FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Family Values Return

For a brief moment there, one could have forgotten that it was only last decade that the Republican party championed itself as the party of “family values.” So loud and outspoken was their mantra, that it came to constitute the basis of their party platform.

Dan Quayle warned against the dangers of single motherhood as portrayed in the TV show “Murphy Brown. Bill Bennett went to the top of the best seller lists with his “Book of Virtues.” Rap lyrics were condemened as inciteful and the Christian Coalition was the hottest group in town. The Republican Contract with America-ten years old-sought to “to reinforce the central role of families in American society.” The infidelties of President Clinton fueled the morality crusades. Governor George W. Bush campaigned for the presidency promising to “restore honor and dignity to the White House” and the 2000 Republican platform called for a “restoration of timeless values.”

Since Bush’s inauguration, however, the GOP has been largely silent on the issue of family values. Sexual promiscuity on television and racy song lyrics have passed by without so much as a peep from Republican leaders. Shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and South Park were lauded without objection. On Friends, characters joked about promiscuous sex-and Republicans were virtually silent. Paul O’Neill traveled around African with that expletive-excreting Bono. Almost overnight, Republicans went from declaring Marilyn Manson as the antichrist to touting Eminem as a lyrical genius. Everywhere you looked, the moral blowhards largely went silent.. Next thing you know, the President of the United States takes time out of his National Press Club speech to salute the Prince of Darkness-Ozzy Osbourne.

Of course, this silencing of the guns had its reasons. The impeachment of Bill Clinton left many Americans with a sour taste for moral grandstanding, and the GOP had to lay low for a while after they were outed for being equally vulnerable to sin (Henry Hyde and Newt Gingrich’s affairs, Bill Bennett and Rush Limbaugh’s various addictions, etc.)

Recently, however, the issue of family values has found its way back into mainstream politics, and during this election year, Republicans seem more eager than ever before to return this issue back to the forefront of American politics. President Bush speaks about his proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage by discussing our “cultural, religious and natural roots” and “our most basic social institutions.” He continues to sell his war on terrorism as a war of values: freedom vs. tyranny, good vs. evil. Janet’s Super Bowl expose has renewed efforts to cleanse our airwaves. Rumors of a John Kerry affair made Republicans eager to paint the Democratic frontrunner as a descendant of Republican Enemy #1 (and, according to them, the most flagrant violator of family values): Bill Clinton. Partial birth abortion and stem cell research had Bush talking about the “sanctity of life.” Ashcroft has gone around draping cloths over naked statues everywhere. The sudden embrace of this old school political issue suggests that the GOP’s electoral strategy relies heavily on appealing to the traditional GOP base: religious, conservative whites.

But Republicans should be careful: However deft Republicans are at exciting the Puritanical tendencies of their base against Democrats, they’d be wise to reject this trend during this election year and adopt a less stratifying and polarizing stance.

The upcoming election will be at least as close as 2000, and both Bush and Kerry will have little success winning the White House by simply exciting the party base. Accordingly, the Republican push for family values-which are frequently seen as intrusive and excessive-appeal largely to those already committed to Bush’s reelection, and scare off undecideds. Although social issues play an important role in presidential elections, their importance is blunted during difficult economic and war periods.

Bush’s reelection campaign looks to gloss over some of the weaknesses of his presidency by attempting to steer the debate towards theoretical abstractions of “values” where Bush’s adept command of spirituality allows him to appear more formidable and commanding. Such a move, unfortunately, discards the truest electoral mantra (fatally forgotten, coincidentally, by his own father): “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It is possible that the resurgence of family values has little to do with politics and more to do with principle. Bush’s stewardship at the helm is largely shaped by his own religious convictions, and cultural crusaders feel comfortable sticking out their neck a bit more knowing that they have the Commander-in-Chief on their side. The movement could prove fatal, however: In an increasingly tolerant society, such a staunch, stubborn, and commitment may come at quite a great cost-much like it did for Jesus himself.

Patrick Gavin works in the Office of Communications at the Brookings Institution. He can be reached at: pwgavin@yahoo.com

 

More articles by:
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail