Friday, December 01, 2006

NNN CommuNity ColumNist

by Kyle Michaelis
The New Nebraska Network's call for increased involvement from its readers elicited a huge response for which I'm both extremely grateful and excited. Hopefully, this will also result in a better website and a stronger community as we provide a platform for more progressive Nebraska voices and more diverse viewpoints.

Bravely stepping up to the plate as our first contributor since March 26, 2005, it's my pleasure to present:

Elisia Harvey on
Nebraska Values — The Elusive “NV Factor”

I realize that the election is almost a month behind us, and there comes a time when continuing the discussion of what went wrong/what went right becomes an exercise in futility. I don’t think we’ve reached that point quite yet, so I’d like to offer my analysis on one area that I feel hasn’t been fully addressed by Nebraska post-election pundits.

Much has been made of how the so-called “values voters” influenced the 2004 election, securing once again the House, Senate, and the Presidency for the Republican party. But this year, while the rest of the country rode the Democratic wave, Nebraska voted overwhelmingly Republican (incumbent Ben Nelson being the exception of course). Nebraska Democrats can point to the overwhelming number of Republican voters in the state, throw up their hands and say, “We just don’t have the numbers.” But I think there is more to it than that.

It’s an area that I’ll term the “NV factor.” NV standing for Nebraska Values. I’m sure all the candidates, regardless of party, used the phrase “Nebraska Values” at least once in their campaigns. Some of the candidates wielded NV like a sword. Funny how the candidates assumed the voters knew what they meant when they invoked NV; funnier still how the voters accepted the NV rhetoric as if they did know what the candidates were talking about. So what are Nebraska Values? Can someone please tell me what NV encompasses?

Values are what we hold dear—the things we consider to be important, good, and worthwhile. In that sense we are all “values voters” because we all vote for what is important, good, and worthwhile to us. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What you consider important may be of very little importance to me, and what I consider important may not even be on your radar screen when it comes to voting. And we both live in Nebraska. Which of us has true NV?

Of course, when we hear the term “values voters” we all assume it is referring to people of faith (Christian faith, to be more specific) who make issues of moral concern their top priority. When Nebraska politicians invoke NV, I think we all assume, on a certain level, that they are referring to conservative social values. Words like tradition, decency, hard work, faith, and family come to mind. The problem is that voters seem to assume that the Nebraska Republican party has a monopoly on NV. They may like the Democratic candidate, think he or she has good ideas, but they have to consider their NV and so must vote for the candidate they perceive shares their NV.

This phenomenon is not new, nor is it unique to Nebraska. A “values” debate has been raging in the American Christian world for quite some time and has only picked up steam as certain hot-button social/moral issues make it onto the ballot. On one side, you have groups such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council telling their supporters to “vote their values,” which generally means voting against abortion, embryonic stem cell research, gay marriage, and any candidate that supports those things. On the other side, you have people like Jim Wallis (author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It) and other “Red-Letter Christians” reminding voters that “voting their values” means a whole lot more than abortion and gay marriage—it means considering the other moral issues the Bible addresses over and over, such as poverty, peace, and social justice.

So how does this discussion play out in Nebraska? From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t. I’ve come across so many people that operate as if being a Christian means you vote Republican. Period. Others may not go that far, but they still vote Republican because of one or two issues—the elusive NV issues. Now, dear reader, you should know that I am a registered Republican, and I consider myself an evangelical Christian. And this year, I voted for more Democrats than I ever have in my life. I voted for them because they value what I value. I haven’t changed the things I value; rather, I’ve reconsidered the means of achieving the goals that are a natural extension of my values. People can value the same thing, the same ideal, and have very different ideas on how that value should be played out in public policy.

Nebraska Democratic candidates, I’m sure, realize that they face an uphill battle to convince the voters that they share their NV. But they partly bring it upon themselves. As Jim Wallis points out:,
“Republicans are more comfortable with the language of faith and values, but they often narrow it to one or two issues. Democrats are less comfortable with the language. They often seem like they want to keep faith and values in the private sphere, but where would we be if Martin Luther King, Jr. kept his faith to himself?”

