Moral values must be identified

By Kevin Leahy

One of the popular notions surrounding last year’s presidential election was that the electorate voted according to its “moral values.”

From this, one might infer, the election was a referendum on which party’s professed morals are more in line with America’s mainstream.

The problem is, the phrase “moral values” is so ill-defined as to be nearly useless.

In a December 2004 Washington Post editorial, Editorial Director Dick Meyer traced the evolution of the “moral values” idea, contending that it rested upon “a single dodgy exit-poll question,” and the way in which the question was asked diminished the importance of other issues such as the economy and the Iraq War.

Regardless, the “moral values” issue remains a prominent one, and why not?

Voting based upon one’s conscience is a legitimate justification for one’s political choices, and our nation’s politics have often been informed by popular ideas of morality.

The Republican party is particularly adept at wrapping itself in the kind of symbols and values-laden language that appeal to voters: God, family, community. They are consummate salesmen. After half a decade of unfettered Republican rule, however, it has become apparent the GOP’s product doesn’t match its sales pitch.

Last Friday, the Senate voted to cut $35 billion from anti-poverty programs, ostensibly to help balance the budget. The day before, the House of Representatives voted to cut an even harsher $54 billion from the budget in the areas of food stamps, child support enforcement and of particular relevance to readers of the Northern Star, student loans.

The food stamp cuts will knock 300,000 people off the rolls. About 40,000 children will be cut off from free or reduce-priced school lunches.

Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post points out that these cuts will mainly hurt working families just coming off welfare.

Additionally, the family values-cherishing Congress voted to cut back on foster-care payments to relatives who care for children removed from their parents’ homes by court order.

Notes the Post, concerning the Medicare and Medicaid cuts, “For the first time, poor children and pregnant women – currently shielded from any out-of-pocket payments – could be billed for some medications or hospital visits for non-emergency care.”

All of this might be palatable if there were some budgetary emergency that required everyone in the nation to sacrifice. But the next budget item to be voted on is a $70 billion tax cut.

These policies will increase the suffering of the poorest members of our society so those who already have enough can have even more. Are these the actions of moral men and women?

If one is to truly vote according to moral values, one might start by establishing exactly which values one is following.

Many politicians, including our current president, are professed Christians.

Christianity is not a rich man’s religion; the Bible exhorts Christians to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and help the poor.

Religion aside, aren’t Americans generous and giving people? Can we not muster the simple human decency to aid the weakest among us? I contend that we are, and that we can.

The challenge is to craft a politics of true compassion, not just cloak ourselves in the language of compassion.

Unfortunately, the latest round of social service cuts are all too representative of the Republican politicians’ strategy: pay lip service to hard work and family values while simultaneously undercutting the successful programs that aid poor working families. Then use the money from the social safety net to buy votes in the form of tax cuts.

It is, in a word, immoral.

Columns reflect the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the Northern Star staff.