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Values are sweet but meaningless unless put into practice. By Jane Gilgun
Values are more important to voters than policies and programs, according to some. These same people say that progressives, or people on the left of center, have not done a good job of articulating their values while the far right, or conservatives, have. This supposedly explains why far right politicians get the votes of working class people, even as far right policies harm have lead to mass unemployment, mass mortgage foreclosures, and a shrinking middle class. This article discusses the values of progressive Democrats. These values are fairness, respect for the dignity and worth of persons, freedom, and care. They’re my values, too. If we begin a national dialogue about values, then maybe voters will get the programs and policies they want. Values are sweet but meaningless until they are put into practice. The height of hypocrisy is to claim to uphold values in theory and then betray them in practice. About the Author Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., is a writer and a professor of social work. Social work is based on the values of fairness, dignity and worth of the individual, care, and freedom. See Professor Gilgun’s other articles, books, and children’s stories on scribd.com and for Kindle, iPad, Nook, and other e-‐readers.
Values in U.S. Politics: More Important than Polices and Programs?
alues are more important to voters than policies and programs. Thus said Johnathan Haidt, a professor of moral psychology at New York University. According to Haidt, progressives, or people on the left of center, have not done a good job of articulating their values while the far right , or conservatives, have. This, he writes, explains why far right politicians get the votes of working class people, even as far right policies harm them. I don’t know if Haidt is correct, but I am a progressive and a liberal. I am to the left of center. I am a Democrat. I believe the Democrats have values. I am a professor of social work. Social work is based on the values of fairness, dignity and worth of persons, freedom, and caring. These are my values. Maybe we on the left don’t talk about values enough. I’d like to start a national dialogue about the values of the Democratic party—or better yet, about values that promote the common good. The common good is more important than any political party. Here are some values I hold and that I see at work in Democratic polices. These values promote the common good. • Fairness; • Dignity and worth of individuals; • Freedom; • Caring; and • Service to others. Fairness Fairness means many things: • Equal opportunity for education, jobs, health care, and housing; • Equal pay for equal work; • People pay their fair share in taxes; • One person one vote; • Living wages: Full-‐time work that means wage earners can pay bills, educate their children, have a little extra for recreation, and can provide for their old age; • Equal treatment under the law; • Equal access to the benefits of marriage;
• and much more. Dignity and Worth Dignity and worth of individuals means many things: • Every person deserves respect; • Every person has worth; • No one is better than anyone else; • We tell the truth about other people and do not lie about them; • Laws protect the dignity and worth of persons; • People should not take advantage of others for their own gain; • Corporations should not take advantage of their workers; and • Workers can organize to protect their dignity and worth; Freedom Freedom means • to be able to make decisions and to act as we wish, as long as our actions are fair and don’t affect the dignity, worth, and freedom of others; • to vote and to influence public policies that affect us, such as how much interest we pay for car and house loans; how schools treat children; how tax policies work; • not to make as much money for ourselves as we can while we pay people who work for us as little as possible; and • we cannot tell others how to live their lives as long as what they do is fair and does not affect the dignity, worth, and freedom of others. Care Care means that we • act toward others in fair ways; • respect the dignity, worth, and freedom of others; • promote policies and programs that respect the dignity, worth, and freedom of others; • recognize that we are all in this together and that what affects one person affects everyone else; • stand up for ourselves when someone or when policies and programs are unfair and disrespect our dignity, worth, and freedom; • stand up for others when someone or when policies and programs are unfair and disrespect their dignity, worth, and freedom; and • ensure that opportunities for jobs, education, health care, participation in voting and other political activities, and recreation are equal for everyone.
