Monthly Archives: November 2004

Fox Hypocrisy

We’ve written before about Fox network’s hypocrisy between its conservative, values-spouting news department and its entertainment. Well, at least some of the right have taken notice, too.

[Robert Knight, director of the conservative Culture and Family Institute in Washington] acknowledged … that some opponents of the … film [about sex research Alfred Kinsey] may be reluctant to try to punish its distributor, Fox Searchlight, owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

“Fox has a schizophrenic personality. Conservatives appreciate Fox news channel for bringing balance, but the Fox entertainment network, on the other hand, has clearly been the leader in driving TV into the sewer with its non-stop sexual emphasis,” he said.

Virginia News

Gov. Warner told a meeting of business executives and top legislators that “’We will have substantial transportation initiatives,’…saying his proposed spending will be for one-time programs emphasizing, for example, public-private partnerships and mass transit.”

Be aware that Warner provided the same good advice re the windfall for education last year, only to have some jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County I’m told, put the money into operations – in other words, recurring expenditures.

How much is available is in question, as the federal government continues to saddle states with added responsibilities.

The administration and the assembly’s own budget experts have emphasized that despite the expected record surplus, about two-thirds of the money must be used to pay for previous commitments and growing costs of programs.

One major drain is $210 million required to pay for increases in the Medicaid program for the poor.

…In Tennessee, Gov. Phil Bredesen last week said he plans to end TennCare, that state’s expanded Medicaid program, and return to traditional Medicaid to control soaring costs. That would leave 430,000 Tennesseans without health coverage and would cut benefits for 900,000 more.

“It’s a precursor of what’s going to happen in every state in the country,” Warner said. “Medicaid in Virginia has one of the leanest programs so we would be at the back end of this storm. In Virginia, Medicaid rates are only growing at only the high single-digits while in most other states it’s growing in the mid-teens.”

States aren’t likely to see the federal government increase its share of Medicaid support, Warner said.

One way of paying for transportation is an idea put forth by Republican Delegates Tom Rust and Dave Albo of Fairfax.

The initiative would have two components: Under Rust’s provision, the increased fee would be collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles after an annual review of all driving records. Under Albo’s part of the legislation, all serious traffic violations — including hit- and-run and reckless driving — could be hit with special civil assessments at the courthouse, thereby capturing out-of-state drivers.

Del. Rust was one of the 17 who backed the higher tax plan last session. Albo, on the other, didn’t.

The “abuser fee” also has political overtones, as some House Republicans who opposed last year’s tax and spending increases eye reelection in 2005.

“We need to be part of the solution,” Albo said. “Eighty percent of the calls I get are about transportation. “Retiming lights [to improve traffic flow] is not going to do it. We need to think outside the box.”

Now he wants to be part of the solution. Which made him what before?

Attention Deficits?
The Richmond Times-Dispatch, known for its conservative editorials, has a different slant on things today. Comparing politics to a river, i.e., always changing, it questions the GOP’s “collective judgement.”

The river metaphor applies to domestic policies, too. Once upon a time, Republicans believed with their minds and their hearts that budget deficits were dangerous both to the economy and to morality. Prominent conservatives claim today that “Reagan taught us deficits don’t matter.” If that is true, and it well may be, then the GOP was wrong on fiscal policy for almost the entire 20th Century. The development does not exactly encourage confidence in the party’s collective judgment. In recent years a party that blasted the Great Society has (with the Medicare prescription benefit and the No Child Left Behind Act) instituted the most sweeping expansion of the welfare state and the federal role in public education since – the Great Society.

Does the word hypocrisy come to mind?

Then we have former Governor Jim Gilmore, with free space in the Augusta Free Press, spouting his views.

“I support an appropriate level of taxation for an appropriate level of government spending,” … Gilmore said.

Gee, how many folks want an inappropriate level?

Absentee Voting: No Excuses

[Jean R. Jensen, secretary of the State Board of Elections]said she expects legislation will be introduced in the 2005 General Assembly to allow no-excuse absentee balloting as a way to ease Election Day delays. Similar attempts in the past have been defeated by conservative legislators fearful of absentee-ballot fraud.

Charter Schools
This time we’re talking about the original charter schools, not the ploy by leading Virginia universities to chart their own course.

A new study commissioned by the Department of Education, which compares the achievement of students in charter schools with those attending traditional public schools in five states, has concluded that the charter schools were less likely to meet state performance standards.

Overall, a balanced view of the charter schools issue. Do they work?

