Bush & the Victorians

Shannon’s take on the small role “moral values” (at least as seen by left apologists) played is clearly backed by the polls; Brooks’s sense of the red/blue divisions is thoughtful. I would argue that values were important but these values are deep and elusive–the positions on taxes and the economy, on Iraq and terrorism are consequences of values. Let’s step back.

In the nineteenth century, England built an empire on which the sun never set. That was the realm of Queen Victoria, whose passion for Albert and the children they bred defined Victorian “family values”. The emphasis upon celibacy for lower and middle class women may, indeed, look like hypocrisy in the time of Jack the Ripper and Hardy’s forlorn women, but it also built the foundations of a solid, middle-class society growing out of the hard work and faithful union of lower class parents. The customs, growing more rigid as Queen Victoria aged, protected lower class women from the seductions of upper-class men, who slowly were taught that a gentleman did not take advantage of his position. These quaint social rules had economic and social (and I suspect pragmatically happy) ramifications. (See Himmelfarb.)

Victorians were concerned with values – loyalty, duty, hard work, truth, justice—because they were an empire. What they did, they knew, was freighted. They did horrible things in the name of that empire, but they also spread the rule of law; they abolished slavery (slowly perhaps but not as slowly as we) in their colonies, they respected women, they enfranchised (more slowly perhaps than we but not so much later) an ever larger pool of people. Perhaps they smugly and arrogantly (we see its remnants today in the Guardian’s desire to instruct the benighted ex-colonists of Clark County) assumed entitlement – well, no “perhaps”, they did. Nonetheless, as Dinesh D’Souza often acknowledges, being a British colony brought a certain luck. The Brits held themselves responsible, keeping that moral compass in mind; they sensed that when they lost their way they were likely to take a chunk of the world with them.

The fact that we as Americans consider values in electing a president is not a sign that we are backward – indeed, I find it somewhat troubling nations like France believe they have moved beyond transcendent values. (That position is not all that original but some of its adherents made some areas and times of the twentieth century hell holes.) Our emphasis is a function of our history and our position. We were founded on ideals; we believe not in blood nor even in land but rather in ideas embodied in the Constitution as in other institutions of our republic. As Jonathan put it earlier, voting is a “civic sacrament.”.

We also recognize that with our larger military, our bigger economy, we face the twenty-first century with responsibilities. We can’t retreat from the world – even if we were foolish enough to think that was the way to solve the world’s problems. We are a force by existing. Our choices are consequential because of who we are – wasn’t that the premise of the Guardian’s “right” to influence us? And if sometimes we seem smug, that doesn’t mean that we don’t worry a great deal about that responsibility. Is it no wonder that we choose our presidents with such criteria in mind?

In the end, I suspect few of those who checked off “moral values” were thinking of gay marriage. The statistics don’t support such a conclusion. Those exit polls did not show that gay marriage was a very important “moral value” dilemma. Sullivan wanted to place it center-front, but he has his doubts and facts that back up his doubts. As usual, he is honest if a bit overheated (it says more about Sullivan – and Kerry’s campaign – that they see a campaign piece with a church and a heterosexual couple as an anti-gay piece.)

Gay marriage was not an issue Bush chose; the Massachusetts court chose it. One of the central values of our republic is its trust in the will of the people. Politicians respect the people by being careful that their own positions do not usurp the people’s rights – and each branch checks the others for that as well. Bush clearly believes judicial activism is more likely to rend the country than deliver justice. That does not mean that deferential respect and deep affection for others is not central to Bush’s vision. (So, at the victory celebration, a gay couple is part of what is traditionally the extended first family—presidential and vice-presidential–that celebrates onstage.)

Personally, I don’t mind the idea of gay marriage; my close friends in college are still together and forty-four years outlasts all of my heterosexual friends’ marriages. Those two guys have stood together through thick and thin; they deserve to be seen as a couple and to be viewed in terms of the law as such a couple. Like all people in the red states, I know a wide variety of homosexuals who have chosen a wide variety of life styles. Of course, some of my straight friends have reservations, despite the fact that many of them, too, have a wide set of gay acquaintances, close friends, and family members.

