VALUES: Key to Winning Elections
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Where was the Populist Outrage?
In the final week of the 1996 presidential campaign, Dole and the Republicans won the values debate by default. They repeated over and over, "where is the outrage?" about Clinton's alleged immorality in his personal sex life and his previous business dealings ten years previously.
Their unanswered attacks were so effective that most Americans gave the Republicans credit for the moral high ground for family values. As a result, the congressional Republicans were seen as a political balance to Clinton, defending workers against welfare cheats, taxpayers against "big government," small businesses against excessive regulation, and, in general, the moderate citizen against liberals.
If Democrats had understood the importance of the battle of values in that election, they would have stressed the opposite side of the argument: Where was the MORAL outrage about what the Republican congress did, or tried to do, or proposed to do, to middle and low income families?
After all, Dole HAD to know that his own tax proposal would greatly benefit the wealthy, that middle income families would benefit very little, and that those at the bottom of the wage scale would lose. Yet he constantly told the public that the purpose of this tax plan was to benefit typical working class families. What kind of moral standard is that? Where was the outrage about that kind of moral bankruptcy?
The Republican congress tried its best to gut the EPA, explaining that private owners of land would take better care of the environment than the government would. Where was the outrage about THAT kind of moral bankruptcy?
They used every opportunity to weaken labor unions, explaining that they were defending workers against labor bosses. Yet history tells us, and conservative financial publications admit, that unions have always been a major force for increasing wages and improving working conditions for working class Americans. Where was the outrage, in terms of traditional American MORAL standards, about deliberately trying to further reduce the power of the only organizations in our society that are committed to defending working class interests?
There is no need to recite all the attempts by Republicans to further increase the growing income and wealth gap between rich and poor. The point is:
Republicans have become masters of the art of implementing one set of values (power, greed and materialism) while, at the same time, convincing the public that they hold a quite different set of values (traditional moral values of work, fairness, justice, etc.).
Until populists learn how to effectively combat their tactics, on the basis of morality and values, America will continue to drift to the right.
The Values that Count
Clinton and most Democrats of campaign '96 demonstrated how NOT to do it. To do it right, populists must convince the public to return to traditional values in the way they view:
THESE are the most important kinds of moral values that determine the nature of our democratic government and its actions.
Of course, there is no denying that private moral standards are important also, in that they influence our culture in a general way. However, government is limited in what it can do about marital fidelity, ancient private business dealings, and degenerate personal habits. What’s more, the voters already know this. It just has to be raised up from their collective subconscious and highlighted—repeatedly, strongly, and in terms they understand.