With all the ink these days about "values" and so-called "values voters," it might be worthwhile to take a moment and consider what exactly these values are that we're talking about.
After all, as liberal and Democratic strategists try to refashion their message with an eye to recapturing Congress and the White House, they claim that conservatives have no monopoly on values. They too have "values."
And, of course, liberals do indeed have values.
However, we need to be clear about the difference between what conservatives and liberals mean by the term "values."
Moreover, understanding this distinction sheds light on why the profound social problems in inner-city black populations go beyond just being a black problem, but reflect a national moral crisis.
When I talk about values I am talking about right and wrong in an absolute sense. And I am talking about right and wrong that we know because we learn them from our Bible and tradition that have been handed down through the ages. This isn't information that a university professor discovered in research or the laboratory. We're taught it.
Needless to say, claims of absolutes make Americans nervous. I can hear the free spirits saying that Star wants to bring in the Taliban.
But, of course that's not the case at all. My claim is that we've lost perspective that behind the political freedom that we so dearly love, there will always be a sense of the values that we believe to be absolutely true that holds it all together. The issue remains: What are those values that we hold absolute, and where do they come from?
Conservatives, as I stated above, are clear about this. Traditional values we learn from the Bible. We can simply point to the Ten Commandments. And liberal values? The absolute here is that there are no absolutes. Everything is relative, and the only absolute is to welcome and tolerate everything.
If conservatives learn values from the Bible, where do liberals learn theirs?
I guess you can call it this: Make it up as you go along, do what you feel like, and get grants to fund university research to justify what you want to be true. Materialism. Relativism. Hedonism. Life as grass-roots activism. Anything you can muster enough votes for must be true.
Why does the values debate stir up black conservatives?
Consider two new studies published by the Urban Institute about black men that have received a lot of press attention.
"Black Males Left Behind" and "Reconnecting Disadvantaged Young Men" provide a new round of dismal statistics regarding inner-city black men. Fifty percent high-school dropout rates, with almost three-quarters of these dropouts in their 20s unemployed. Sixty percent of them had spent time in jail by the time they reached their 30s.
The behavior of these young men is defined by crime, drugs and promiscuity.
Unfortunately, these types of statistics about young black men are no longer news.
However, what I do find revealing is the common ground between how these men behave and how academics view them.
For the academics, the inner city is a laboratory. Do research on how condition A produces behavior B. And what can be done do create condition C to produce behavior D.
Except for allusions here and there to issues of building character, there is no hint that this human tragedy reflects a moral crisis.
It's not an accident that when the inner city became a laboratory for politics and university research in the '60s and '70s, the black family collapsed. Single-parent black households have almost quadrupled since then.
Today, inner-city black children grow up in broken families, go to public schools where traditional values are off-limits, and consume popular American culture that celebrates the relativism that has destroyed these communities.
In an article about the state of affairs of marriage in the black community, Joy Jones wrote recently in The Washington Post: "I was stunned to learn that a black child was more likely to grow up living with both parents during slavery days than he or she is today. ..."
Black conservatives understand that the social collapse in our own communities cannot be viewed in isolation. It reflects an American problem every bit as much as a black American problem.
Academics may do research to shed light on history and where we've been. But it is a huge mistake to think that they can produce guidelines for how to behave tomorrow.
Only traditional values can provide this direction, and the extent to which they are getting marginalized is a crisis for all Americans of all backgrounds.