The Moral Center and the Politics of Values

Panelists discuss new book by David Callahan about how progressives can more effectively speak to Americans’ value concerns.

The Center for America Progress hosted a panel discussion today to discuss The Moral Center, a new book by David Callahan. The panel consisted of David Callahan, author of The Moral Center and Senior Fellow at Demos; Thomas Edsall, Special Correspondent for The New Republic and author of Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive For Permanent Power; and Amy Sullivan, Contributing Editor to The Washington Monthly, and author of a forthcoming book on religion and politics.

The event focused on solutions to the difficulties progressives have in securing the votes of “values voters.” Acknowledging the political success of the right-wing and its evangelical “values voters,” panelists laid out their plans for building a new electoral coalition.

David Callahan called for progressives to keep defending their core principles regardless of the political environment. He was optimistic that by standing for both social and personal moral values, progressive candidates can win over Americans concerned about rising immorality and selfishness in society. He praised Bill Clinton as a man who spoke successfully to the fears of Middle America, and asserted that similar progressive candidates could gain political support among Christians and middle Americans.

Tom Edsall was far more pessimistic about the electoral prospects of progressive-minded candidates. He saw the issues of race and taxes as chronic barriers to progressive political change. He disagreed with Callahan that ideas like universal healthcare and government aid to the poor could lead to political success. Party divisions over these matters, he opined, would consistently block election victories.

Amy Sullivan disagreed, saying that although Americans are progressive, they often vote for candidates with dissimilar agendas. The right-wing, she argued, effectively uses divisive social issues to argue that their political opponents are morally relativistic elites with dangerous character flaws. She said, however, that progressives could neutralize the opposition to social issues like abortion by supporting access to contraceptives and family planning.

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