Can We Bridge the “Values Gap” Between Democrats and “Kansas”?

This piece on truthout by Ira Chernus is one of the clearest discussions I’ve read about the values gap between the Democratic Party and those who seem like they should vote for it but continue in election after election to vote “against their economic interests.” It is also woefully blind to the facts on the ground.

I do not completely agree with Mr. Chernus. But his core point is solid. Conservatives take the positions they do out of fear and a strongly felt need to be protected. The economy is important but not determinative. Faced with a choice between an economic policy they aren’t sure will be helpful and an economic policy that may help but which increases risk of further erosion of their core values, these voters opt for economic uncertainty and even oppression. Stated simply, the fear of and resistance to change are more powerful than near-term economic issues.

Where I part company with Mr. Chernus is in his assessment that the Democrats therefore need to find ways to respond to these fears, to stop allowing the Republican Party to co-opt the key symbols of resistance to change — which he says are God and country (Christianity’s cross and the American flag). He denies that this requires the Left to move right but in that assessment he’s wrong.

I think he actually knows he’s wrong there. He goes to great lengths to describe ways the Left could integrate some of these views into its positions but along the way he also has to admit that doing so would result in a message so mixed that it might well be indecipherable to all but the most ardent political junkie.

For example, I can’t see the Left responding meaningfully to the conservative position of “My country right or wrong” with the rallying cry Mr. Chernus suggests, “My country should right its wrongs.” President Obama tried the mildest form of mea culpas on foreign policy in his first days in office and he’s still be excoriated for making an “Apology Tour.”

Still, it may well be that Mr. Chernus has pointed us in a direction that could lead to some fruitful dialog that wouldn’t end in violence or recriminations. And that is a valuable contribution to an increasingly strained national discourse.

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