I’ve taken a few days off, enjoying perfect weather in the Rockies and reading of the Democrats’ gnashing of teeth and the GOP’s moral superiority. There was an exchange in the comments section of an earlier post with one conservative’s claim that those of us on the left are condescending. And while there is an element of truth to that charge, it does surprise me that someone abhors condescension but applauds those who reflect deceit, arrogance and intolerance.
The discussion about "moral values" is this week’s easy story line written by journalists who are responding to conservative’s PR push that this election was all about morals — and that the only ones who have them are the Christians who seem to care only about homosexuality and abortion. Indeed, there are those that do:
Asked if their rivals on the left indeed held viable moral values, several conservatives replied with a qualified "yes," suggesting the liberals’ social concerns were valid but not as important as opposition to abortion or same-sex marriage.
"We believe in biblical principles; I’m sure they believe in biblical principles," said Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America. "But I don’t understand how they can defend abortion and homosexuality. That’s wrong."
The Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life said poverty was far less urgent a problem then abortion, which he considers genocide.
…Some put the issue even more starkly.
"There is no reconciliation between good and evil," wrote Mary Ann Kreitzer of Les Femmes, an organization of conservative Roman Catholic women. "Voters rejected the party of gay activists, radical feminists, the Hollywood elite, pornographers, death-peddlers, anti-Christian bigots and apostate Catholics."
These are the Christians who think they own the franchise. No wonder Tom Friedman wrote:
…[W]hat troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don’t just favor different policies than I do – they favor a whole different kind of America. We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.
…My problem with the Christian fundamentalists supporting Mr. Bush is not their spiritual energy or the fact that I am of a different faith. It is the way in which he and they have used that religious energy to promote divisions and intolerance at home and abroad. I respect that moral energy, but wish that Democrats could find a way to tap it for different ends.
I do, too. Because while I surely must sound intolerant of Christians to some, it’s only my own "inartfulness." Earlier I wrote "I can only judge by the conservatives I know. They are not bigoted, selfish or hypocritical, just misguided." Well, that’s not quite right. I’m placing bets that most Christians, including the ones I know, are also not misguided. It is those that cite their religion as the basis for supporting bad policies that are misguided.
But I wouldn’t want the conversation to focus on what Christianity means. Unfortunately, I don’t think politicians have that choice right now. They must address their religious beliefs, if only because not doing so is corrupted by Republicans as being anti-faith or anti-Christian.
Democrats must hear the voice of progressive Christians – those who see the disconnect between the religious right and social policy. I can’t see how aborting a fetus we don’t know has a soul is immoral but letting 25 million children who do live in poverty isn’t.
Anyone who isn’t a member of the antiabortion, anti-gay-rights, fundamentalist right is categorized — or caricatured — as someone who checked her values 100 yards from the polling booth.
Well, speaking for the designated "immoral minority," there are a whole lot of folks who believe that starting a preemptive war on false premises is a moral issue. There are a whole lot of people who believe that giving tax cuts to the rich and a deficit to the grandkids is a matter of values.
…The blue candidates will never convert people who believe that homosexuality is a sin, or that the fertilized egg is a human being, or that evolution is a scam taught by secular humanists. But among the not-so-red voters are those who believe in legal protection for gay couples, who value a child with diabetes over a frozen embryo in a fertility clinic. They regard poverty as a moral issue and tolerance as an American value. They don’t want their country racked by the fundamentalist religious wars we see across the world. And they need to hear the moral framework for these views.
Still, the challenge for Democrats is to find a moral voice without tearing down the walls between our secular government and widely divergent religious beliefs in this country. The moralists want not their morals but their religion to dominate.
…"[V]alues voters" who helped keep [Bush] in Washington believe that God needs to be more present in public life. The Ten Commandments in the courtroom, prayer in school, "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance – these are all critical issues to many religious conservatives. They believe that we’ve kicked out God from our lives.
In other words, many religious voters also love Mr. Bush for reasons broader, more vague – and in some ways far more powerful – than merely his positions on specific issues like gay marriages. The professional activists, by contrast, have a very concrete agenda in mind: constitutional amendments on gay marriage and abortion, allowing churches to become more politically active, allowing more prayer in school and more.
What do we teach our children if we tell them in church that God wants them to vote a certain way? Which prayer in school do we allow? Or do we spend the hour of class reciting prayers from every religion?
The danger is that if we allow religion a more prominent role in our government at what point does it become a theocracy that is intolerant of minorities? (I think that has happened elsewhere.)
Even thoughtful conservatives think "moral values" is a red herring caught by the press after an inarticulate poll cited it as a prevailing reason Bush won.
As Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center points out, there was no disproportionate surge in the evangelical vote this year. Evangelicals made up the same share of the electorate this year as they did in 2000. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who are pro-life. Sixteen percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who say they pray daily.