Virginia News

Well, after going through the stages of grief and finally accepting that we will have another four years of what will likely be a continued assault on civil liberties, an attack on the middle class (while paying lip service to its “values”) and more hypocrisy on Capitol Hill (re: the “DeLay Decision”), it’s time Commonwealth Commonsense re-focuses on the next year here in the Old Dominion. Only New Jersey will join Virginia next year in holding elections. Members of House of Delegates will face re-election with the top of the tickets headed by candidates for governor, lt. guv and attorney general. In between, we have the General Assembly session, which may shake out as an unexciting denouement for the Warner tenure.

Neither he nor legislators seem eager to address the transportation issue, the left behind step-sister of last year’s tax reform. So we may to rely on Dels. Dick Black or Bob Marshall to pull something out of their bizarre hats to entertain us.

Traffic Jam
Localities are holding their breath that the state government doesn’t pass the traffic buck by making them responsible for road maintenance. This Washington Post story doesn’t do a very good job of outlining the issue, but it has the obligatory sound bites.

“We have no control in the placement of those roads, and we have no control on anything but how they’re constructed — then all of a sudden, we inherit them whether we want them or not,” Senate Finance Chairman John H. Chichester (R-Stafford) said last week. Chichester, the Senate’s chief budget writer, will outline his own transportation initiative when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 12.

… “We must find more comprehensive solutions than this,” said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors. Referring to 1986, when Virginia last passed a gas tax increase for transportation, he said: “We cannot wait another 17 years to deal with these problems comprehensively.”

Former Governor Gerry Baliles thinks traffic will get worse before it gets better.

Why? Because of continuing population increases, rapid within Virginia’s urban corridor. There are 6.8 million cars and more coming. And that doesn’t include, as Baliles points out, the umpteen zillion cars and trucks moving through the state constantly.

Vehicle travel in Virginia over the past 12 years? Up by 29 percent.

Vehicle travel in Virginia over the next 15 years? According to estimates, up another 40 percent.

It’s a bleak picture that already costs, Baliles said, “an estimated $1.5 billion a year in delays and wasted fuel.” Vehicle repair costs, thanks to increased numbers of accidents, run more than a billion dollars annually.

At least, Baliles has some ideas.

“For far too long,” Baliles said, “there has been a disconnect between land use decisions and transportation funding and construction … too often the analysis is confined to a quite limited land area and not viewed for its contributing impact on the capacity of the regional transportation network.”

He’s quite right about that. Baliles also thinks it’s time to do something about it by considering a “transportation capacity plan” for proposed land use development.

It would impose an obligation on local governments, before they load up intersections with development (for the tax revenue it generates), to certify that the existing roads/intersections/ramps can handle the increased traffic.

Failing that, the local governments would have to explain where the money to improve the highway facilities would come from.

Baliles also pondered a different approach to the appreciated values of the land that surrounds intersections. “Perhaps the time has come for the commonwealth to consider some means by which those increased values above a certain percentage are captured and placed into a state and/or local transportation trust fund, the proceeds of which can be used to finance other needed transportation projects in the future.”

Of course, what help is that to areas like eastern Loudoun County where the homes are already there but adequate roads are not? The folks in western Loudoun want to keep their horse farms and seem willing to let the easterners choke on their own fumes.

PAC Men and Women
Meanwhile, a new PAC of moderates is on the prowl. They’re definitely looking for tax-supporting Republicans to protect and perhaps a few to challenge the flat-earthers.

The organization, announced last week, intends to groom and maintain General Assembly candidates and incumbents who favor “responsible” investment in education, public safety, health care and transportation. In the current climate, that means protecting incumbents who supported the $1.4 billion tax increase by the 2004 General Assembly.

It also means backing some challengers to lawmakers who didn’t. Take the “Virginia’s Least Wanted” poster distributed by anti-tax guru Grover Norquist and various compatible Virginia groups, and flip it. The 19 Republican delegates and 15 GOP senators that Norquist would most like to defeat are the same 34 legislators that Leadership for Virginia would most like to re-elect.

The big question is whether this group, owing to its GOP roots, will let the “never met a tax I didn’t want to kill” GOPers who make it through any primary challenges remain uncontested in the general election. Adding a third candidate, a la last year’s 32nd district race, doesn’t do anything more than dilute the Republican vote. May moderate Democrats approach? Not certain. I’ve had a chance to talk to several of the leaders of the new PAC this past summer. They’re being cagey so far. In the long run, incumbents become entrenched. It seems if there is a chance to reduce the flat-eartheres to flat-liners, Leadership for Virginia might want to take a chance on some Dems. Mark Warner hasn’t been a disappointment.

