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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Sunday, November 14, 2004


faith, not culture. values, not marketing.

posted by Aziz P. at Sunday, November 14, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
The link to Brad Carson's lucid editorial in TNR has been widely praised, with good reason. If you don't have a TNR account, read it here. However, New Donkey has a very cogent analysis that is in one sense even more important:

If I sometimes seem obsessed with the cultural dimensions of contemporary politics, it's because I am in a continuing rage over two dumb ideas that far too many Democrats are determined to embrace, losing election after losing election:(1) economic issues, if you scream about them loudly and abrasively and "populistically" enough, will trump cultural issues, which are essentially phony, and (2) there's no way to deal with voters' cultural anxieties without abandoning Democratic principles, since cultural issues are all about banning abortion and gay marriage and so forth.

Agreed. As a devout man myself, who just ended 30 days of pious observance (Eid Mubarak to everyone), the very word "cultural" is itself a kind of denigration. For people like myself, it's not about culture - it's about faith. Which itself is a deeply human enterprise - faith is what drives hope, what drives imagination, what drives ambition, what drives love. Those who sneer at faith don't realize that they themselves possess it and rely on it as well - just to a different degree.

The Right claims a monopoly on "values". But what those of us on the Left (disclosure: I am NOT a Democrat) need to do is fight for that word. The word "values" matters, it's "prime real estate" in the landscape of the public mind. Likewise, we can NOT allow "culture" to enter our lexicon, because it imediately imposes another barrier to surmount when trying to craft a true Purple alliance across the (IMHO arbitrary and falsely imposed) electoral divide.

We need to talk about faith, not "culture". And we need to reclaim "values" - by pointing out that when the Right uses that word, they really mean "marketing". The Right pays lip service to values while crafting a message tailored to hit all the right rhetorical buttons, but which represents a failure to abide by those values. The clearest example is the emerging crusade againt birth control - all under ostensibly pro-life justification. Does this make sense? I think not*.

Its time to actively talk about values - and to call out marketing when we see it. And it's time to ditch "culture", and embrace faith, at a human level, not a religious one.


I was not so wild about Carson's piece -- "And, while the defeat was all my own, the failure was of the party to which I swear allegiance, which uncritically embraces a modernity that so many others reject.
" I disagree with uncritically, and with the premise that 'modernity' seems to call for default rejection.

I think that people are misunderstanding the point of the "moral values" analysis, which to me is that there is a core of "yellow dog Republicans" -- not all of the notorious 22%, but a lot of them -- who simply can not be reached or pandered to without abandoning people and principles I'm not willing to abandon. I can understand Carson's frustration, but what is it he wants Democrats elsewhere to do?

I don't think "economic issues" are necessarily different from "moral values" if properly framed. I think helping organize Wal-Marts, or advocating affordable national healthcare is sensible from both points of view: fair wages and benefits for a fair day's work, and setting limits on the unelected powerful, not just the elected ones.

It will (or at least might) resonate with enough reddish-purple-county people who benefit, or who realize there are *other* moral values issues besides gays and abortion, that Dems can get over what is still a fairly small hump of 3%. You don't go for the whole "moral values" crowd -- you chip away at the edges. That's all that's needed.


As a strong Coburn supporter, Mr. Carson's comments were very good. I would recommend them to most of the Democratic establishment. While harping on gay marriage may make the left feel morally superior, it won't help them understand why working class families vote Republican. The DNC could do much worse than sign up Carson as a strategist in the South/Midwest.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.