Thursday, May 18, 2006

The arrogance and destructiveness of the term "values voters"

Even conservatives are irritated by the constant drumbeat about so-called “values voters” – a phrase columnist George Will today dubbed as arrogant, insulting and dangerous.

I rarely (as in: this happens when pigs fly) agree with Will, but except for a brief side trip into twisting liberal political views, his column today is a great one. It turns out that Will is just as irked as liberals are about the use of the term “values voter.”

Used by what Will calls “social conservatives” and I call radicals or dominationists, the term denotes anyone who votes the way Christian fundamentalists want. In other words, no on same-sex marriage, no on a woman’s right to choose, among many other things. In the last few years, journalists have increasingly taken up the use of the term.

The problem, though, is that using the phrase isn’t just irritating, it’s dangerous. Will writes:

This phrase diminishes our understanding of politics. It also is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values, and everyone else votes to ... well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots.

And by ratifying the social conservatives’ monopoly of the label “values voters,” the media are furthering the fiction that these voters are somehow more morally awake than others.

Here’s the bottom line: If one set of folks is always labeled as having values and, thus, being moral, and another set are, well, dubbed as the immoral dudes, guess who automatically wins a debate? Guess who automatically wins at the ballot box?

Words frame the way we think and the way we make decisions. Journalists who use the phrase “values voters” without context or explanation are stacking the deck for fundamentalists. At the same time, these journalists are rendering everyone else’s values invisible.

And so here I am, agreeing with George Will.

Look, up in the sky. It’s a pig, and it has wings!

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