confusing morals with religious values. The two are not necessarily inclusive and shouldn't be conflated to make the point. Lying, cheating and stealing for instance are moral issues and not only do most of us forgo such behavior as a matter of conscience, it's also a rule of law that no liberal or conservative would think of opposing. The morality is secondary to the public safety issues. These are behaviors that harm others.

In contrast, gay marriage is couched by social conservatives as a moral issue, but it's got nothing to do with morals. Two people of the same sex loving each other is not immoral and their marriage would harm no one. They oppose it so vehemently solely because of their religious values.

Even an issue as emotionally fraught as abortion is not really fought on moral grounds. Although the religious right would have you believe they are battling to prevent the murder of unborn children, it's not really about that fetus. Terminating a pregnancy does them no harm, but again, the choice to do so offends their religious values. They're fighting to prevent a woman from making a private decision about a medical procedure and label the "wrong" choice immoral, because it is -- according to their religious rules. We could look to Teri Schiavo and see the same dynamic at work.

But perhaps I belabor the point. The short answer to Michael's question is every choice we make as human beings is a moral choice and all our laws are to some extent based on moral correctness and are necessary because individual moral values differ and some people do lie, cheat and steal. The government should regulate behavior that harms others. It shouldn't regulate behaviors that don't, no matter how offensive they may be to another's moral values. That is the very definition of freedom.

And as far as taxes go, providing for the common good is a moral responsibility that the government should shoulder and that includes helping those less fortunate. Liberals support the social safety net and are willing to pay for it. If we're going to be assigning hypocrisy, it belongs to those social conservatives who fight tooth and nail for the "right to life" and then begrudge sharing a bit more of their own wealth to improve the quality of life for those who are then born into households of lesser priviledge.

In the end, it's not about morals at all. It's about a representative democracy versus a theocracy. You can't have both.

Update: Pamela Leavey at Democratic Daily responds to Michael's post and takes a different approach to the question.

The standards by which we live our lives are what define us and our children, political ideology and “values” are an aside to that. No one holds a lock hold on values. When we stop debating whose values are better, like whose God is the “only” God, this country and the world will be a better place.

Good point. She also posts a stunning definition of liberal given by JFK in 1960 that still serves us well today and I'm proud to fit that description.

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Blogger Michael van der Galiën said...

I find this to be such an interesting issue, that I will come back at it tomorrow. I want to react to your and Pamela's posts.

You have some good points, of course, but I do have to disagree with you... More about that tomorrow.

And... Yes: "too busy" means "hanging out with buddies." But you should know that by now...

:D j/k of course

4:35:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Martin said...

There has been a huge movement in most states by the so-called morals voters to get constitutional amendments passed that actually take rights away from people. Here in Virginia they passed a marriage amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman.
It's a despicable misuse of the constitution to restrict rights of citizens when it is supposed to restrict the power of the state.
The people pushing this framed it upon fear and bigotry, harkening back to the good old days when gays were in the closet and all minorities knew their place.

5:10:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

I look forward to continuing the discussion Michael.

Well said Jim. Hope you don't mind I stole your point and ran with it. This is an issue that resonates with me.

5:54:00 PM  
Blogger Porthos said...

Wow. I've never read such an unfair and downright nasty characterization of the anti-abortion movement.

4:55:00 PM  

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