NEW YORK - September 11 - Today marks the publication of a groundbreaking new book on the moral landscape of America, THE MORAL CENTER: How We Can Reclaim Our Country from Die-Hard Extremists, Rogue Corporations, Hollywood Hacks, and Pretend Patriots (Harcourt Press, September 11, 2006; ISBN 0-15-101151-6; $24.00), by David Callahan, co-founder and Senior Fellow at Demos, a national public policy organization. In THE MORAL CENTER, Callahan argues that nothing's the matter with Kansas: Americans voting their values are responding to a real moral crisis.
In his provocative follow-up to The Cheating Culture, Callahan argues that Americans have more in common than we have been led to believe and that our country is far less divided on values than either party is willing to concede. He shows how political campaigns that have emphasized issues of gay marriage and abortion have polarized voters and created a narrow definition of "American values"--one that exludes from the policy debate many of the real challenges families face. With insights garnered from in-depth research and interviews with such organizations as Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America, he examines some of the politically and rhetorically charged issues in the values debate and presents unexpected solutions that lay out a new road map to the American center.
Here is a look inside THE MORAL CENTER:
The real rift in America: The Cares and the Care-Nots
Research has shown that, beyond the very well known rifts that exists between traditionalists and modernists in America, there is a rapidly expanding divide between another group--the Cares and the Care-Nots. The of number of Americans who are focused on status, materialism and risk-taking nearly doubled during the 1990s, from 16 to 31 percent. This is the defining essence of the Care-Nots. Then there are the Cares, liberals and conservatives who work to mitigate poverty, increase political and electoral participation, address the pressures families in America are facing today, and reverse the "downshifting" of consumer culture. The Care-Nots, in contrast, have embraced the idea of self-interest as a way of life.
While the conservative culture wars blame feminists and liberals for the instability found in many marriages today, Callahan demonstrates that, in fact, economic insecurity is the culprit. He finds that, in conservative Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the household economy declined, the overall divorce rate increased dramatically--31 percent over the state average. Bible Belt states, some of the poorest in the nation, have higher divorce rates than almost anywhere. Callahan also reveals that some of the most "liberal" states in America--New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia--have the lowest divorce rates in the country. Utah has a divorce rate a third higher than Massachusetts.
Sexual freedom is often discussed as a recent cultural invention, as a byproduct of the 1960s, however the roots of sexual revolution run far deeper. In the 1780s and 1790s, one-third of the brides in rural New England were pregnant at the time of marriage. Abortion is also not a new phenomenon and was common in the 1800s along with out-of-wedlock births. A survey taken in 1938 found that two thirds of women born after 1910 had lost their virginity before they were married. Conservatives believe that stronger religious beliefs and restrictive laws would end abortion, yet no evidence supports this claim with born-again Christians in the United States having 170,000 abortions every year--which is more than the entire population of Canada. Catholics account for 27 percent of all abortions.
While conservatives link high crime rates to a moral breakdown and an "obsession" with rights beginning in the 1960s--ignoring centuries of crime that America is notorious for from Gangs of New York to the Roaring Twenties--liberals tend to think poverty is the cause of all crime. Callahan urges a refocus on the erosion of American society and government ushered by the explosion of corporate crime.
The Nature of Work
America is changing to a "free agent nation" with more than 10 million Americans are now self-employed and many others are contract workers. Driven by cost-cutting companies, outsourcing and new technology, these changes in workplace life and the workforce also require changes in public policy to accommodate the growing need for national healthcare and pension plans.
As political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have documented, hard-right conservatives are responsible for national politics being more viciously oppositional than ever before. Tackling consumerism and its effect on values and demonstrating the surprising values most Americans still have in common, Callahan calls on the foundation of liberalism to build a moral center that promotes the common good, collective responsibility and a commanding vision of freedom.
For more information about THE MORAL CENTER, visit www.moral.com
DAVID CALLAHAN is co-founder and Senior Fellow of Demos, a national public policy organization. He is the author of The Cheating Culture and the editor of Moral.com. His articles appear frequently in publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post and he is a frequent commentator on television and radio. He lives in New York City.