Editor’s Page

Editor’s Page

America needs “values.” That is the conservative harangue. But to think about values? That’s something else. n They get away with sanctimony. Do I exaggerate? Return (O return!) to our “Constitution and Absolute Truth,” urges Tom DeLay, House Majority Whip. Truth hurts, he told the Washington Post: “People hate the messenger. That’s why they killed Christ.” In DeLay’s view, Democrats are “socialists,” the Environmental Protection Agency is “the Gestapo of the government,” the state should not be separate from religion, but corporations need liberation from the state. DeLay’s comrade Attorney General John Ashcroft has Bible-study classes in the Justice Department. What is discussed? I wonder. Is it the prophet Amos, calling for justice? Or a passage about stoning adulterers, umm. . .Democratic adulterers? Perhaps Ashcroft’s admirers, especially “creationists,” should design our entire curriculum according to “values.” Physics 101: the sun stands still for Joshua. An “A” gets you a job planning the national missile defense system. n Democratic adulterers don’t do everything wrong, not according to our Supreme Court-anointed president. He declared recently that the “war on poverty” is “more effective” thanks to Bill Clinton’s 1996 compassionate welfare reform. George W. Bush wants “faith-based organizations” to take more charge of “poverty work,“ which means, I suppose, more charge of poor people. Presumably this will check adultery and also save them in any recessionary hereafter. If not, there’s always belief in the market’s Invisible Hand. Some conservatives think it reflects nature (that is, heaven) and thus incarnates values. Others think values lead to The Market, but worry that markets also threaten values. They hope that fear of a Greater Power will secure bourgeois stability. n It’s not just the Republicans: Senator Joe Lieberman does his bit for the Democrats. It’s not just politicians: there are intellectuals, too. Yes, some speak in good, if often imperious, faith. But others believe—as did the late philosopher Leo Strauss, a neoconservative icon—that noble lies are needed to keep common people in place. n But democratic citizens, secular and religious, can debate public values—can debate means and ends—intelligently, productively, and together without religious correctness. You don’t need to be religiously correct to worry about Bush’s willingness “to expand market rights to pollute” (read Ken Conca in this issue of Dissent). Or to worry about marketization of universities (read John Palattella’s article). Or how market values create a “tourism plantation” in “paradise” (read Gordon Lafer’s account of labor struggles in Hawai’i). Or what it means to remake the world entirely on market models (read Terence Ball on “Marketopia”). n Our political missionaries want more religion in the “public square.” What they resist is open inqu...


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