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Barry Kelley, Edward Andrews and Burt Lancaster in “Elmer Gantry”

Enough with the phony pious ‘family values’

Post-Moore, the old GOP wedge issue flunks the ROFL test

Jeffrey Denny

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” — Groucho Marx


I grew up in a Republican household that supported Nixon.

The military I served long ago was a pretty conservative outfit.

I was a press secretary for a Republican congresswoman and later chief speechwriter for the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon, also a conservative outfit.

Today my primary client is a former Reagan White House and Republican National Committee official who led GOP Congressional campaigns and offices. I deeply respect his time- and experience-tested beliefs and political views.

My sister loves Trump and I love her.

I would’ve been fine with a President John Kasich or Jeb Bush. They were reasonable, respectable and experienced leaders of populous states with a balance of red and blue voters. They would have treated the office, the country and even critics with respect. They wouldn’t pull the old Elmer Gantry shtick, pandering to and fueling resentment and conning believers about draining the swamp while flooding it, or act like SNL’s Drunk Uncle.

Suffice to say, while I’m a registered Democrat and voted for Hillary, I’m no knee-jerk anti-Republican liberal.

And there’s one issue where I agree with a growing number of conservatives:

President Trump’s behavior and Republican party support for Alabama Senator candidate Roy Moore have erased any GOP claim on being the “family values” party.

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Defeated U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore riding on horse to vote

GOP support for Moore “has revealed a political party with no judgment, no standards and a cloudy future among the young and morally sentient,” writes syndicated columnist and evangelical Christian thought leader Michael Gerson, a former senior aide to President George W. Bush and eviscerating critic of President Trump.

And this from veteran conservative columnist George Will following Moore’s defeat:

“If the RNC, which accurately represents the president’s portion of the party, did not have situational ethics, it would have none.

“Moore has been useful as a scythe slicing through some tall stalks of pretentiousness: The self-described ‘values voters’ and ‘evangelicals’ of pious vanity who have embraced Trump and his Alabama echo have some repenting to do before trying to reclaim their role as arbiters of Republican, and American, righteousness.”

Even conservatives say the GOP has lost any last shred of moral standing to preen about values or judge others.

Not that any human has the right to judge anyone. Isn’t the Bible that’s thumped across Red America pretty clear about not judging lest ye be judged? The old speck in your eye and plank in mine?

Now cue the “whataboutism”:

What about Bill Clinton? What about Hillary’s enabling of Bill, trashing his accusers and cozying up to Weinstein’s money even as the mogul was assaulting women? What about Weiner, Conyers, Franken and all the Hollywood and media liberals joining the Sexual Harassment Hall of Shame? What about Democrats who preach feminism while abusing women?

Big difference: Democrats never bloviated about “family values.”

Democrats didn’t righteously wrap themselves in the faux cloak of “family values.” Democrats didn’t harp on “family values” to smear opponents, fool the foolable, divide the electorate and win office.

Family values were always the Republican thing. The GOP has been yammering about family values for decades, starting in the 1970s and ramping up the rhetoric in the 1990s.

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For the GOP, family values became a classic “wedge issue” — a poll-tested, focus-grouped bumper sticker dreamed up by political consultants in the old Washington swamp.

“Family values” was shorthand for people the GOP stood for: white, Christian, church-going, good and decent hard-working Americans who believe in individual freedom and with that, individual responsibility.

Republicans with family values were socially and fiscally conservative enterprising capitalists who contributed to, and thus rewarded by, the free, open and unregulated economy. If parents were immigrants, they assimilated beautifully — they didn’t cling to the old country, language, culture and customs or demand multicultural recognition and respect — they tried to fit in and become Americans.

Republicans with family values were middle/upper middle class or “successful” (rich), straight, married (man/woman) with wife at home raising cheerful, polite kids in a suburban neighborhood. Like the Truman Show, only even whiter.

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By implication, Democrats were anti-family values: Ethnic, poor and urban (nonwhite or Jewish), atheist or doubting, but in any case uncomfortable with Christmas.

Democrats were anti-capitalist or socialist, anti-establishment, anti-corporate, vegetarian or vegan, jeans-wearing, alternate lifestyle, anti-American but government-loving, tax-and-spending, welfare-cheating and blaming others for their plight instead of taking personal responsibility for their lives.