Southern Strategy
Speaking of the Gov, there was an interesting op-ed in The Washington Post Sunday, saying Warner is enjoying 60% popularity in Virginia because “winning over red America will take a lot more than going goose-hunting in a borrowed sportsman’s coat” a la John Kerry. (Ouch!) Warner has convinced many red-meat Republicans in the poorer areas of the state that he really cares for them and has policies to prove it. Is it a “winning Southern model”? Well, it won once. That’s more than the national Dems can say for the last four years.

Yes, Virginia, There is an Election in 2005
And there is hope for Dems in next year’s election. The Bush victory in the Commonwealth might be like past Republican presidential elections which didn’t hurt “Chuck Robb, Jerry Baliles, Doug Wilder and Mark Warner, each of whom was elected in a year following a lopsided vote in Virginia for the Republican presidential candidate.” Perhaps, as the Bert Lahr intoned in The Wizard of Oz, it’s all about “courage.”

Voters aren’t likely to examine the details of Kaine’s policy proposals. If he manages to project boldness and concern on key issues such as health care and transportation, he will at least get credit for leadership and for seeming to care. As the misguided Mark Earley gubernatorial campaign in 2001 proved, a Republican must do more than shout “liberal” when his opponent offers bold proposals.

Not Again
Meanwhile, the Va. GOP, apparently lacking an original idea, has decided to pin the “flip-flop” label on Kaine.

“Tim Kaine Flip-Flop Watch” in an attempt to bolster its claim that the presumptive Democratic Party gubernatorial frontrunner is wavering on the issue of whether or not he supports an increase in the state gasoline tax.

But the Va. GOP, lacking a Rove Svengali, is not convincing, at least to the Augusta Free Press.

The Friday [GOP press] release included quotes attributed to Kaine in recent newspaper stories – including one from The Augusta Free Press in which Kaine said it is his position that “that there are people saying that Virginia’s gas tax is the 41st in the nation, and that we ought to take a look at that as far as providing money for the transportation trust fund …”

The full quote offered by Kaine to the AFP for the story No flip-flops here paints a different picture of his stance on a gas-tax hike.

“My position is that there are people saying that Virginia’s gas tax is 41st in the nation, and that we ought to take a look at that as far as providing more money for the transportation trust fund, but until we do something to close the hole in the fund, I would not support raising that tax or doing anything to provide more money for that trust fund,” Kaine told the AFP for the story published on Friday morning.

A quote from another story referenced in the RPV news release – a piece under the headline “Virginia’s would-be governors expect no new funds for roads” that was published in The Virginian-Pilot on Nov. 18 – also reads differently in its entirety.

“Kaine, a Democrat,” according to the partial quote from the news release, “said he would consider a transportation tax increase …”

But according to the full sentence published in the article, “Kaine, a Democrat, said he would consider a transportation tax increase only if the state constitution is amended to ensure that funds earmarked for roads cannot be diverted to other projects,” the paper reported last week.

Money, Money, Money
We’ll be reading a lot in the coming weeks about what to do with the bulging purse of Virginia state government. GOPers are crying foul, saying they new all along we didn’t need a tax hike. The Dems, on the other hand, are saying it’s wise not spend it like a drunken sailor. Easy come, easy go. Which to Northern Virginians, which provides “10 percent of Virginia’s gross state product,” means easy come to us but then goes to Richmond.

The clear fiscal fact of life is that the Washington suburbs have led the bail-out of the recession-ridden state during the early years of Warner’s administration.

And ironically, it’s the federal government, and its record budget deficits, that is the chief driver of Northern Virginia’s economic engine and the state’s budget surplus.

Warning: Spending money that’s based on federal deficit spending is hazardous to your financial health. After all, the Bush administration, having bankrupted the nation, will now plead there is no money, at least for domestic spending. But will there even be enough for defense spending to keep the NOVA money machine cranking.

I’m looking for real estate in Colorado!

Driver Ed
A personal note. With three teenage drivers in the house, and two tickets and two accidents to their “credit,” this struck home.

“Driver’s education programs don’t lead to crash reduction,” said Allan Williams, chief scientist with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by the insurance industry and based in Arlington County. “The courses around here don’t teach you how to drive as much as how to pass the driving test.”

…What does improve safety, experts say, is experience — many hours of behind-the-wheel practice with a parent in the passenger seat, for example — and raising the minimum age for getting a driver’s permit or license.

…Sue Akey, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said parents need to look at themselves, too.

“This is an easy way to blame somebody, when they have to take responsibility for their children’s actions,” Akey said. “Parents have to step up to the plate. Even if [teenagers] had a year with a driving teacher, that’s nothing compared to the time they spend with the parents in the vehicle.”

Try to teach my kids how to drive? