Wash. Post advanced myth that social conservatives are only constituency who vote their values

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

In an article on an upcoming event sponsored in part by the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, The Washington Post called the conference a gathering of "[v]alues voters," and uncritically reported its claim that it is "the largest gathering of values voters from across the nation" -- joining other media outlets in advancing the myth that social conservatives are the only political constituency that votes their "values."

Reporting that an upcoming event called the "Washington Briefing," sponsored in part by the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, will "feature appearances by all eight major Republican presidential candidates," The Washington Post claimed, in an October 15 article -- "Values Voters to Meet GOP Candidates" -- that "[i]t's a Values Voters weekend in Washington" and uncritically reported the event's claim that it is "the largest gathering of values voters from across the nation." At the end of the article, after reporting that "[Focus on the Family founder and chairman James] Dobson also has a dim view of the candidacy of former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.)," the Post added: "Values voters can decide for themselves whether Thompson could be their Great Hope; the Washington Briefing also includes a straw poll."

By adopting the label "[v]alues voters" used by the sponsoring organizations, the Post joined other media outlets -- as documented by Media Matters for America -- in advancing the myth that social conservatives are the only political constituency that votes their "values." Conservative columnist George F. Will wrote in his May 18, 2006, Washington Post column, titled "Who Isn't A 'Values Voter'?" that the phrase "values voters" "is used proudly by social conservatives, and carelessly by the media to denote such conservatives." He added, "This phrase diminishes our understanding of politics. It also is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to ... well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots."

Similarly, on the October 7 edition of ABC's This Week, Will stated: "[T]here's a vanity in this group right now -- they call themselves 'values voters.' I have news for them: 100 percent of the American electorate are 'values voters'; they vote their values. And this kind of semantic imperialism that they have when they say, 'We vote values' -- everyone else votes what?' "

The New York Times' political blog The Caucus, in an entry written by reporter Michael Luo, reported that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the "Values Voter Debate," a Republican presidential straw poll, and uncritically quoted a debate committee member saying that "values voters have spoken" and that "values voters moved from the back of the bus to the driver's seat."

The October 15 Post article also reported that the event, which begins October 18, will conclude on Sunday, October 21, "with a morning worship service featuring FRC president Tony Perkins." But the article did not mention Perkins' reported ties to both the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) -- which the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as a "white nationalist" organization -- and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.

While Perkins and other high-profile conservatives are often treated as representative of those conservative voters whom the media characterize as more concerned than others with family values, Post staff writers Jonathan Weisman and Alan Cooperman, in a December 14, 2005, article, raised the question of what their "values" actually encompass, asking: "Why in recent years have conservative Christians asserted their influence on efforts to relieve Third World debt, AIDS in Africa, strife in Sudan and international sex trafficking -- but remained on the sidelines while liberal Christians protest domestic spending cuts?" The article quoted Perkins as saying: "There is a [biblical] mandate to take care of the poor. ... But it does not say government should do it. That's a shifting of responsibility." The article also reported that Perkins "said the government's role should be to encourage charitable giving, perhaps through tax cuts."

From the October 15 Post article:

It's a Values Voters weekend in Washington, beginning Thursday evening with a film screening of "Bella," the latest release from the executive producer of "The Passion of the Christ," and concluding Sunday with a morning worship service featuring Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

The event, billed as the Washington Briefing, will also feature appearances by all eight major Republican presidential candidates. Sponsored in part by Perkins's group and by Focus on the Family, evangelical leader James Dobson's organization, it claims to be "the largest gathering of values voters from across the nation."

[...]

Giuliani set off talk of a third-party candidate, but he is not the only one who faces the prospect of an unfriendly crowd. Dobson also has a dim view of the candidacy of former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.). "He has no passion, no zeal, and no apparent 'want to,' " Dobson wrote last month about the late entrant into the GOP race. "And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!"

Values voters can decide for themselves whether Thompson could be their Great Hope; the Washington Briefing also includes a straw poll.

From the September 18 Caucus post:

For all those wondering whether Mitt Romney can break through among Christian conservatives, add this data point: he was the only candidate who received zero votes in a straw poll after last night's Values Voters Debate, an event he and the other leading Republican contenders decided to skip.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was the runaway winner with 64 percent of the vote, raising anew the question of whether Christian conservative leaders and voters might be able to coalesce around him as a longshot candidate and propel him to the first tier in the Republican race.

[...]

The event was streamed live on ValuesVoterDebate.com and the ... American Family Association's Web site. It was also broadcast by a pair of Christian radio networks.

Janet Folger, a member of the debate's host committee and president of Faith 2 Action, a group that works to unite "pro-family" organizations, excoriated the candidates who skipped the event, especially Mr. Thompson and Mr. Romney who are angling for conservative votes, and said their non-participation would cost them.

"They have the mentality of, 'Look, we're going to get you guys anyway because you don't have anywhere to go,'" she said. "What literally happened last night is values voters moved from the back of the bus to the driver's seat. We're now going to see a united front."

She said that many Christian conservatives had been praying for a clear winner to emerge from the debate, which is what happened. As a result, she said, she will be casting her lot in now with Mr. Huckabee.

"The values voters have spoken," she said. "It's loud and clear. It's unmistakable."

From the October 7 edition on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

WILL: Social conservatives should grow up. I mean, we -- if they want to rally around somebody, why don't they try that? Huckabee needs support and money --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good idea.

WILL: -- now, and if the social conservatives are half as important as they think they are, they would rally around one of these people.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): So, either beat Rudy Giuliani in the primaries or make a deal with him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then, who are the --

WILL: And then decide whether -- what you care about. If you care about judges --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Right.

WILL: -- you're going to get satisfied by Giuliani, and then get in line and play politics. But, you know, there's a vanity in this group right now -- they call themselves "values voters." I have news for them: 100 percent of the American electorate are "values voters"; they vote their values. And this kind of semantic imperialism that they have when they say, "We vote values" -- everyone else votes what?

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