Conscience Voters

The Rovian wordsmiths on the Right have coined the phrase "values voters" to suggest that we on the Left, with our supposedly hedonistic lifestyles, our internationalism that apparently precludes any patriotic feelings, our tolerance for weirdos and perverts, and our eagerness to try strange meals thought up by Berkeleyites like Alice Waters, lack any moral sensibility. But of course, we're values voters too.

We're authentically pro-life. We want to preserve the lives of our troops by extracting them from an unnecessary war; to protect foreign civilians threatened by carnage; to end the death penalty, with all its inequities; to use stem cell research in order to save the lives of people already born, already suffering, and already beloved by their families and friends. We favor universal health care, rather than a for-profit system and a bloated military budget that benefits contractors like Halliburton. Most of us are so pro-life that we're baffled by the idea that every American should be armed to the teeth, thus making it possible for a child or family member to kill another person by accident. Some of us are so conscientiously pro-life that we won't eat our fellow mammals because they suffer fear, unhappiness, and pain as we do. We're more likely to have served in the Peace Corps, Teach for America, or Doctors without Borders than in the Marines.

Of course, when we have served our country in battle, the hypocritical pundits on the right sneer at us anyway. George McGovern, a fighter pilot in World War II, was mocked in 1972, while Ronald Reagan, who served in some film unit during that war, is celebrated. Max Cleland, who had three limbs amputated in Vietnam, lost reelection thanks to shameless rightwing ad-hominem attacks. And John Kerry, of course, was "swiftboated," while George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, Donald Rumsfeld, et al., escaped censure for dodging the Vietnam draft while shamelessly supporting the war itself.

We on the Left are for the preservation of the earth from thoughtless depradation, unnecessarily accelerated by ostentatiously huge trucks and SUVs, usually seen carrying a single passenger who, like some French aristocrat before the revolution, pridefully menaces smaller cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. Our values include tolerance for people who aren't like us: who don't share our sexual preference, nationality, ethnicity, race, or views about religion.

Some of us would describe the so-called "values voters" as provincial, xenophobic, ignorant of history, and deeply convinced of the inferiority of women. Indeed, I would argue that attitudes toward women are a litmus test of attitudes toward modernity. Even though Mary Wollstonecraft published her Vindication of the Rights of Women back in 1792, even though suffragettes won the vote for American women in 1920, "values voters" think that feminism began in the 1960s. So much for their historical knowledge. Women, they think, belong in the kitchen, bedroom, or--since this is an attitude they share with Osama bin Laden--burka.

The Right used to call us "bleeding hearts" because of our concern for the welfare of our fellow citizens and hapless foreigners. Now the heartless Right, which has long admired the "selfishness" of Ayn Rand's shallow, self-serving "philosophy," claims to have "values" other than the value of money-other than the unimpeded right to profit by polluting the environment, taking short-cuts on product quality, underpaying and maltreating workers, shipping American jobs abroad, and bombing the hell out of any country it pleases.

And what are these values? They are negative stances: against stem cell research, abortion, and gay marriage. I wouldn't call those "values" at all.

It is curious, too, that when right-wing fundamentalist Christians quote the Bible, it is the Old Testament they favor. It's the Ten Commandments they want carved on official buildings, not the "bleeding heart," pinko aphorisms of Jesus: turn the other cheek, bless those that curse you, give all you have to the poor, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, etc.

But since those on the Right have coined and claimed the term "values voters," since that term implicitly puts us in disrepute, and since the media pundits will mindlessly repeat it, we need a succinct way to describe ourselves.

I propose that we call ourselves "conscience voters." I
encourage every Democrat, Green, and leftist to use this term, publicly and privately. I strongly urge all Democratic presidential candidates to say, "I represent conscience voters." Because that's who we really are-people who have come to grips with issues like inequality, discrimination, and suffering, arriving at the conclusion that we should speak out against injustice, even when we ourselves are not the victims of that injustice. We are not people who want to shield ourselves from our fellow Americans by living in gated communities and driving Hummers, but people who possess empathy, who believe in education, in preserving our national parks (including our battlefields), in good jobs for American workers, and in mutual aid. People who want to promote what the founders of this country called "social happiness."

We're conscience voters.

Carol V. Hamilton has a Ph.D. from Berkeley. Her articles and poems have been published in Oxford German Studies (England), the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, (Canada), The Paris Review, The North American Review, and many other literary and scholarly journals. She has also written for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and a number of alternative papers. She is currently writing a historical account of political ideologies (and looking for a commercial publisher.)

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