It’s true that Bush did get a few more evangelicals to vote Republican, but Kohut, whose final poll nailed the election result dead-on, reminds us that public opinion on gay issues over all has been moving leftward over the years. Majorities oppose gay marriage, but in the exit polls Tuesday, 25 percent of the voters supported gay marriage and 35 percent of voters supported civil unions. There is a big middle on gay rights issues, as there is on most social issues.
How do we attract that moral majority that is also tolerant, understanding and wishes religion to remain in its proper, private place?
First, we admit to one of the main contentions of many Americans: We have become a more coarse society. And some of Democrats’ best friends facilitate it. Entertainment executives excuse some of the crap they produce by invoking the first amendment. It’s such an patent lie. They produce it to make money, not a political point. They say they support Democrats because they want a more compassionate agenda at the same time they corrupt the morals of impressionable youth for a buck. I suspect that many Bush voters see gay marriage as less of an issue than the portrayal of sexual mores on TV. Much of TV fare is sexually sophomoric, but that’s lost on sophomores, much less younger kids. Someone – and it might has well be Democrats – needs to challenge Hollywood. I will defend Eminen’s right to stand atop a soap box in front of the White House to rap ad nauseum. But if someone is making a buck off of it, they are culpable.
(That said, the coarse language, not to mention war profiteering, of Dick Cheney is no impediment to his re-election. But that that is lost on right-wingers must remain a little hypocrisy that’s useless to rail against.)
There is a moral center Democrats can appeal to. They are the tolerant Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists; they’re those who can hold a personal abhorrence of abortion and gay marriage but recognize that the former is complicated by social policies and the latter is irrelevant to them. Gays aren’t going to change your daughter’s sexuality, but having been taught about the consequences of irresponsible sexuality and having options in life worth pursuing can mitigate the number of unwanted pregnancies. But making someone bear a child that cannot be cared for either by the individual or the government is immoral. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, reduce poverty and ignorance. If the righteous would focus their energy there, abortions would decline.
Still, Democrats wander aimlessly on the morals issue, afraid to offend. The progressively religious have no one to follow and no one who reflects their moral bearings. In fact, Democrats espouse moral bearings but do so tenuously. They’re afraid to preach both compassion and responsibility. What’s behind the GOP’s "personal responsibility" theme is an attack on the defenseless. Much of GOP’s agenda seems to reflect an attitude of take responsibility or die. If a welfare mother refuses to work or avoid pregnancy, the GOP is willing to sacrifice the children. That is immoral.
Twenty years from now, we’ll have gay marriages, or at least gay civil unions, with all the legal protections enjoyed by bi-racial couples. But will we have a progressive morality or intolerant and myopic demagoguery that exploits the latest bogeyman?
The answer may not determine our president. After all, Bush’s margin was thin. There are other issues that might turn elections. Democrats needn’t worry that their religion will determine if they win again. But the need for a discussion of morals is necessary, if only to help us agree "on what America is."
Update: Kevin Drum has a good post on the morals issue.
Pardon the lack of posts. Basically it’s because I had planned a long weekend in Colorado. Which is especially welcomed given Tuesday’s results. I’ll likely catch up Tuesday. Besides it’s a good time and place to think about the election’s consequences and its implications for Democrats. In short, I don’t think it’s all about moral values, at least not like the papers and the conservatives would like to think.
But more later.
From The Post’s Steve Coll:
The exit poll numbers we have paid for and been provided simply do not add up. They are internally inconsistent in important ways. They also are out of whack with voting results in ways that are difficult to explain. One thesis being explored today is shorthanded as the problem of “female skew.” This refers to the fact that women are more likely than men to agree to be interviewed about their votes outside of polling stations. In fact, in the exit polls we received yesterday, there were more women in the sample than we expected to see in the final turnout. But the analysts handling this data believed that this distortion would not change the general trend of the poll and had been weighed to some extent by the poll’s managers. We need to review questions such as this one in greater depth, although one’s confidence that it will ever be possible to conduct accurate exit polls in the heat of a campaign such as the one we just had has to be shaken.
2004 has proven to be a Republican year.
But trying to explain exactly how this happened will not be easy, because our best available tool for doing so, the exit polls taken this year by the Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, is broken. I’m not sure how this can be sorted out in the future, I assume we’ll have a good story about it in Thursday’s paper. Essentially, the problem is that the exit poll’s number don’t add up.
Here is one example of the problem. It’s a little complicated, so bear with me. The exit poll breaks down results by religion. It says that John Kerry did better than Al Gore did in 2000 among Protestants (43 percent for Kerry vs. 34 percent for Gore), Catholics (50 percent vs. 45), non-religious people (69 percent vs. 57) and those belonging to “other” religions (75 vs. 53). Only among Jews, a tiny fraction (three to four percent) of the electorate, did Bush do slightly better this time than last (22 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004, vs. 17 percent in 2000).
Since Protestants, Catholics, “other” and the non-religious constitute more than 96 percent of the population, these numbers suggest Kerry should have beaten Bush handily yesterday. But in fact, Bush won the popular vote by about 3.5 million votes, whereas Gore beat Bush in the popular vote by just .5 million last time. To say it another way, the exit poll claims that Kerry did a lot better than Bush with every major religious group in America, including the non-religious, yet he clearly lost the popular vote to Bush. Go figure.
