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Issue Date:  September 29, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

'Values' as another divisive jab

It appears that the fad term of the current political season is “values voter.”

I suppose political and journalistic shorthand is necessary in an ever faster-paced sound- bite world. But “values,” in this case a noun turned adjective has also, in this usage, been transformed into one more divisive jab in our already too-polarized politics. Values, which used to mean ideals or principles, has now taken on the load of a political program. It means, I think, someone who determines how she or he is going to vote on the basis of issues such as abortion and homosexuality.

Is the implication, then, that those who make voting decisions on more than those issues are without values?

It reminds me of how the term Christian over the last quarter-century in the United States has come to mean, in the popular imagination, a certain brand of belief that owes as much to stylized TV preachers and an accommodation to the wider culture as it does to the Beatitudes. It, too, has become a fighting term. I was actually once told, when in conversation it became clear that I might not support a candidate deemed sufficiently religious by my friend: “But I thought you voted Christian.”

Perhaps that would only happen in Kansas, where we still regularly have embarrassing debates about evolution. But I have a feeling we’re not alone.

~ ~ ~

It is difficult to remain too great a grump since the Midwest seasons are in transition. It was so hot here during stretches of July and August that tomatoes and peppers wouldn’t grow no matter how much they were watered. But the other day I was driving a long loop from north of Kansas City, Mo., into eastern Kansas. The oppressive, taffy-thick sunlight of August had thinned with the cooler air. The sky, and there is so much of it out here, was brilliant blue to the horizon; the roadside flashing by was a kind of pointillist blur of wild flowers. The atmosphere itself seemed charged with graciousness.

~ ~ ~

Much is said these days about freedom, spreading it, fighting for it, wresting it from the grip of terrorists. So much of the talk about it is directed elsewhere, to other countries, but history certainly demonstrates that it is a fragile entity, easily trampled in places where one might least expect such a thing to happen.

It is in that light that we decided to run the New America Media piece on the current spate of what some are calling reform bills dealing with the administration’s wiretapping programs. Freedom and secrecy don’t go well together. We’ve had plenty of examples of that in our own history. A new documentary, “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” reviewers say, paints a chilling picture of the degree to which the Nixon White House and the FBI in the early 1970s conducted surveillance of Beatle Lennon, an outspoken antiwar activist, and his friends and family. A threat to deport him achieved the administration aim of shutting down a planned combined concert tour and antiwar organizing effort.

According to the analysis, bills now under consideration would largely preserve warrantless wiretapping of Americans in a way in which no one would have oversight and there would be no public accountability ( see story). Some proposals would also transfer current suits against major phone companies to a secret court. The story also reveals that no one, not even the minority leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee, can make a firm statement on the number of Americans who have already been subjected to electronic surveillance. “He doesn’t know what the results of any program have been, he doesn’t know what errors have been committed,” the writers claim.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 29, 2006

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