Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Helping Conservatism Out of the Closet

I can't help but ponder the connection between the "Democrats must reconnect with socially conservative, morally-driven, values voters" debate going on among leftists and the reintroduction of the debate over the Right to Privacy precipitated by the Roberts nomination.

As for the former, we have TPM Cafe's Michael Lind kickstarting the values-voter debate by saying Democrats need to abandon or at least be prepared to fudge their stands over abortion and gays to lure back lower middle class whites who go to church on Sunday, because the country is essentially conservative and won't ever give their votes to Democrats perceived as morally disinterested. Besides the fact that Lind is the fine author of Up From Conservatism, recent focus group studies by Democratic strategists Stan Greenberg and Karl Agne indicate that cultural reservations keep Democrats from being able to capitalize fully on the Republican Party's economic and international foibles, imply that Lind and likeminded folks deserve a hearing within the Democratic Party.

Although polling data seems to suggest that majorities of the public favor Democratic positions on health care, education and even abortion, the conservative anti-abortionist party has won three straight election cycles, only small a small minority identifies itself as "liberal" and despite the president's poll numbers, Democrats have yet to capitalize or to even convince the public that it offers an alternative acceptable to a wide range of people.

Yet, alongside this debate, and I would argue, intricately intertwined with it, is the unfolding debate regarding Judge Roberts' position on the Right to Privacy, among other stands on Constitutional matters, previously established by the courts but now, and ever since the 1950's, under attack by conservative reactionaries upset over the loss of power liberal court rulings have had on conservative institutions.

Obstensibly advocates of lesser government and greater individualism, conservatives are responding to the Right to Privacy inquiries with bizarre denunctiations, boldly and snarkily denouncing the "myth" of the Right to Privacy. For Democrats, the principle of the Right to Privacy should be a slam dunk. If Republicans want to stand for a form of politics that promises to invade your bedroom and the right to make choices away from the eyes and ears of a prying government or society, a politics that threatens perhaps the most fundamental of political and social aspirations--to be left alone, free to pursue the gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Democrats should "bury them". Make them defend these principles and visions in the broadest possible venues.

Conservatives have succeeded over the last two decades in making the Democrats fight political battles on conservative turf, through such matters as "parental notification", "partial birth abortion", and "family values", forcing Democrats away from broader, underlying principles to divisive issues that are largely favorable to Republicans.

Democrats need to refocus the debate, putting principles such as the Right to Privacy front and center. Fortunately, conservatives also seem to want this debate. Conservatism has been portrayed favorably for far too long. It's time Democrats forced conservative Republicanism out of the closet, where its bile shadow can be put on parade. So long as conservatives seem intent on allowing us to do that, Democrats should oblige them.

Will the Democratic leadership rise to the challenge?

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