January 26, 2006

It's the Values, Stupid

Today in his NYT column (digitally cordoned off, of course), David Brooks points out an interesting development in the way at least some Democrats are looking at the intersection of poverty and values. They understand that "voters don't separate values issues from economic issues. They use values issues as stand-ins and figure the candidates they associate with traditional morality are also the ones with sensible economic policies." Brooks is really good today, so I'll just quote him a bit more.
Democrats seem to be moving away from materialistic determinism. In past decades, Democratic political campaigns have been based primarily on appeals to economic interests. But especially in the information age, social values and cultural capital shape a person's economic destiny more than the other way around.
If you are a middle-class woman, you have more to fear from divorce than from outsourcing. If you have a daughter, you're right to worry more about her having a child before marriage than about her being a victim of globalization. This country's prosperity is threatened more by homes where no one reads to children than it is by big pharmaceutical companies.
In his Presidential campaign of 1968, Robert Kennedy said, "Let's face it, I appeal best to people who have problems." That could be said to be the Democratic Party's operating principle ever since, and I believe that there is nothing ignoble about that. But middle-class managerial types have problems too—problems that quite often center on values and problems that Democrats must also address, and address lucidly. We should simply move on from the Marxist attitude that the petit-bourgeoisie don't matter and shouldn't matter. Talk about alienation, geez.

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