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Two parties in the moral wilderness

Instead of competition between two robust moral visions, we’re left with a contest between hypocrisy and resignation, said James A. Morone in The Washington Post.

James A. MoroneThe Washington Post

These are hard times for moralizers, said James A. Morone. The downfall last week of Indiana Rep. Mark Souder followed a “familiar script”—so familiar it no longer surprises, or appalls, anyone. Souder, a family-values conservative, resigned after acknowledging an extramarital affair with an aide, thus joining “a long roster of lapsed Republican moralists.” But the latest scandal hardly made a stir; though it remains “lashed to its Puritan mast,’’ the religious Right has been humbled by its leaders’ sins, and even Democrats could barely rouse themselves to their usual glee.

Liberals, too, have lost faith in their own moral vision—the Social Gospel, which directed “moral rage at poverty, hunger, racism, segregation, sexism, or other forms of injustice.” The Social Gospel—once championed by Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Johnson—has become unpopular, amid a backlash by a struggling middle class, and no Democrat dare speak of the poor. So instead of competition between two robust moral visions, we’re left with a contest between hypocrisy and resignation: “Conservatives find it hard to live up to their moral code; liberals find it hard to locate theirs.”

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