Monday, November 14, 2005

# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MONEY HAS VALUE, BUT IT IS NOT A VALUE: After talking to Ken Mehlman, Tim Russert spoke with Howard Dean. In contrast to Mehlman, Dean did a much better job of seeming honest and straightforward, even if I disagreed with just about everything he said.

I think Dean did a better job of seeming honest because he often really is. But I also began to get the sense that Dean has become too comfortable with the Beltway regimen of giving talking points instead of answers. Like Mehlman, Dean sometimes rushed to reel off what sounded like a clever answer instead of taking Russert's questions seriously.

I guess Dean has found himself between a rock and a hard place. The media adored him at first then punished him for being too forthcoming. Now he may be too well-prepared and not spontaneous enough. Then again, what politician has discovered the Golden Mean of both disarming candor and message discipline? Answer: John McCain.

Anyhow, what I wanted to do in this post is look at one specific answer that Dean gave to Russert:
MR. RUSSERT: The other issue that the Republicans still have the upper hand with Democrats, strong moral values; 35 percent see the Republicans are better on that issue. Only 18 percent of Democrats. And maybe that's why we're hearing radio ads like this that the Tim Kaine, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and governor-elect in Virginia, ran for his campaign. Let's listen.
(Audiotape, Tim Kaine for governor advertisement):

MR. TIM KAINE: The Bible teaches us we can accomplish great things when we work together. I'm Tim Kaine and I've devoted my life to bringing people together to get things done. ... I'm conservative on personal responsibility, character, family and the sanctity of life. These are my values, and that's what I believe.

(End audiotape)
MR. RUSSERT: And then John Kerry, last week, talking about the budget, said it was immoral; "There is not anywhere in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, anything that remotely suggests--not one miracle, not one parable, not one utterance--that says you ought to cut children's health care or take money from the poorest people in our nation to give it to the wealthiest people in our nation."

Are the Democrats now trying to embrace Christ, embrace moral values, because they see themselves on the wrong side of that issue?

DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, there's a fair number of Jewish Democrats who I don't think are going to embrace Christ. But I think we all embrace the teachings of morality and of embracing people and of tolerance and of inclusion. And what I encourage people to do, I was--we played a big role in Tim Kaine's campaign. It was a great campaign. He was a wonderful candidate. We funneled a lot of money into the party to try to be helpful and so forth. And he is a great candidate for America in the terms of how he campaigned. He spoke of his faith.

I don't think that people who are not comfortable speaking about their faith should speak about their faith. But I think we all should speak about our values. I think one of the mistakes we've made is to not understand that most Americans believe that moral values include making sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night. The Republicans are cutting the school lunch program. We want to make sure that everybody in America has health insurance. That's a moral value. The Republicans are kicking people off their health care. So there is a--we win when we debate about moral values. We ought to talk about our values. Tim Kaine did it. I don't think that's the only reason he won, but that's certainly one of them.
That was a cute answer about Jewish Democrats not embracing Christ. But it is also an indication of how most Democrats' immediate response to religious rhetoric is to start worrying about who it excludes.

Notice how Dean immediately recast Kaine and Kerry's embrace of Christ as an embrace "of tolerance and of inclusion." Dean seems to be missing the much bigger point that excessive talk about tolerance and inclusion is precisely what's responsible for making it seem that the Democrats have no fixed values.

Also notice how, in the second half of his answer, Dean equates a concern for values with school lunch programs and health care policy. Yes, there is a moral element to providing food and medicine for the needy. But what the Democrats never seem to get is that voters with an interest in values are concerned precisely about those issues that can't be resolved by spending more money.

When Democrats translate values into money, it reinforces their image as the party that ignores the spiritual dimension of life and responds to every challenge it faces with a reflexive desire to tax and spend.

Now, I do appreciate the Democratic dilemma here. If the party wants to establish itself as the party of values, it can't really do that by touting its pro-choice and pro-gay rights agenda, because "values voters" tend to be pro-life and uncomfortable with gay rights.

I won't pretend that I have a good answer for the Democrats. But I would say that the party needs to think long and hard about its core values, so it doesn't have to fall back on economic answers to ethical questions.
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Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.
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