Jim Wallis vs. Ralph Reed on “Values Voting.” Plus, Centrism in the News

There’s been a great “dialogue” over at Beliefnet between Jim Wallis and Ralph Reed over the central question “What Do Values Voters Value Most.” Wallis states:

I believe a debate on moral values should be central in American politics. The question is, of course, which values? Whose values? And how should we define moral values? The problem is when one side of the political spectrum (your side) tries to define values as meaning only two things – opposition to same-sex marriage and criminalizing abortion. And while those two have become “wedge issues” that your side has effectively used for quite partisan purposes, many of the pressing problems our society confronts have an essential moral character. Issues regarding the sacredness of life and family values are indeed very important, and need a much deeper moral discussion; but there is also a broader moral agenda that reflects all the values Americans care about.

So it is actually arrogant to assume that only two issues involve moral values. And it is hubris to say that only those people with a conservative political position on those two issues are voting based on values. What should be valued most is a broader and deeper view of a politics grounded in all our values.

Reed responds:

The claim that religious conservatives focus on one or two issues or somehow believe that other issues lack a moral component is a straw man.

Wallis replies:

My point that the Religious Right only focuses on one or two issues is not a “straw man.” I’ve looked at the promotional material and program for the “Values Voters” conference this weekend in Washington. The major opening plenary session is titled “The Preservation Of Traditional Marriage” and the website promotes a book titled “The Party of Death,” which claims to detail “how left-wing radicals, using abortion as their lever, took over the Democratic Party-and how they have used their power to corrupt our law and politics.”

And I saw several comments here to your post. One said, “I grew up in an evangelical right-wing conservative denomination, and have been a minister in it for the past decade. I have been troubled by my tradition for several years over many things. If conservatives have a huge agenda and are not based on 2 issues, I’ve never seen it.”

Four more exchanges by the two of them can be found here.

John Patrick Grace asks “Are You On The Left, Right, or Center?”

Regular readers of the editorial page cannot help but be struck by columnists and letter writers using words such as ‘liberal,” “extremist,” and “the hard right” like branding irons to publicly stamp a political or social figure as “hopelessly off base.” If you are like 75 percent of the U.S. electorate, you simply don’t identify yourself as any of the above.

So where are you anyway? Chances are you are somewhere in the middle of the extremes of far-left liberals and far-right reactionaries. In other words, you are a centrist.

Not at all “fence sitters,” centrists constitute the most interesting group in U.S. politics today. They are free ranging, able to think an issue through, move left in one sector and move right in another, change their minds, listen with less prejudice to debates and pragmatically adopt the positions that simply make the most sense to them.

All on a case-by-case basis.

Columnist E.J. Dionne says centrists are “the largest group up for grabs in the American electorate.”

Centrists tend to resonate to politicians, whether to the left or right of them, who both preach and practice transparent honesty, a rigorous search for the best solutions to difficult quandaries, and those ready to reach across the aisle for bipartisan agreements. In other words, they are likely to eschew the polarizing ideologies of both political flanks.

President John F. Kennedy, though assailed as a liberal by his political enemies, was a staunch defender of the U.S. military and of protecting the country from foreign threats. In one famous remark to the White House press corps he said: “Do not call me a liberal; do not call me a conservative; if you must use a label, call me a pragmatist.” Such is the essence of centrism.

Washington Post columnist David Broder recently quoted Dawn Larson of Oswego, Ill., as summing up centrists: “We’re very independent people,” she said. “We have trouble ordering pizza together. But we know what we want from government — accountability, responsibility and vision.”

If that makes sense to you, consider yourself a centrist.

The Detroit Free Press tells us moderate groups are taking on the Christian Right:

Determined to break the links binding partisan politics and faith, growing numbers of religious moderates are uniting and organizing in an unprecedented bid to challenge the Christian right and broaden the values agenda beyond the issues of abortion and gay marriage.

The November midterm elections are serving as a kind of dress rehearsal for the more prominent role these moderates, many without a political party alignment, hope to play in the 2008 presidential election and other political contests.

This new coalition of moderate and progressive Christians underscored its intentions with a flurry of activity last week, as prominent conservative Christian leaders and politicians converged on Washington for the Family Research Council’s first annual Values Voter Summit, which ends today.

“God is not a Republican or Democrat. That must be obvious, but it must be said,” said Jim Wallis, a leading evangelical and founder and president of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, a progressive faith-based movement concerned with poverty and the intersection of faith and politics. “There has been this hijacking or takeover of the Republican Party by its right wing and hijacking of religion by the religious right.”

On Tuesday, three-term former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., an Episcopal priest and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, added his voice to the moderate cause with the publication of his book, “Faith and Politics: How the Moral Values Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together.”

Danforth said he is convinced that the majority of Americans are religious moderates or centrists but that, in line with the very definition of the word moderate, they have not been as vocal or as driven by passion as their conservative counterparts. “I want moderates to find their voices. I just think we need a big public movement on this,” Danforth said.

On Wednesday, a national survey of 2,500 people on religion, values and politics released by the Center for American Values in Public Life, a nonpartisan research project of the liberal People For the American Way Foundation, yielded some support for this view.

“Fully half of Americans can be classified as centrist in their religious orientation, while 22% are traditionalists, 18% are modernists, and 10% are secular or nonreligious,” according to an analysis of the survey findings by Robert Jones, the center’s executive director. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said that religion is important in their lives.

Live in Georgia, like me? Georgia Politics Unfiltered is the best centrist-leaning Democratic political blog on the internets.

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