We Americans are suckers for polls, even though time after time the best of them fail to sufficiently reflect what is actually in the minds of those polled. Take for example a Gallup poll run earlier this year and summarized under the heading, Economy Is Paramount Issue to U.S. Voters. In it, Jeffrey M. Jones reports “More than 9 in 10 U.S. registered voters say the economy is extremely (45%) or very important (47%) to their vote in this year’s presidential election….Voters rate social issues such as abortion and gay marriage as the least important.”
What this conclusion fails to survey, among other things, is the general reluctance of the average citizen to bare his or her soul to anonymous voices on a telephone. It’s a lot easier to go with the flow and hop on the “economy” band-wagon than it is to blithely open one’s heart about issues that are among the most personal – like morality. But when it comes time to pull the lever and vote for a president, you can bet a lot of the “economy first” crowd will have “culture” on their minds.
Which brings us to the 2012 political arena. Reacting to the folk wisdom of the polls, both sides of the political aisle echo the legendary remark made by Bill Clinton’s campaign manager in 1992:
“It’s the economy, stupid!”
Paraphrasing that slogan, today’s politicians shout, “It’s jobs, stupid!” or “It’s transparency, stupid!” or “It’s investment, stupid!” or “It’s government spending, stupid!” or “It’s welfare, stupid!” – ad infinitum. Almost never do we hear “It’s the morality, stupid!”
Ironically, in spite of this, the reputations of individual office seekers are regularly blackened by charges of dishonesty, insensibility, prudery, cruelty, and even evangelicalism (the latter term being used pejoratively to mean religiously fanatical) – all of the charges centering on morality, or the lack thereof. The accusations are often made by way of anecdotal stories designed to appeal to the popular sentimental “values” currently embraced by those who have become detached from traditional connections. Interestingly, one party, the Democratic party, grows suspiciously silent when mention of traditional personal virtue arises (i.e., virtue that goes beyond simple opposition to murder, lying, stealing, or mayhem). If such mention exceeds the parameters of the “morality” endorsed by the government, especially in matters of sex and gender – worse yet, if it has the temerity to reject government “morality” – the Democrats go into attack mode, defining such references as, in themselves, “immoral” (and the people who embrace them as bigots and hatemongers.)
It is here that Republican timidity becomes apparent. Romney officially supports traditional values; he has voiced opinions opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and other family-threatening secular encroachments. He is on the record as pro-life, pro religion, and pro-traditional marriage; but being “on the record” and being actively and forcefully engaged in public debate on these issues are two different things. Misled by ground rules made up by Democrats, Romney and his party avoid placing emphasis on the foundations from which their own platform springs. Political folk wisdom whispers to them, “don’t hit the ‘soft’ cultural aspects too hard; the effect might alienate otherwise supportive voters. Rather concentrate on the ‘hard’ economic issues that people really have reason to feel strong about.” The Democrats buy this approach intuitively because they realize that they walk on perilous ground when cultural morality is the subject of debate, and they have convinced the red party that it is best to campaign without it. It is presented as some sort of a “draw” where both parties refrain from taking clear-cut moral stands, playing it “safe”, and leaving it up to each individual to identify for him and herself what’s right and what’s not. That’s called relativism.
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