Typically when you bring up the subject of values progressives flinch, as if they were about to be hit with the Bible. For those on the left the working assumption seems to be that discussing values is akin to proselytizing. As a result, many progressives talk a lot about rights, but not much about values.
Social conservatives speak passionately about traditional values because they are defending patriarchy. If we accept a progressive view of the family – male and female as equals – then we must question traditional forms of social organization that are rigidly patriarchal and hierarchical. This perspective challenges everything from the military establishment (a few white male leaders, bound by traditional values, who in their wisdom make the vital decisions about war and peace) to the typical corporation (another set of white male leaders bound by marketplace values) to the Catholic Church (with its all male leadership).
To ignore values is to cede a vital aspect of political discourse to conservatives. To build a new progressive movement, to clarify who we are and what we stand for, we need to talk about our core values. Progressives believe in family values, but our concept of the family is more inclusive. We share a belief in equality – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, class or sexual orientation. So, we can begin by asserting that in a two-parent family the mother and father are equals – that our vision of the family is non-patriarchal.
From the conservative perspective, the man is the breadwinner, the agent in the world and the defender of the home, while the woman cares for the home and family (and nowadays also works at least part time). Thus men are priests or ministers, corporation presidents, generals, and so forth. This traditional view inherently limits the role and power of women – relegates them to a secondary role in the family and in society.
Thus the pro-life-vs.-pro-choice debate is about power – who decides whether a woman should continue to carry the fetus within her womb. From the traditional values’ perspective, she doesn’t have that right, men do – her husband, father, minister, judge, etc. From the progressive perspective a woman has that choice because she is a fully empowered individual.
Because of the progressive failure to speak out about family values, conservatives deliberately identify us as supporting all non-traditional family constellations – no matter how bizarre. Thus we have been accused of supporting ’60s values and strange family arrangements such as free love communes and polygamous groups. Of course this is foolishness as most progressives are in couple-based families. Many of us are in families with only one parent, and some are in others where the couple consists of mixed ethnicity or same-sex partners. These are legitimate families, which we should honor and defend.
Conservatives extol the traditional view of the family because it is what they know. To move away from it is profoundly unsettling. More than giving up power, it requires them to restructure their view of themselves and the world.
But it also raises uncomfortable questions about the U.S. worldview and the wisdom of our role as the world police force. Because conservatives view everything through the lens of patriarchy, they see the world as inherently dangerous≠≠where it is a unique role of men to defend the home and the country. This requires guns in the home and a huge military in the country. The threat, as conservatives see it, is external.
Progressives must counter this view by clearly stating the real threat to the country is internal. Public safety is threatened when the social contract is abandoned for the sake of a military buildup, when the major congressional legislation is tax cuts for the rich and when our citizens arm themselves to the teeth. In light of this, the peace dividend is not only plausible, but essential to the formation of a just society and, indeed, to the continuation of democracy.