Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Moral Absolutism

Libby Sternberg has a very interesting piece up about how the Democrats have become the party of moral absolutism. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I think she's right.

If you go down the list of values issues from the last election--gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research, affirmative action--the Republican party really was the big-tent party. There are prominent Republicans who disagree with the party line in every instance.

This heterodoxy gives Republicans a two-fold benefit. First, as Sternberg makes the case, it presents a show of tolerance to voters who aren't comfortable with moral absolutes on these complicated issues. Second, it allows Republicans to have a vigorous, internal debate on the issues--something the Democratic party hasn't had since welfare reform.

I've long suspected that one of the keys to Democratic revival is for the party to drop its all-or-nothing stance on abortion. The Democratic shunning of Bob Casey was a seminal moment, and one which needs to be righted.

Democrats don't need to become a pro-life party. But as a party, they need to countenance and be able to embrace pro-life Democrats. This would be a first, and healthy, step towards reentering the political mainstream.


miklos rosza said...

After having been a lifelong (if lowkey) Democrat all my life, the thing I've found most unpleasant and repellent is this urge or need to suppress heresy -- agreeing with 9 out of 10 positions isn't enough.

For instance, when Slate published their list of novelists and how they were going to (27/31 Kerry) I emailed it to someone I know who is a writer. He's 58 years old, a product of the 60s who definitely sees himself as a "rebel"... and ordinarily the notion that he is just one of the herd, his opinion no different than that of John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates or Amy Tan (not to mention Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Sean Penn and Al Franken) would have appalled him. I mean, it's so SAFE, so UNORIGINAL!

His response, however, was to snarl "Who are these guys?" -- meaning who were the small minority that dared say, usually in apologetic terms, that they were going to vote for George W. Bush. 27 out of 31 wasn't enough!

The same principle seems to hold true if one expresses the slightest doubt about anything but unthinking conformity. I once asked, boredom overcoming discretion when in a restaurant at a table with a group of local newspaper reporters, about affirmative action: "How many years will be enough? 50? 35? 25? Another 10? Or is this supposed to go on forever? If that's what you're saying, what does this mean? Can't this even be discussed?"

I've been branded as a Republican ever since. That was all it took.

Bizarro Jack said...

If only to discourage the issuance of another sweeping generalization on the opposition party, I feel the need to refute this article's claims, but I'm going to limit myself to two points that I can deal with succinctly. Since your blog extends on the source material, I'm looking at the pair as one unit, so forgive me for disregarding just who said what.

Bad point # 1: there is a party of moral absolutism vs. a party of moral relativism
Political parties are huge and the laws and policies advocated are a set of compromises among many constituents. There is no republican or democrat hive mind, and furthermore, the nuance of moral relativism vs. moral absolutism is lost on most people. Most people are not consistently one way or the other because they don't feel that they have to have a uniform philosophy within that context.
The policymakers of the parties certainly also vary in their perspectives.
We can cite issues that seem to exemplify moral relativism as easily as we can site issues exemplifying moral absolutism, for both parties. Most of these citations would be quite debatable.
If one were to look at a percentage of party members that are qualified to use the terms, I would bet dollars to donuts that there are more self-identified moral absolutists in the Republican party than the Democratic party.
Personally, I hate both terms because they are so frequently misunderstood.

bad point #2: "I don't know" vs. "We need a constitutional amendment to deny them rights"
If you don't know, if you don't understand the other people, how does that support the idea of trying to make their second-class-citizenship permanent? If GW simply wanted to delay gay marriage a few years or even decades, "I don't know" would be a fine answer.

bad point #3: Marriage equality is more absolutist than man-woman-only marriage
Both of these ideas are completely distinct and opposing entities. How is marriage equality absolutist, while traditional marriage is not absolutist? There is no explanation of this anywhere in the article.

Bizarro Jack said...

woops, make that 3 points.