'Values' as Another Divisive Jab

Article excerpt

It appears that the fad term of the current political season is "values voter."

I suppose political and journalistic shorthand is necessary in an ever faster-paced sound-bite world. But "values," in this case a noun turned adjective has also, in this usage, been transformed into one more divisive jab in our already too-polarized politics. Values, which used to mean ideals or principles, has now taken on the load of a political program. It means, I think, someone who determines how she or he is going to vote on the basis of issues such as abortion and homosexuality.

Is the implication, then, that those who make voting decisions on more than those issues are without values?

It reminds me of how the term Christian over the last quarter-century in the United States has come to mean, in the popular imagination, a certain brand of belief that owes as much to stylized TV preachers and an accommodation to the wider culture as it does to the Beatitudes. It, too, has become a fighting term. I was actually once told, when in conversation it became clear that I might not support a candidate deemed sufficiently religious by my friend: "But I thought you voted Christian."

Perhaps that would only happen in Kansas, where we still regularly have embarrassing debates about evolution. But I have a feeling we're not alone.

It is difficult to remain too great a grump since the Midwest seasons are in transition. It was so hot here during stretches of July and August that tomatoes and peppers wouldn't grow no matter how much they were watered. But the other day I was driving a long loop from north of Kansas City, Mo., into eastern Kansas. The oppressive, taffy-thick sunlight of August had thinned with the cooler air. The sky, and there is so much of it out here, was brilliant blue to the horizon; the roadside flashing by was a kind of pointillist blur of wild flowers. …