But surely we should agree: Matters of this importance should not be decided by courts or a stray mayor. They should be thought through and the ramifications considered. Bush takes values seriously because they are serious. Stem cell research is serious. It should not be undertaken lightly. If it is, then human life is devalued.

And gay marriage, too, is a serious proposition. This change affects an institution that ritualizes the biological core, enshrines the great act, of our species; that institution, the nuclear family, is also the building block of all civilizations. This should not be lightly trifled with by three judges in Massachusetts. Changing our definition of marriage is a consequential act. We should treat it as one.

Values did play a heavy role all this long election season. Patricia Ireland is right; Republicans have no monopoly. (Nor does Kerry, with his five-week run on Sunday church services and his remarks about the lack of “Christianity” of Bush’s vision, get to decide who is “Christian.”) I suspect the sides have similar values – honesty, loyalty, responsibility, duty, respect for others, hard work. What we don’t agree about is how those values are best expressed. On Tuesday, we looked at Bush and Kerry and 48% saw one thing and 51% saw another.

As commentators on Shannon’s post Hunt Johnsen and Brian Macker note, “moral values” were important in their evaluations – but those are not the “moral values” the simple Left wants to assign to them. In fact, however, I suspect we all value truth-telling. Many believed that Bush lied and so, they voted against him. Many (like these commentators and like me) felt that it was Kerry who shaded the truth; that was a strong element in why we voted against him. I suspect we find the truth where we want it, so I’m not going to argue this very fervently; probably many set its importance high. In my gut I felt uncomfortable with a man who declares a fictitious Christmas Eve in Cambodia the turning point of his life. Others were less troubled. Of course, we could put this in a more positive way – and one equally valid. We tend to vote for the person we trust; that trust was, I suspect, a gut level feeling as much as a rational one. In the end, I trusted Bush; others Kerry.

A more complex conundrum might be how much was Kerry responsible for (and how much was this a matter of Kerry merely being ill-served by) the clear untruths of others – Michael Moore comes quickly to mind, but he was hardly the only one who felt, in speaking for Kerry, any old charges that came in handy could be used. It doesn’t seem fair to Kerry to blame him for Move On demonstrators and Barbara Streisand, for Lawrence O’Donnell yelling “Liar” at John O’Neill or Dan Rather trying to pass a patently obvious forgery off as the “real thing.” Did he himself supervise the quite silly graph in The New York Times showing the Swift Boat Vets’ connection with the Republican Party or encourage his step-son to describe Bush as a coke-head? These made us more suspicious of his unwillingness to file the 180 form Bush signed so readily and of the attitude toward the Swift Boat vets, whose service we respected (as we had–as we certainly were expected to–Kerry’s).

If he had won, we might say he had been lucky in his friends; certainly readers who analyzed less and accepted more were probably swayed. Since he did not win, however, we might say he was unlucky in his friends. Certainly many Americans looking at this assortment of the clueless and the venal decided that the man they backed might be as clueless and venal as they. This is not fair – they chose his company far more than he chose theirs. Nonetheless, we (at least in red America) began to suspect that such deviousness surely would not be necessary if the truth were attractive.

Values of loyalty, courage, patriotism, respect for others—both sides valued these; each quite probably (aside from the anti-Bush Know-nothing voters) saw them in their candidate. Do we value individual choice because we see each citizen as inherently possessing rights, capable, responsible? Do we believe the government’s job is to meet the needs of its citizens? Underneath every choice – whether taxes or Iraq or terrorism or health care or the economy – were moral values.

Americans think of values because we have to be the grown ups this time around; because of our strength and size, we have to accept responsibility. We realize choices are consequential; we think of values because they are important in the way a president’s tax bill or the strategic oil reserve or even drug or medicare reform is not. Values influence all our choices.

The individual spark is important: it is best nurtured in the free marketplace of ideas, commerce, and religion. An executive who doesn’t trust us enough is not likely to fight as hard for releasing that potential as one that does. Bush’s policies – whether international or domestic – seem to be derived from valuing the individual and the choices each makes. Watch his deferential respect to others, his acts. That respect is embodied in his policies in Iraq and on Social Security, in his treatment of individuals rather than groups. He aims at freedom and responsibility—abroad and here; Kerry is more hesitant, seeming to value stasis and yet quite ready to judge others. These are all values.

