Sunday, April 24, 2005

Moral Majorities

The New York Times Magazine has this excellent essay today about the dilemmas Democrats face in trying to counter the GOP's appeal to moral values. The writer astutely notes that the Schiavo case may not be the winner for Democrats that many seem to believe, and I agree:

Far from having made a compelling case for euthanasia or against morality by fiat, Democrats, with a few notable exceptions, pretty much became bystanders to the whole unseemly affair. And while Republicans managed to further define themselves as a party that would even go to unpopular lengths to defend the sanctity of ravaged and unborn souls alike, Democrats were again left to ponder their own identity in an age in which religious values and scientific insight seem increasingly to be hurtling toward collision. Even in defeat, Republicans emerged as ''the party of life.'' And as one leading Democratic operative privately warned a roomful of allies, ''We can't just be the party of death.''

After all, the GOP, in attempting to intervene to keep Schiavo alive, were appealing to the core of their activist base. They are a minority in the nation but wield great influence in the modern Republican party. And they may be more motivated by this issue precisely because they lost, so to speak, and because to them, the issue had a great deal of emotional and more resonance. Opponents of Republican intervention were motivated by more abstract ideals, like the separation of powers and freedom of choice. A majority of Americans may have supported that position, but a much smaller number are going to see this is the defining political issue that those on the other side will.

A final word from Matt Bai, the author of the essay:

Like Bill Clinton in 1992, Democrats now may have to confront some of their most powerful interest groups, which have grown accustomed to demanding absolute fealty on issues like abortion and obscenity, if they want their notions of morality to feel more consistent and inclusive to many Americans. This may be a transitional moment for both parties. More voters now are refusing to join either party, rejecting the notion that either holds a monopoly on values. And as technology advances, so, too, does the shading of moral choices that used to seem black or white. Can Roe v. Wade still be the sole arbiter of life's starting point, for instance, now that a mother can watch her 12-week-old fetus spinning in the womb? Perhaps the party that builds a national consensus in the era after Terri Schiavo will be the one that has the courage not to exploit moral choices but to wrestle with them. Most Americans seem to understand that we are entering a time of complex, wrenching decisions that defy facile and self-righteous answers. Maybe it's time for politicians to admit that, too.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home