I could cite a number of other such examples that I have found this morning by comparing the 2000 and 2004 exit polls. This makes me really nervous about some of the most interesting findings in the new exit poll—for example, the conclusion that “moral values” were more important to voters this year than terrorism, the war in Iraq or the state of the economy. Is that really plausible? I just don’t know. Similarly, I have to wonder about the finding that young people did not participate this time in substantially higher numbers than they did in 2000. The number of young voters did go up this year, the exit poll says, but only as much as the total number of voters went up, so their share of the electorate, about 17 percent, was the same this time as last.
I guess the cynic could ask, Is it the exit polls or the real polls that are broken?
It’s hard to look past the admitted bitterness I have against this president and his cronies who have proven that bald-faced lies and a denial of accountability are no impediments to gaining the backing of the majority of voters. Many Republicans can ignore such shortcomings and vote for the ideals of the current neo-conservative movement. And no matter what the other half of the country thinks, GOP voters frame the issues apart from neo-con tactics and from many of voters’ own religious philosophies to justify their vote. I believe many honestly think that their Christian philosophies of concern and compassion for the weak are not in conflict with this administration’s prejudice for the well-to-do. How so is a deep mystery to me. I can only judge by the conservatives I know. They are not bigoted, selfish or hypocritical, just misguided.
I’m confident that someone will explain to me why gay marriage, for example, portends the downfall of civilization. (Opposition to abortion I can at least understand.) I’m sure someone can explain how our long-term interests are served by laws making it easier to make money through exploitation and money manipulation rather than through work. I expect to be enlightened soon as to why the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots is good for our sons and daughters. I will no doubt soon learn why the killing of tens of thousands of innocents to avenge 3,000 deaths at the hands of what was three years ago a small band of terrorists is justified. And some foreign policy expert will enlighten me as to why the enmity of nearly one billion Muslims helps protect us.
During my brief travels abroad over the past four years, I found what many others have: The rest of the world hated Bush but not Americans. Now, expect anti-Americanism to increase. Before 9/11, we could say that we had no idea. But after the first reign of the GWB, the rest of the world can blame Bush squarely on us. It’s our vote that re-elected him, with eyes wide shut.
And what does the vote tell us?
First of all, turnout doesn’t necessarily help the Democrats or hurt the incumbent. Those rules are dead. Second, the youth vote still is largely missing in action. It increased, but still represents the same proportion as before. While exit polls showed the youth going for Kerry, I think further analysis will suggest, it’s still a philosophical 50-50 split. (Let’s face it, exit polls continue to lose credibility.) Dems can’t count on the youth in the next election.
“Moral values” is thought by some to be the trump card that won the election for Bush. I’m of two minds on this. If moral values won it for W, then either his Christian majority are hypocrites or the Dems just haven’t figured out how to sell their values. Again, abortion is the one exception. Though I’m pro-life, I think anti-abortionists have a credible moral case.
While I always thought Ronald Reagan’s greatest legacy to this country was that he made greed acceptable, I refuse to believe that is the foundation of the Bush vote. But I may be naïve. Still, I think the Dems haven’t figured out the philosophy of combining moral values and responsible government. Many think government doesn’t expedite, it impedes. It settles for bureaucracy instead of efficiency. The GOP has successfully painted government as apart from “us.” That there is blatant hypocrisy in the way the GOP uses government to advance its agenda is lost on voters. But the big question is: Do we really care about one another or is government manipulated solely to advance our individual agendas? Exit polls show (scroll down) almost a straight line correlation between higher incomes and GOP voters.
Would another Democratic candidate have won, or are Democratic values so out of step with a majority of Americans? No. After all, it was a 51-48% popular vote. But Dems still can’t articulate a clear policy, and Kerry was not particularly artful, to say the least. They are running scared. But in part that’s because they’ve neither developed the intellectual underpinnings for their values nor the strategic plan to implement them at all costs. I can’t think of another Democrat who would have been a clear winner.
Let’s face it, we lost ground last night. And about the worst thing we could do is look to the current Democratic leadership for guidance. In fact, I’m glad Tom Daschle lost. He’s the epitome of what’s wrong with Democratic party. No guts, no glory.
Don’t expect a healing over the next four years. The Supreme Court legacy of GWB is enough alone to keep wounds fresh for decades. The question is who can lead the re-birth of the Democratic party, or is it time to allow the old gal to die a graceful death and to start anew?
Update: A note of optimism from Kevin Drum.”
…[L]iberals need to continue building a long-term machine dedicated to changing popular opinion. And it’s hardly a herculean task: a switch of only 3 or 4 points in public opinion is a virtual landslide, and if we can pull it off it means that guys like George Bush can’t get elected anymore, even if they are the kind of people you’d like to have a beer with. It can be done.”
Our opponent has been a disaster. We outspent him. We thought we outhustled him. We lost ground.