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Of politics, morals and barn building

Over and over again the media has told us that Bush won the presidential election on “moral values,” which is apparently code for policing who people have sex with and making sure that those who commit “immoral” acts will be punished with unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.  The Christian right has managed to completely co-op the idea of morality, and twist it to their own ends.  Never mind that Jesus’ position on sexual morality was let him who is without sin cast the first stone, according to Republicans, Democrats are depraved and corrupt because they draw a distinction between private religious beliefs and public law.  Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed "compassionate conservatives" seem to have little interest in taking care of children and the elderly, providing medical care to those who can’t afford it, feeding the hungry, or housing the homeless, much less embracing those who are different and treating them with love and compassion.  These are my moral values, and they are the values of the Democratic Party.

During the 2000 election, many of my friends complained that there was no longer any distinction between the Democrats and the Republicans.  A quick glance at the two party's platforms shows that this isn't exactly the case, although they have grown closer together on some issues and switched positions on others (the differences my sixth grade civics teacher outlined on the chalkboard don't really apply in anymore).  However, there is still one profound and overriding disparity between Democrats and Republicans: Democrats believe in what writer David Brin calls the "Dogma of Otherness," the idea of tolerance and moral relativity that fundamentalists are so afraid of.  Democrats, by and large, believe that under the law, all religious beliefs should be equal and that what consenting adults are up to in bed is their business.  In contrast, many Republicans are eager to establish Christianity as a state religion and to rewrite the law to reflect the moral code of one narrow band of Christian thought.

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Fundamentalist of any stripe (and I'd argue that Christian fundamentalists and a Moslem fundamentalists have more in common with one another than a fundamentalist and a moderate of the same religion) have an all-or-nothing, you're-with-us- or-you're-against-us mentality.  Compromise is impossible from this perspective, because to concede on any particular is to lose everything.  Of course, not all Republicans are fundamentalists, but the fundamentalist worldview is increasingly prominent in the Republican Party.  This is the mindset that's led the president to purge his Cabinet of those who disagree with him, and to banish political protesters to "Free Speech Zones" at his speeches and appearances.  This is the point of view that conflates dissent with providing aid and comfort to the enemy, and voting against the incumbent president with treason.  How can a worldview that values tolerance and multiplicity of meaning fight against this absolute assurance that God wants them to make the world over in accord with their beliefs?  

I wonder if liberals' fear of proselytizing is preventing us from effectively promoting our ideas.  The Dogma of Otherness suggests that there are many sides to the truth, and that we should be respectful of different points of view.  This belief in diversity can come across as wishy-washy to those who are deeply invested in the idea that there is one right and true answer. 

Fundamentalists believe it’s their duty to save the rest of the world by converting them, and they believe this process begins at home.  They start early, and make a priority of inculcating their children with their morals.  I don’t think liberals should start browbeating their politics into their children, but as parents it’s our duty to educate and train our children, and to pass along our values.  I'm not going to disown my children if, as adults, their politics differ from mine, but while they're children, I intend to explain to them why I hold the beliefs I do and to encourage them to develop  a moral system similar to mine.

So far the project seems to be working; Adam and I are definitely passing along our radical tendencies to the next generation.  We always take the kids with us when we vote, and we talk about which candidates we support and why it's important to vote.  After the presidential election, Drew asked, "If so many people get to choose, how does one vote count?"

Adam explained, "Imagine there's a bunch of people working together to build a barn. There's so many people there, they trip over each other and argue about which piece of wood goes where. Imagine, though, that every person there said to themselves, 'There's too many people here. If I go home, I won't be missed, and I can still come to the big dance party when it's built.' If all of them decide to go home, the barn can't be built. If half the people go home, it's that much harder and takes much longer to build the barn. We're all part of America , and it's important that we make sure the people we choose to lead us represent all of us, and that they never forget they're accountable to us."

Drew thought about it for a minute and asked, "Are you accountable to me and Franny and Alec?"

Adam answered, "In the long run, yes. In the short run, I'm in charge.  Our house isn't a democracy, it's a benevolent oligarchy. Mommy and I are in charge until you guys are eighteen."

"Oh." Drew pondered that. "Can we have a revolution?"

In the time-honored political tradition, Adam passed the buck. "Ask your mother."
 About the Author:
Melissa Lipscomb lives in Austin with her children Drew, Franny, Alec and husband Adam. Some days she feels like she's figuring out, and others she's just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Visit her blog.



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