The Corner

Values Democrats

A popular bit of advice that Democrats are getting these days is to present their policy agenda in moral terms. They have to make the moral case for raising the minimum wage, increasing environmental regulations, etc. This is probably good advice; I’m not sure, indeed, that Democrats haven’t already been taking it for years. But the advice carries with it a risk, and a limitation. The risk is that liberals’ moral arguments are peculiarly prone to coming across as self-righteous and moralistic. Conservatives’ moral arguments, to the extent they are connected to traditions, have a degree of protection from this charge that liberals’ don’t. (And, of course, conservatives have not wholly avoided the charge–nor, in too many cases, the reality.) The limitation is that to the extent that the advice is being given as a way of winning back the votes of people who, for example, tell exit pollsters they vote on “moral values,” it cannot possibly work. It might work on some voters. But if you’re voting Republican on same-sex marriage, it seems unlikely that you’d switch to the Democrats because they said that national health care would promote “our values.”

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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