Political activist Callahan (The Cheating Culture, 2004, etc.) urges progressives to recast their agenda in moral terms, the better to attract a theologically traditionalist electorate.
Attacking capitalism through ethics rather than economics is not a particularly new tactic, though the author gives it some extra bite here by frequently referring to businesses as criminal enterprises: tax traitors that reincorporate offshore while laying off their workers at home and price-gouging their customers. The proposal to move beyond Right and Left is also familiar, and Callahan is not likely to win it new adherents with his suggestion of using the terms “Cares” and “Care-Nots” to describe the true divide in America. He does break new ground, however, by attributing the electoral successes of the Right to an accurate perception by the general public of real moral crises. The Left is foolish to dismiss this perception, he contends, because it can be reformulated in ways that advance progressive goals. Thus, revulsion over the spread of pornography could easily underpin popular demand for re-regulating the media. (Callahan argues that progressives must break their link with Hollywood and its well-funded lobbying for free markets.) Opposition to abortion could be channeled into demands that schools provide comprehensive sex education and birth control on the European model. Indeed, if people could be persuaded that the market undermines marriage, that could be the wedge for a whole new class of workplace entitlements. Toward these ends, some key themes of religious conservatives could be co-opted. The emphasis on personal responsibility that did so much in the 1990s to undermine America’s allegedly successful welfare system could be transformed into a demand for greater personal economic security. Furthermore, he argues, all this could be done without giving in to religious traditionalists on matters of principle, such as keeping Roe v. Wade inviolable and allowing no greater role for religion in public life.
Callahan is onto something, notably the insight that patriotism and libertarianism may be incompatible. However, he too obviously tries to market Old Left wine in new evangelical bottles to be persuasive.