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Back to the future: The values campaign

By MARSHA MERCER

Media General News Service

WASHINGTON – As congressional Republicans pushed this summer — again — for "values" legislation in Congress, I started wondering.

Just how long have Republicans been lording family values over Democrats, anyway?

In the bookstore, I picked up "Talking Right" by Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist and Democratic partisan who studies political language. Nunberg pinpoints the precise day Republicans turned "family values" into a political cudgel.

On Aug. 7, 1968, Nunberg writes, the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach that would nominate Richard M. Nixon for president heard a "round of inspirational songs from the preternaturally clean-cut ‘Up with People’ chorus – ‘Not a hippie among them,’ as the speaker who introduced them said."

Delegates to that ’68 convention then adopted a party platform that called for judges who "respect traditional family values and the sanctity of human life."

And so began the battle over values that rages to this day.

Thirty-eight years later, Republican congressional leaders warmed up for the 2006 midterm elections with an American Values Agenda that advocated: banning embryonic stem cell research and gay marriage and protecting the Pledge of Allegiance and the flag.

The GOP agenda was not a serious attempt to change society. Most of the items went nowhere, although Congress did give condo owners the right to fly Old Glory — no matter what their condo association or board says.

If this seems a matter unworthy of congressional attention, you may have forgotten this is an election year.

Democrats always seem surprised by GOP maneuvers. They complain about political posturing but have their own troubles when it comes to expressing their moral positions.

Last week, voters in the Democratic primary in Connecticut rejected Sen. Joseph Lieberman, perhaps the Democrat most closely identified with having values.

Six years ago, Lieberman’s religiosity – he’s an observant Jew — and his independent spirit made him an attractive running mate for Democratic presidential contender Al Gore. Lieberman had excoriated President Clinton on the Senate floor in September 1998, calling the Monica Lewinsky affair both immoral and disgraceful. (more…)