I Am a Values Voter
Over the past several decades, there has been much talk in the political sphere of so-called “values voters”, which has coincided with the emergence of the politically potent religious right in America. “Wicktionary” defines a values voter as “one who participates in elections and makes decisions based on issues such as religion, abortion, capital punishment, and same-sex marriage”. There is even an annual “Values Voters Summit” political conference for right-wingers sponsored by the arch-conservative Family Research Council. I am troubled by this, because I very much consider myself to be a “values voter”, and yet in modern political parlance I would NEVER be referred to as such. Why not? Because my values differ from those of the religious right. My values include equal rights, justice, concern for the environment, quality education and health care for all, the peaceful resolution of disputes (between both countries and individuals) the alleviation of poverty, and the use of science and reason in the political decision-making process. How are these not values? Why am I not considered a “values voter” when I vote regularly and decide for whom to vote largely on whether a candidate shares the values stated above? Why are only right-wing religious values considered to be “real values” in this context? And what of the supposed “real values” held by the religious right? A news story from a few months ago got me to wondering whether right-wing values are truly sincerely held beliefs, or are merely politically useful shibboleths that can be used (or ignored) as convenient.
Back in February, the New York Times published a brief article stating that the governor of Idaho had expressed concern regarding the number of children who had died in his State because their parents (for religious reasons) had chosen faith-healing over medical care for their seriously ill children. (Well, nobody would do that for medical reasons, would they). The article prodded me to ruminate on the phrase “pro-life” and its meaning to supposed “values voters”. Why haven’t we heard from the “pro-life” people on the issue of providing needed medical care to seriously ill children? After all, so-called pro-lifers seem omnipresent when the issue concerns abortion or contraception. Don’t they believe that all children, from the moment of conception, have the “right to life”? Does not the right to life, by any reasonable definition, include the right to life-saving medical care? I think so, but then again, that’s one of my values. But it seems that for many people who take the mantle “right to life” that right ends at birth, and after that they become raging libertarians who basically takes the attitude: “kid, you’re on your own”.
Look, people have the right to be hypocrites, I suppose, but why does society at large enable such people by giving them the labels (such as “value voters” or “right-to-life”) they want, as opposed to the labels they deserve? Something is really not a core value if it can change at the drop of a hat depending on whose ox is being gored. And we should say so, instead of accepting without thought or reason the idea that all religious right-wingers have “values” that somehow elude the rest of us.