Quick now, by a show of hands, who among us does not possess a set of values?
We're waiting . . .
OK, time's up. Let's tabulate the vote.
Amazing, we don't see a single hand raised.
Could this mean that we all have values?
Seems pretty self-evident, doesn't it?
Well guess again. It would seem that, according to many out there in the American heartland, there are values and then there are VALUES. At least that's what it seems like the folks attending the recent Family Research Council-sponsored "Values Voters Summit" would have us believe. The "summit," which was attended by several thousand card-carrying "true believers," watched and listened as Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson, Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain labored to explain why they -- and they alone -- must be considered the true vassal of virtue.
Most regrettably -- and somewhat predictably -- not a single Democratic aspirant was invited to attend the values confab. Guess this means that when it comes to Democrats and Republicans, there are those who believe, as we noted above, that there are values and then there are VALUES.
Each of the Republican candidates addressed the conference, taking great pains to lay out their "values" credentials. And what were those values?
With the exception of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, most of the GOP hopefuls made it abundantly clear that under their administration:
- Abortion will be outlawed,
- The Constitution will be amended to declare that marriage is only between a man and a woman,
- That Muslims are infidels,
- That Illegal immigrants will be given no quarter, and that
- Stem cell research is an affront to Divinity.
To be sure, not all the candidates came to the summit carrying the same baggage. Governor Romney came carrying both the baggage of his Mormon faith -- which unbelievably, is still a point of contention among many Christians -- and the mere fact that he had served as governor of the most liberal state in the Union. For many, the aroma of the Latter Day Saint's polygamous past is still a stench in their nostrils. To his credit, Governor Romney, who has been married to the same woman for 38 years and has five sons and ten grandchildren, displayed uncommon courage in merely showing up.
Giuliani was of course saddled with his personal history: three marriages, two alienated children and the taint of political moderation on such issues as abortion and gay marriage. For many in attendance, the creed was "ABR" -- "Anybody but Rudy." Standing tall, the former New York Mayor proclaimed, "My belief in God and my reliance on his guidance is at the core of who I am." He further explained to the flock that, "My eighty percent friend is not my twenty percent enemy." Then, taking a swipe at Romney, he noted, "Isn't it better for me to tell you what I believe, rather than change my positions to fit the prevailing winds?" For this he received polite applause.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee -- the "other" governor from Hope -- had values voters cheering when he declared, "We do not have the right to move the standards of God to meet cultural norms. We need to move the cultural norms to meet God's standards."
Senator John McCain, came to the conference with the heaviest baggage of all. He continues to be suspect because of a reputation as a political "maverick" and the remembrance of his once having labeled the Reverends Falwell and Robertson "agents of intolerance."
The values crowd rewarded Romney with a first-place finish in their straw poll: 27.6% of the vote.
Former Governor Huckabee came in a razor-thin second with 27.1% of the vote. What amazes is that Huckabee, a fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist preacher, only came in second. This would appear to point to a measure of political pragmatism on the part of the values crowd; they know that Huckabee hasn't a snowball's chance in Hades, and would rather give an edge -- no matter how slight -- to a candidate who may have a chance of winning . . . just so long as his name isn't Rudolph Giuliani.
The rest of the tabulation saw Texas Representative Ron Paul -- an orthodox Libertarian -- coming in third with 15%, followed by former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson [9.8%], and Mayor Giuliani [1.8%].
Rounding out the field, Senator McCain came in dead last with less than 1% of the vote.
Up till about a generation ago, those currently identifying themselves as "values voters" tended to stay the hell away from politics. For the most part, they saw their most basic more moral concerns were better addressed and better served by preachers, not politicians. Then came the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade decision, which legalized abortion and freed the voter-rich genie from the bottle of Christian parochialism. Prodded and organized by such champions as Paul Weyrich, Phyllis Schlafly, the Rev. Donald Wilmon and Brent Bozell, the Christian Right -- as it was originally called -- started to become a homogeneous political powerhouse within the Republican Party.
Presidents Reagan, Bush '41 and Bush '43 -- indeed most Republicans -- ran up an increasingly large debt with those who now call themselves "values voters." The debt these voters accrued through their almost universal support, has been throwing off enormous dividends for more than a quarter of a century. From political appointments to their overwhelming support for core "values issues," Republicans have bent over backwards to keep the flock within their fold. The "values" of these "values voters" have become the "values" of the GOP.
Implied in all this, of course, is the frightening thought that those whose VALUES may differ have, in essence, no values at all.
Again, by a show of hands, who amongst us does not have a set of values? Still no hands? What do you think about that?
It is indeed difficult to over stress just how dangerous -- how patently malignant -- it is for one segment of society to believe that their standards, their values, are so firmly etched in stone as to be unquestionably, inerrantly, universal. America was founded and built upon a pedestal that proclaims E Pluribis Unum -- "Out of many comes one." It does not proclaim "One set of values for the many."
We do not find great fault with all those Republican hopefuls who see the need to trot out their religious or values bona fides; this is, after all, an election year, and all's fair in love, war, and elections. What we do find extraordinary fault with are all those who would inspect, reject and objectify anyone whose values may differ.
We are not all Christians.
We are not all Jews.
We are not all Muslims.
We are not all theists.
What we all are, are Americans, people who do have VALUES.
All those who agree, please raise your hand . . .
©2007, Kurt F. Stone