As Peter noted below, there is reason to feel sorry for Michael Kinsley and other liberal Democrats who continue to blather on about "values." But the sudden upsurge in "values" talk among Democrats (perhaps best and most absurdly seen in Hilarys pandering last week to a southern audience where she claimed to be a conservative Christian) points to a larger problem with the word "values."
Dan Quayle came under fire in the early 90s for bringing up the subject of "family values." Liberals in those days were a little brighter. They understood that the qualifier "family" was the real threat. Some conservatives rightly flinched at the use of the word "values" because they argued that it was a concession to relativism. Quayle tried mightily not to leave the meaning of the phrase open to debate and did define pretty clearly what he meant by family values. Still, liberals tried to co-opt the phrase and argued that Quayles "family values" were not the true "family values" (recall the innane bumper sticker from the 90s "Hate is not a family value") and therefore should not be the "values" of the Democratic party. Calling these things "values" left open the question of whether or not they should be valued. It later left open for debate the question of what defines a family.
Republicans today would do well not to fall into the same rhetorical trap. We did not win because we have better "values" than the Democrats. Republicans won because they were able to persuade a majority of Americans that the President and the GOP hold to the same truths that most Americans hold dear. They were able to persuade Americans that they would do a better job protecting those truths. In short, Americans liked Republican answers to the questions better partly because Republicans seemed to offer answers. They did not waver. Democratic "values"--however defined--will never do well in a contrast with truth. Democrats do not need to do a better job of getting out their message or to remind Americans of what they value. We already know what they dont value and that is what cost them this election and will continue to cost them elections in the future. Still, Republicans cannot take this for granted. They would do well to remind themselves of Dan Quayle and not be afraid to speak of the truth.
Julie, I appreciate your clarity on this issue. I have not seen Kinsleys piece, but I cannot disagree with his comment that he can find his values at the market--which is correct. You have nicely shown that the real issue is not values per se, but the things which we value, including families. Of course, not all families are valuable, however valuable they may be in general. Thanks for giving one more reason for dropping the "values" chatter and talking about real things.
Peter Kreeft is an excellent writer and author of about sixty books, who has written with great clarity about the difference between relative "values" and enduring, objective moral truths and virtues. He also stresses that we are servants of truth and obey the dictates of the truth of natural law as opposed to "values" being true simply because we hold them. That is the trap that conservatives must not fall into.
Julie- I appreciated your thoughts, as well. I hope that all of your readers will heed your advice and follow Dan Quayles example. Anyone who needs a politician to tell her what the "truth" is, or who pretends to share the "truth" while others flounder around with complex questions, or critical thinking, or alternative points of view, deserves to be led around by the obedient nose while the keepers of the truth quietly take control of your life.
I hope that you and the other Bubbas enjoy your totalitarian state.