Greenberg, Anna, Greenberg, Stanley B., The American Prospect
FOR DEMOCRATS TO SOLIDIFY THEIR POLITICAL POWER IN THE POST-CLINTON ERA, THEY NEED TO TALK ABOUT MORE THAN THE ECONOMY. THEY NEED TO PROMOTE FAMILY-CENTERED VALUES.
Isn't there something puzzling about our current political debate? With a popular Democrat having served two terms in the White House, the nation has seen sustained economic growth with low unemployment and low inflation. A well-qualified vice president is positioned to carry Democratic policies forward. If he were to gain Democratic majorities in Congress, he might be able to confront nagging problems such as inequality in the midst of prosperity.
After all, the public puts more trust in the Democrats on almost everything that matters: securing Social Security's stability, reforming health care, raising education standards, and protecting the environment. Polls show that the public has more confidence in the Democrats to handle the economy and the budget. There is somewhat more trust in the Republicans to handle taxes and crime, but less markedly so than before the Clinton administration. The public turns to the Republicans on few other issues. Yet this seeming mandate for Democrats to take charge of government has so far not altered the balance of forces on the ground. Instead of a cakewalk for Democrats, a competitive election is shaping up--one that might just give Republicans control of the three branches of government. How do we account for this state of affairs?
It goes beyond economics: It has to do with values. This is the one place Republicans hold a decisive advantage. People respect the Democrats for their openness to new ideas, their commitment to community, and their defense of tolerance and individual rights. But at this moment, with families under great pressure, voters are more impressed with the Republicans' insistence on personal responsibility, discipline, and teaching children about right and wrong. Voters want young people to learn norms and limits. And Democrats are more commonly seen to be permissive about such things.
During the 1990s, Democrats changed their standing on these concerns, but the two-year struggle over Clinton's impeachment undermined their progress. At a time when the electorate is increasingly open to the Democrats as a party of sensible investment, the party has lost ground in the battle over values.
This is territory that need not be conceded. For progressives to rediscover America's values, they don't have to embrace the right's version of "family values." The right resents women's changing roles, not to mention abortion rights and sexual freedom. But while the American people are upset with moral decline, they are uncomfortable with solutions that see the family narrowly or that impose a unitary vision of religious belief.
The public discomfort with the right gives progressives an …
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Publication information: Article title: Adding Values. Contributors: Greenberg, Anna - Author, Greenberg, Stanley B. - Author. Magazine title: The American Prospect. Volume: 11. Issue: 19 Publication date: August 28, 2000. Page number: 28. © 1999 The American Prospect, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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