For years, Conservatives have held religious faith and their own sense of religiosity over the heads of liberals; calling it "holier than thou" would be an understatement. From the rise of the Moral Majority to the attempts at political advocacy run out of evangelical churches to the Christian Coalition, the conservative right grew over the past fifty years in part by appeals to religious fundamentalism. And with it came notions that no one knew religion, morality and decency better than they did.
Much of this legendary religious certainty came in the face of internal tensions, never fully reconciled: the most stridently antiabortion rhetoric defined as "pro-life" came from people just as likely to turn around and express a near bloodthirsty interest in the death penalty, and after 9/11, acceptance of even the most casual justifications for the use of life endangering methods of torture. We were treated to lectures on immorality and marital fidelity from folks eager to elect much married, often multiply divorced leaders with scandalous histories of adultery. The most stunning revelations of closeted men seeking men, often much younger men or even boys, for gay sex have come from a cadre of religious leaders closely associated with conservative causes, or members of the GOP in Congress.
And yet, in the face of this, conservatives have continued to wield their mighty sword of piety and religiosity at every turn, unencumbered by a sense of humility or certainly even a modicum of irony. To this day, the notion of liberals as shameless, godless hedonists, angry antireligious extremists bent on taking God out of schools and all aspects of modern life wherever possible, persists.The arguments around these issues are intense, extreme, and most certainly, endless.
If liberalism could be defined as "a belief system" - something I heard much of growing up - what's been in remarkable over the past 25 years is watching liberalism move away from articles of faith to expressions of defensible public policy. Sociology, urban planning, education theory, economics, healthcare and energy policy... the list of areas where research and analysis has reached into thinking about government policy and actions is wide and deep. Policies that liberals advocate - from early childhood education, to nutrition, to environmental concerns, to energy policy and more - are built not on feel good pronouncements but the actual evidence of studying what works and what doesn't. That such policies and ideas often help to achieve desirable, compassionate ends is often not just a goal, but an added benefit.
Indeed, what;s been fascinating in the push/pull of political debate over my lifetime is the way what used to be a debate over emotional vs. rational in terms of left vs. right in this country, has reversed. It is now the left, more often, approaching debates from the position of thoughtful, rational approaches to policy and political action, while the right retreats ever more into orthodoxy, and rigid expressions of belief unmoored from fact. Emotion - particularly anger and hatred (and distrust) - rule the day. It is often impossible to even have rational debate across our deep divide because what we often call "not agreeing to the same facts" is one side simply refusing to deal in facts at all. Feelings are what matter - be it fear, suspicion, anger, righteousness or anything else. And often, it's so impossible to take seriously, the right has a growing internal reliance on a host of writers and commentators whose careers are built, entirely, on an abject rejection of seriousness altogether.
In the roughly 36 hours since the Trump Administration's budget has been made public, one organization in particular has come to the forefront of the debate over its absurd priorities and bad choices: Meals on Wheels. Meals on Wheels is funded, in part, in many communities out of Community Development Block Grants, grants that are made to organizations providing services meant to help communities in need. As Seth Meyers said in his witty takedown, no one, really, opposes delivering food to old people. Because that's all there is to Meals on Wheels: a healthy meal delivered to senior citizens in need of care at home.
In zeroing out the funding for Community Development Block Grants, Trump's Director of OMB, Mick Mulvaney justified that choice saying there's no proof the grants made under the program go to programs with any proven results or demonstrated need. What, he was asked about Meals on Wheels. Mulvaney largely sidestepped describing Meals on Wheels directly as ineffective, but maintained his broader point - these things may sound good, but they don't really do much.
Since then, there's been a wide ranging debate online about Meals on Wheels as the "Christian Thing To Do." That debate, of course, isn't actually simple: there are a variety ways to look at, and define, Christianity. What's striking, to me, is that the debate in many ways simply misses the point: it doesn't matter if one thinks Meals on Wheels is Christian or decent or otherwise morally good. The main thing is, it does an important, useful service, and the effectiveness and need for that service is well documented, and easily proved.
Liberals, in some sense, need to get over the tired right wing boilerplate of religiosity and moral certainty - we are well past the point of the Religious Right owning, or earning, their spot as the moral high ground. The election of a twice divorced, serial adulterer as their champion speaks volumes to the myriad ways that so called "evangelical voters" (Usually self described, and often less overtly religious than the wider public) have simply given up on expressing moral decency in politics. The right has nothing more than a belief system at this point to justify their views, and, more often than not, that belief system is confused, deeply flawed, and morally inconsistent.
The left has done admirable work, in my lifetime, to move away from a cadre of True Believers more interested in orthodoxy than then effectiveness. The right, on the other hand, seems to have simply given up on fighting the regression further into extreme beliefs unmoored from the real world and how it actually operates. And it's well past time that liberals need to let go of the pointless exercise of engaging with conservatives on Who Is More Morally Decent. Not because we can win the argument - and endorsing food for old people, surely, puts us there - but because the argument really isn't the point. Governing sensibly, thoughtfully and appropriately isn't just The Christian Thing To Do. It's the intelligent defensible thing we've been right about all along.