We got to make our choices. Of course, I’m glad my choices won. In a sense, of course, I would argue that my values won: the values of loyalty and sticking it out in Iraq, the values of more personal responsibility in terms of social security and medical care. I believe Bush best represented (and valued) optimism about human potential.

(I must apologize for piggy-backing on Shannon’s more pointed posts for the second week in a row. Thanks. It is nice to have an intra-blog. . . what? muse. . . catalyst . . . ah, an Instalanche and the right word comes to mind – opinion-maker.)

6 thoughts on “Bush & the Victorians”

  1. Wasn’t the final tally closer to 52% vs. 47%? I think Bush won by about 5%. And the popular vote difference was near 5 million.

    If you take away the 15% or 20% of the Kerry vote created by dishonesty from Michael Moore and the msm, the popular vote difference would have been monstrous.

  2. Actually I was just now ineffectually googling for results (because that was somewhere in the back of my mind). Does anyone have a final tally? (Well, ignoring the 15% Evan Thomas factor.)

  3. Yahoo!’s election results page shows:

    Bush: 59,651,290 51%
    Kerry: 56,158,908 48%

    As of Sun Nov 7, 2:24 AM ET with 99% Precincts Reporting.

    CNN shows about 200k fewer for Bush and Kerry with a time stamp of 3:00 p.m. ET, with no date.

  4. The argument “personally I support gay marriage but this is a fundamental change etc etc” does not push the debate forward. How should those of us who support civil gay marriage proceed? Compromise with those who see homosexuality as an evil never to be appeased? If yes, where do we draw the line?

  5. Massachusetts Moderate –

    I find your use of the phrase “civil gay marriage” interesting.

    I wasn’t trying to push the debate forward. The “values” associated with gay marriage was an example. I don’t have a dog in this fight and plenty do. They can discuss strategies.

    I am, however, always ready to give opinions (perhaps overready): if left to their own devices, through open argument and discussion, the people of this country will agree to a form of civil unions by states in the not-too-distant future. I’m not so sure about marriages. Marriage has traditionally been a more private ritual and may become more of one. Or, as comments on another thread note, perhaps we will just get rid of any preferments that have to do with marriage and treat all citizens as individuals. The fact that some of us consider the privileges of marriage less those due to us as a heterosexual couple and more to our roles as parents may no longer be arguable in a modern world.

    My sense of this future is based on my belief – one that comes from a lifetime in red states – that your theory that very many people see homosexuality as an evil is an illusion. That many are bothered by homosexuality is true. That adolescent boys in the 14-24 range, unsure of their own sexuality, can be cruel is also true. That some of the far religious right are more distressed is also true. But people’s experiences are a good deal more diverse than this would imply. And their responses are a good deal more charitable than you imply.

    If judges step in and make this a matter of “civil rights”, the farthest sides are more likely to congeal and drag others with them. And this will also sever the religious ritual even further from the civil license. The ramifications of that could be large – or not. I don’t know. Others are worried that considering it in terms of “civil rights” will lead beyond equality to preferment.

    And my second opinion is that the discussion of gay marriage denies the importance of its role as ritual, as emphasizing a quite important institution – one that has not been defined historically by the love of two people but rather by their role in a family. While to many moderns marriage appears to be, centrally, the uniting of two enamoured adults, that seems to me a quite transitory Hallmark card if sweet moment in a long-term partnership that’s primary purpose is preparation of the next generation.

    By ignoring the centrality of that purpose, gay marriage is, indeed, quite revolutionary. Gay marriage is not an evolution in civil rights but a central change in how we look at the building blocks of our civilization. The individualism that Emerson defined so powerfully and became the American vision of the nineteenth century dominated western thought by the late twentieth. I’m not sure that is bad – I, too, feel empowered by Emerson. I’m also sure, however, that we are losing something important–whether we are losing as much as we are gaining, I am not sure. But clearly the costs of that loss are not always to the adults who consider themselves passionate individuals more than loving parents.

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