Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Morally Unfounded

Just before last week’s election, Dede Scozzafava, the Republican candidate for New York’s 23rd congressional district, dropped out of the race. She was facing accusations of political witchcraft brought on by her position as a Republican moderate; she is fiscally conservative, but supports abortion rights and gay marriage. These two issues have become the odd couple of contemporary American politics. One has merely to invoke the label “social liberal,” and any politically astute will assume that one means pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. “Social conservative,” of course, is associated with the opposite stances. So ubiquitous is the pairing of these viewpoints that few ever question their inherent similarity. But does this coupling really make a fundamental statement about a person’s approach to public policy? It’s not an impossible connection to make. Social liberals tend to possess libertarian indifference about the choices others make in their personal lives. “As long as you do no harm to me, I really don’t care what you do,” they might say. For social conservatives, however, the name of the game is religious dogma or biblical injunction. Their belief tells them that abortion and gay marriage are threats to a faithful society. Yet this broad picture is not the whole story. When pressed, many social liberals will admit that if their conservative counterparts have a point about anything, it is concerning abortion’s moral shaky ground. They will certainly admit – or at least they should – that it is a perversity of the status quo that solidifies abortion, but not civil marriage, as a constitutionally recognized right. Among social conservatives, opposition to gay marriage does not appear to be as vociferous as resistance to abortion. National polling has revealed a long-term trend toward increased support for gay marriage and diminishing approval of abortion rights. The problem is that current political discourse offers limited means to express these impulses. Liberals’ libertarian squawking or vague invocations of human rights may as well be French to conservatives (except that they like it even less). To liberals, social conservative rhetoric is just as meaningless. A conservative would be lucky to get out the words “a reading from the Book of . ” before losing a liberal. The American debate needs a common language with which to explore social policy. A national discussion of morality can fill this gap. This is not to say that there is a magical ethical system that can miraculously bridge the divide between liberals and conservatives. There is not. The possibility of communication does exist, however. In this hypothetical moral dialogue, liberals would, at the very least, admit that conservative views on abortion are not driven solely by prepackaged religious agendas but by a plausible moral repugnance, even if it is not a reaction all liberals share. And for a progressive, support or sympathy for the anti-abortion position should not be tantamount to betrayal. On gay marriage, supporters should speak directly. Extending the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships is not inherently moral or immoral. Gay couples’ potential for marital tension or divorce is no different than heterosexual couples’. But deliberately targeting a class of people as ineligible for basic rights is patently immoral. The essential difference between gay marriage and abortion is that there is no conceivable way to oppose gay marriage without calling upon dogma or scripture. In short, these two issues expose the fact that religion and morality do not always overlap. The ultimate goal should be to foster a political climate dominated by morality instead of one consumed by religion. Supporters of gay marriage and abortion rights might counter that such a nuance is unlikely to be met in kind by conservatives. I concede this is a possibility (and maybe even a more likely outcome) given the enthusiasm among the conservative faithful – as illustrated by the popularity of Sarah Palin’s reckless disregard for intellect. Even so, this approach would be an improvement over President Obama’s. He too has recognized that Democrats have failed to communicate with the faithful, but his answer is to adopt religious language, infusing his speeches with biblical allusions. This response is, at best, ineffective; at worst, it’s likely to perpetuate conservatives’ penchant for confusion between morality and religion. Additionally, moral clarity on social policy may sway Democrats to rediscover the moral inspiration at the core of their progressive agenda. Cap-and-trade is now apparently about job creation, not the disproportionate threat of climate change to livelihoods of the global poor. Health care has become about reducing costs, not guaranteeing health care as a fundamental right. The term “social liberal” is far too simple a label for addressing the moral complexity of abortion and gay marriage. By recognizing this complexity, liberals could build a coalition for a moral agenda that does not immediately scare off abortion-obsessed conservatives. Sam Harbourt is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at harbourtthehoya.com. The Pragmatic Progressive appears every other Monday at www.thehoya.com. *To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact [opinionthehoya.com](opinionthehoya.com). Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.*

