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Let's forge alliances with US liberals and progressives

Brandon Hamber

Published on Irish Times, 28 September 2005

Rite and Reason: Serious analysis of conservative politics developing world and tiger economies is desperately needed, writes Dr Brandon Hamber.

Millions of Americans feel that the moral world is crumbling around them. When asked shortly before the election last year what issues mattered most in choosing a president, a New York Times survey revealed that "moral values" ranked top with the economy and jobs, followed by terrorism and the Iraq war.

Tax, education and healthcare were not ranked so highly. In the eyes of many Americans, a strong, principled leader that can oppose abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage is needed. Just over half of voting Americans feel that George Bush is such a person. To the remainder, Bush as a moral icon is laughable given his warmongering overseas.

But democracy has spoken and Bush is now embedding the conservative revolution he began in his first term. This is typified by the nomination and subsequent appointment of Paul Wolfowitz, a staunch advocate for military action, as head of the World Bank.

It is easy to treat the conservative turn in US politics as the result of misguided support for Bush by foolish Bible-bashers.

But the problem is more complex. It is time to face the fact that the right-wing in the US is organised. The Republicans moved door-to-door securing their position utilising 1.2 million volunteers to win votes. They sold "faith, family and flag" and most voters bought it. This suggests many fear a global moral vacuum that they think the Republicans can fill.

Such views litter internet chat rooms. As one Bush supporter put it, "I'm sorry but I don't lose sleep over Iraq. What I do lose sleep over is my children's future in the immoral cesspit that this country is becoming".

We all want a safe and decent world that embodies good values. This is why Bush has the support of some moderates as well as his traditional neo-conservatives and Christian fundamentalists. Their votes have endorsed, whether knowingly or not, an approach whereby the language of moral values will continue to be used to hide a value-free political and economic agenda.

The politics of morality is the new global battleground. The results can be disastrous. Estimates put the death toll in Iraq at between 20,000 and 100,000 civilians. They were killed in the name of freedom, democracy and to allegedly make the world a safer place.

But who has really benefited from this "moral" campaign?

Mostly those who sell weapons, reconstruction contractors and private security firms, many close to the Bush regime. Defence contracts worth $76 billion have been connected to nine out of 30 members of the US defence policy group.

The developing world, too, cannot ignore this situation. The influence of the Bush administration is going to be increasingly felt in the coming years. Negotiating investment may soon not only be about crude economic negotiations. Is it possible that, for example, South African constitutional approaches to issues such as gay marriage could be on the table in future trade talks?

The language of morality may find resonance in conservative parts of Africa and Ireland alike. Think of the views of some churches on homosexuality. Will these confluences of interest be used to open more doors for Republican-aligned companies that give little back to local economies?

A serious analysis of the politics of morality and conservatism, and its implications for the developing world and tiger economies such as Ireland, is desperately needed.

It is time for new alliances with liberals and progressives in the US, many of whom feel besieged in their own country right now. After all, there are only about 1,000 days to the next US election.

Dr Brandon Hamber, a South African living in Belfast, is a consultant on conflict resolution and political transition-related issues.

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