Whether a Republican candidate’s faith-speak is genuine or just an effort to win votes really depends on the individual candidate. But Nebraskans hear this language and equate it, whether consciously or unconsciously, with their own personal NV. Now I’m not asking Nebraska Democratic candidates to tack on a façade of religiosity as a campaign strategy, but I am asking them to not be afraid of addressing the hot-button issues on a moral level, with clarity and sincerity. If you are a person of faith, don’t be afraid to draw upon that—not with rehearsed lines that you recite over and over but with conviction that comes from your heart. Show the voters how your NV match their NV. Show them how your ideas and your stances on the issues really are congruent with NV. Show them how your plans to implement NV in public policy may even be more in-step with the spirit of NV than the Republicans’.

As politicians realize the power of the “values voters,” I’m sure we’ll see more candidates, of both parties, using Biblical references and religious imagery to try and convince voters that they share their faith and their values. For some, it will be a sincere and honest effort. For others, it will be nothing but a sham to woo the voting public. It’s a delicate balance. It could result in an open and honest discussion of our values from both political parties, or it could result in both political parties using our values as political capital and a means of partisan gain. It might be a risky venture that many will not be willing to take, but I believe it’s time we Nebraskans broadened the discussion of our NV, for the benefit of our NV.

Elisia Harvey lives in Alda, NE. She can be contacted at


Anonymous eric said...

Jim Esch wasn't keeping any secrets about his faith.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

"Esch thinks he will appeal especially to Catholics, minorities, young voters and people who feel their voice hasn't been heard."

On his blog, he said

"I value life from the womb until natural death on all issues, before and after an individual has been born into the world."

i.e. it shapes his views not just on abortion and euthanasia, but also on Iraq, Darfur, poverty, minimum wage, social security, health insurance, etc.

This guy was radiating good Catholic social teaching, and as a Catholic Democrat, it made me very excited about his candidacy.

Anonymous JFinNE said...

Frankly, I start getting all nervous when folks start talking religion and politics in the same breath.

And, after much consideration about Scott Kleeb's loss, I have concluded maybe he was just too "McDreamy" for the third district, and that does say something about NVs.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

People can value the same thing, the same ideal, and have very different ideas on how that value should be played out in public policy.

As more Nebraskans wake to this simple message, there's a huge opportunity to recapture voters' imaginations and to break the destructive political stereotypes that have so lowered the standards of our discourse and the quality of our democracy.

Thanks so much to Elisia for her fantastic contribution to the site. All readers are invited to submit their own columns at

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ethics opportunity Kleeb missed out on was the one almost everyone agrees on "Thou shalt not kill" Yet while Ds won on Iraq, he strongly supported early and then flipped floped with his wishy washy, yea, invading Iraq as right, but the post-war planning was a missed opportunity.

He was also wishy washy on abortion. He should have attacked Adrian as an extremist. Look at South Dakota. Most people realize their needs to be exceptions.

Anonymous Elisia Harvey said...

Since I live in the 3rd district, I didn't follow Jim Esch's campaign very closely. I did read one of his blog entries on having a consistent ethic of life. It was very impressive. That's exactly the type of discourse we need more of in Nebraska.

Unfortunately, I fear the voters don't always hear what candidates like Jim Esch and Scott Kleeb are saying just because of the D behind their names. While making calls for Scott Kleeb's campaign, several people said to me, "He's a Democrat, so he can't be pro-life." One even said he couldn't be both a Catholic and a Democrat (which I'm sure you find humorous!). Voters just don't think these candidates share their NV. Not sure what needs to be done to convince them, but it sounds like Jim Esch made some great strides in that direction.

Your nervousness is understandable. The separation of church and state is generally a good thing--both for the state AND the church. Blurring the lines between them bears ugly results, as history will tell us.

That being said, we cannot ignore how people's faith affects their voting. Since the majority of Americans claim some sort of belief in God, the conversation of how religion and politics intersect will continue. The question is, do we want only one political party setting the terms of the debate? Or do we want differing voices and opinions speaking to the moral issues of our day?

Anonymous Elisia Harvey said...

Jim Wallis was the guest speaker on the Democrat's weekly radio address this week.

You can find the text and the audio of his address here.


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