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Morally Unfounded

Just before last week’s election, Dede Scozzafava, the Republican candidate for New York’s 23rd congressional district, dropped out of the race. She was facing accusations of political witchcraft brought on by her position as a Republican moderate; she is fiscally conservative, but supports abortion rights and gay marriage. These two issues have become the odd couple of contemporary American politics. One has merely to invoke the label “social liberal,” and any politically astute will assume that one means pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. “Social conservative,” of course, is associated with the opposite stances. So ubiquitous is the pairing of these viewpoints that few ever question their inherent similarity. But does this coupling really make a fundamental statement about a person’s approach to public policy? It’s not an impossible connection to make. Social liberals tend to possess libertarian indifference about the choices others make in their personal lives. “As long as you do no harm to me, I really don’t care what you do,” they might say. For social conservatives, however, the name of the game is religious dogma or biblical injunction. Their belief tells them that abortion and gay marriage are threats to a faithful society. Yet this broad picture is not the whole story. When pressed, many social liberals will admit that if their conservative counterparts have a point about anything, it is concerning abortion’s moral shaky ground. They will certainly admit – or at least they should – that it is a perversity of the status quo that solidifies abortion, but not civil marriage, as a constitutionally recognized right. Among social conservatives, opposition to gay marriage does not appear to be as vociferous as resistance to abortion. National polling has revealed a long-term trend toward increased support for gay marriage and diminishing approval of abortion rights. The problem is that current political discourse offers limited means to express these impulses. Liberals’ libertarian squawking or vague invocations of human rights may as well be French to conservatives (except that they like it even less). To liberals, social conservative rhetoric is just as meaningless. A conservative would be lucky to get out the words “a reading from the Book of . ” before losing a liberal. The American debate needs a common language with which to explore social policy. A national discussion of morality can fill this gap. This is not to say that there is a magical ethical system that can miraculously bridge the divide between liberals and conservatives. There is not. The possibility of communication does exist, however. In this hypothetical moral dialogue, liberals would, at the very least, admit that conservative views on abortion are not driven solely by prepackaged religious agendas but by a plausible moral repugnance, even if it is not a reaction all liberals share. And for a progressive, support or sympathy for the anti-abortion position should not be tantamount to betrayal. On gay marriage, supporters should speak directly. Extending the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships is not inherently moral or immoral. Gay couples’ potential for marital tension or divorce is no different than heterosexual couples’. But deliberately targeting a class of people as ineligible for basic rights is patently immoral. The essential difference between gay marriage and abortion is that there is no conceivable way to oppose gay marriage without calling upon dogma or scripture. In short, these two issues expose the fact that religion and morality do not always overlap. The ultimate goal should be to foster a political climate dominated by morality instead of one consumed by religion. Supporters of gay marriage and abortion rights might counter that such a nuance is unlikely to be met in kind by conservatives. I concede this is a possibility (and maybe even a more likely outcome) given the enthusiasm among the conservative faithful – as illustrated by the popularity of Sarah Palin’s reckless disregard for intellect. Even so, this approach would be an improvement over President Obama’s. He too has recognized that Democrats have failed to communicate with the faithful, but his answer is to adopt religious language, infusing his speeches with biblical allusions. This response is, at best, ineffective; at worst, it’s likely to perpetuate conservatives’ penchant for confusion between morality and religion. Additionally, moral clarity on social policy may sway Democrats to rediscover the moral inspiration at the core of their progressive agenda. Cap-and-trade is now apparently about job creation, not the disproportionate threat of climate change to livelihoods of the global poor. Health care has become about reducing costs, not guaranteeing health care as a fundamental right. The term “social liberal” is far too simple a label for addressing the moral complexity of abortion and gay marriage. By recognizing this complexity, liberals could build a coalition for a moral agenda that does not immediately scare off abortion-obsessed conservatives. Sam Harbourt is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at harbourtthehoya.com. The Pragmatic Progressive appears every other Monday at www.thehoya.com. *To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact [opinionthehoya.com](opinionthehoya.com). Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.*

More to Discover