We live in a strange political moment, one in which conservatives talk freely—and instinctively—of their causes in moral terms, whether it’s a matter of life or death, or a matter simply of death taxes. To regulate the practices of business or to cede a woman’s control over pregnancy; to erect walls between church and state or to raise taxes on capital gains. All of these things, in the conservative mind, are evil. And they are not afraid to say so. Liberals are not so quick to invoke morality. We call up statistics and, if we’re feeling indignant, we’ll take a stand on integrity and honesty. But we seem strangely uncomfortable making naked appeals to the public’s sense of right and wrong—whether out of a confidence that our policy analysis will prevail or a fear that the public will not see things the way we do.
Come on. We all love the illusion that we’re the ones who use reason and evidence, we’re the side pursuing rational policy. The truth is that there are those on both sides of the aisle who approach these questions from the perspective of “morality.” I’ve often heard liberal friends make appeals on abortion or poverty made on these grounds.
Secondly, though, what would a public policy prescription look like made without an appeal to morality? At some base level, every thinking person supports a law if it makes things “more just.” That definition, that appeal to justice is always rooted in our moral sense.
Some may be more transparent in that appeal than others, but it’s essential to politics.