Service to others Service to others means to • work for the promotion of the values of fairness, dignity and worth, freedom, and caring; • recognize policies, programs, and practices that do not promote these values; • know what to do to ensure that every person had access to the opportunities that these values represent; and • ensure that our values are put into practice. Service to others also means that we don’t • just give lip service to values; • don’t put our values into practice; and • don’t pretend to uphold these values while in practice we behave in terms of “Big me, little you” and “Me first.” Conservative Republicans talk about freedom from regulation as a value. What they don’t talk about is how banks, businesses, and Wall Street must be regulated when their freedoms affect the dignity and worth of others. Conservative Republicans don’t work to stop the freedoms of the powerful few from trampling on the freedoms of the rest of us. Conservative Republicans do not negotiate. They demand that others follow what they want. They will not work with Democrats. This shows that conservative Republicans do not respect the freedom of others. They do not respect the dignity and worth of others. The polices, programs, and actions of conservative Republicans who behave in these ways are unfair and uncaring. Callous. Fairness and caring require that we stand up for our own dignity, worth, and freedom and that we stand up for the dignity, worth, and freedom of others. Polices and Programs that Respect These Values Many Democratic policies and programs respect these values. Here are some examples. • Equal pay: The Democrats are trying to ensure that people have equal pay for equal work. Republicans oppose this. • Fairness in taxation: Corporations and the super-‐rich often pay no taxes at all. Democrats want to change this. Republicans oppose fairness tax policy.
In a caring and just society, citizens enjoy the benefits of fairness, freedom, caring, and respect for their dignity and worth as persons. A just and caring society promotes these values and puts them into practice through policies and programs. Just and caring individuals put these values into practice in their everyday dealings with family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers. Just and caring individuals know we are all in this together. What affects one person affects everyone else.
Freedom to protect oneself against economic exploitation: Many corporations want to pay their workers as little as possible and work them as hard as possible. Democrats want to preserve the rights of workers to organize so that they can negotiate for fair wages and fair working conditions that respect their dignity and worth. Regulation of banks, businesses, and Wall Street. Banks, businesses, and Wall Street want to make money. They do not care about fairness, dignity and worth of persons, and freedom of others. They now buy politicians and elections. Democrats want regulation of banks, businesses, and Wall Street. Bailouts for working people. Wall Street and the banks got billions of tax payer dollars in bailouts after they gambled with and lost taxpayer money. Tax payers themselves got nothing. Millions are unemployed. Millions have lost their homes. Millions of people have fallen into poverty. Democrats propose policies and programs that are fair to taxpayers and respect their dignity and worth and their freedom. Republicans oppose these policies and programs. Fairness in health care: Democrats want everyone to have equal access to health care. Republicans oppose equal access to health care. Freedom to make health care decisions: Democrats want women and everyone else to have the freedom to decide on the health care they want, including access to contraception and abortion, especially in cases of rape and incest; Republicans oppose freedom of choice in health care; Freedom from abuse and neglect: Millions of women and children and thousands of men are abused and neglected every year. Democrats want strong policies against abuse and neglect, policies that include freedom from abuse and neglect for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and other gendered persons. Republicans have opposed these policies and programs. Dignity and worth when vulnerable. Democratic polices protect persons who are vulnerable. Vulnerable persons include children, persons with disabilities, and the poor. Dignity and worth in old age. Democratic policies provide for Social Security and Medicare. These two programs have raised millions of old people out of poverty. Republican policies want to do away with Social Security and Medicare. Discussion
Maybe we on the left don’t discuss our values enough. For example, do we know how to stand up for our values? When someone attacks us with lies and innuendoes, do we know what to do? To say? Are we effective in our responses? Conservative, far right Republicans claim to be for the working man—and woman, presumably. Yet, they promote polices that allow corporations and the super rich to pay little or no taxes. They allow these corporations and the super rich not to pay wages that allow workers to take care of their bills, educate their children, and save for their old age. Those on the far right claim to be for freedom. Their idea of freedom is twisted. It includes the freedom for bankers and Wall Street to gamble with taxpayers’ money, lose their bets, and then use taxpayers’ money to pay back these losses. All the while the bankers and Wall Street super-‐rich continue to earn millions of dollars a year. Millions of working Americans are unemployed and have no income or tiny incomes. The gap between rich and the rest of us has never been bigger. Haidt said that conservative, far right Republicans have won the votes of working class people because of values. Policies and programs do not matter, he said. It also seems not to matter that there is a terrible gap between conservative Republican policies and practices. The practices are harmful to millions of people in the US. Values are sweet. They win votes. Values only matter if they promote the common good, not the good of the powerful super-‐rich. Haidt forgot to mention that. Note: The values I discussed in this article used to be self-‐evident. They aren’t anymore. We have to state them over and over again. We have to show when public policies and programs fit these values and when they do not. Reference Haidt, Johnathan (2012). Why do working-‐class people vote conservative? The Guardian. June 7. http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-‐75/11812-‐why-‐ do-‐working-‐class-‐people-‐vote-‐conservative
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