The Immoral Majority

BY Susan J. Douglas

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The religious right wants to include moral values in the debate over how our taxes are spent? Bring it on.

Back in the late ’70s, the Republicans learned that if you hailed people as “taxpayers” rather than citizens, and appealed to their meaner instincts, you could convince many that they were downright righteous to withhold their money from supporting the common good.

Why should hard-working, responsible people who never themselves got a “hand-out”–as the line went–see their hard-earned dollars spent on child welfare, public schools or, worst of all, abortions for women who could not afford them? With this last gambit, the Republicans launched on their long and successful campaign to insist that the spending of Americans’ tax dollars pass a morality litmus test.

So it is hardly surprising that Congress’s avatar of virtue, Tom DeLay, was adamant that Americans consider embryonic stem cell research “immoral,” and therefore feel that it is “morally indefensible” to use their tax dollars to support this research. The usual phalanx of smooth-faced, Ken-doll-coiffed evangelicals blanketed the airwaves with this same mantra: Taxpayers would be morally outraged to have their money spent to “destroy life.”

They are, well, dead wrong. Polls vary, but approval for stem cell research has actually increased over the past five years, and approval goes up the more poll respondents know about the issue. Last summer, a Harris poll showed 73 percent of Americans supporting stem cell research, and a Pew Center poll in May showed 65 percent support among those who had “heard a lot” about the issue. Even 45 percent of Republicans support the research.

But I find myself warming up to this taxes and morality equation; the Democrats should steal it immediately. And the savings would be enormous: If those of us in the true moral majority withheld our tax dollars from spending that we find immoral, the deficit would shrivel up.

For example, a recent CNN poll found that 57 percent of Americans said it had not been worth going to war in Iraq, an increase since January. Many of us feel that it is highly immoral to have spent at least $180 billion to terminate the lives of 1,700 U.S. soldiers and probably more than 100,000 Iraqis, and to further destroy the lives of thousands of our soldiers who have returned home horribly maimed and injured. Carrie Gordon Earll of the right-wing Focus on the Family asserted in her opposition to stem cell research, “Federal dollars should not be used to destroy young humans. “

Hey Carrie, Amen. It is morally indefensible that our tax dollars have supported the elimination of electricity, water, jobs, health care and basic safety of thousands of Iraqis. This moral outrage must stop.

Millions of us–at least twice as many more than the “culture of life” zealots who are against stem cell research–oppose the death penalty. Again, various polls show support declining–46 percent favor life without parole versus execution. And talk about squandering our tax dollars immorally: One estimate put the cost of New York’s death penalty (reinstated in 1995) at $160 million, or $23 million per person sentenced to death. A Tennessee study estimated that death penalty trials cost 48 percent more than trials seeking life imprisonment. In other words, the death penalty is a wasteful government program.

How about the morality of giving tax cuts to millionaires while 11 million kids have no health insurance? While the Democrats have been terrified to take on the Bush tax cuts, polls show that 54 percent of Americans feel the federal tax cuts have not been worth it because they have increased the deficit and caused cuts in federal programs. Your and my taxes go to paying a whopping $317 billion in interest on the national debt. Note to Democrats: These tax cuts are morally indefensible. Say so.

Do the “culture of life” people feel it is moral to despoil the land and then make taxpayers clean it up? Team Bush is now allowing mining companies to dump toxic waste on public lands without liability. According to The Progress Report, “More toxic waste is produced by hard rock mining than any other industry in America.” Who pays for clean up? You and I–our tax dollars at work.

And finally, while Donald “I-know-no-shame” Rumsfeld called the Amnesty International report condemning conditions at Guantánamo “reprehensible,” what is truly reprehensible is that our tax dollars support the ongoing incarceration, humiliation and torture of detainees there. The usually spineless Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) has belatedly called for Gitmo to be shut down, but not on moral grounds. Yet millions of us are sickened and mortified that these practices are conducted in our name.

The religious right wants to talk moral values and taxes? Let’s bring it on. Every time Team Bush and their flock want to fund more wars, torture, economic inequality and environmental ruin–all of which terminate life–they should hear one phrase back right away: morally indefensible.

Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and an In These Times columnist. Her latest book is Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work is Done (2010).

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