Squishy in morals and deviant in sexual identity (not straight), Democrats stood for gays, feminists and haters of all things normal, decent, respectable and patriotic, the party of broken families, hedonism and bad manners.

In elections, the old GOP “family values” wedge issue, like Santa, told voters who’s naughty and nice.

Now in 2017 comes Trump’s grabbing and bragging … Moore’s molesting … Alabama Governor Robert Bentley resigning from a sex scandal possibly involving a felony … pro-life Alabama U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy urging his mistress to have an abortion … self-styled “conservative, Reagan Republican” Arizona U.S. Rep. Trent Franks asking to impregnate female staff … Texas U.S Rep. Blake Farenthold sharing his “wet dreams” with female staff … and likely more shame stories to come.

With so much moral turpitude in the ranks, naturally the Republican Party is moving away from the old family values messaging. Right?

Not so much. See the GOP website at

Family Values: The family is the bedrock of our nation. When American families flourish, so too does our country. Our Party’s economic and social policies, including tax reform, education, health care, and the sanctity of life, should always promote and strengthen that most sacred bond.

Hard to swallow

Wise conservatives are beginning to concede the old GOP “family values” stance might be a little, um, squishy.

W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and an American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar, wrote in Politico,

Today, Roy Moore stands as Exhibit A in conservative hypocrisy when it comes to family values — saying one thing in public and doing another in private. Yesterday, it was others: Plenty of Republican leaders, from Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump to Joe Barton, have failed to practice the values conservatives preach.

But Wilcox also draws a bright distinction between the behavior of GOP elected leaders and the voters that support them.

Rhetorically asking, “are conservatives outside of the political class failing to live up to the family values associated with the right since the 1980s?” Wilcox answers no, challenging a recent book, Red Families v. Blue Families and a New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof citing it.

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The book asserts that Red States suffer more social pathologies — divorce, teen pregnancies — than Blue States. Wrong, Wilcox argues: When you look at red counties instead of red states, the results tip the other way.

“Setting aside the behavior of certain GOP politicians, the data show that Red America is hardly the land of broken families and libertine behavior depicted in the press,” Wilcox argues.

A new GOP principle?

If I understand Wilcox and the 48 percent of Alabamans who still voted for Moore despite his “libertine behavior,” then Michael Gerson, George Will and other conservative worrywarts about the soul of the GOP are wrong.

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“I know what I do isn’t… moral, per se…”

Rather than having no principles, the GOP may have what lead character Martin Blank described in the 1997 film Grosse Point Blank as principles with moral flexibility”.

To wit:

It’s ok to support politicians who violate family values as long as they vote for family values.

So yes, GOP politicians can urge their mistresses to get abortions as long as the politicians position with constituents as anti-abortion.

That seems wrong to me, but with an upside: As a Democrat who still supports the Clintons against all the ridiculous garbage still being thrown at them, the new GOP double standard helps.

Bill and Hillary don’t have to be perfect if they stand for policies I believe in. And maybe Conyers and Franken didn’t have to resign after all.

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Stop with the judging

My point here is not to judge the GOP, conservatives or Trump supporters.

Quite the opposite: Let’s stop declaring who’s more moral or immoral, whose values are better or horrible, or who’s a bigger hypocrite. Nobody has a corner on values or principles.

We do want our leaders to be decent people. We want them to set an example for our society and children, reflecting Lincoln’s better angels of our nature and our nation.

We also have the right — even the duty as citizens — to call out our elected leaders when they fail or disappoint. Yes, we can even criticize the President of the United States, as we have done all 45 Presidencies from Washington to Obama and now Trump.

Perhaps we can even hope for humility from our elected leaders, maybe — gasp! — an apology and a pledge to do better when, as humans do, they err. When instead they attack critics, play victim or divide people, that’s a clear expression of their values — a fat middle-finger salute to the values our parents, coaches, clergy and communities taught us and that hold us together.

In any event, the New Year is nigh, a time for resolutions. In 2018, let’s resolve to end the old “family values” nonsense. Values aren’t really about politics anyway; values are about how we respect and treat one another. We can learn a lot about that from 2017, and I hope we do.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.

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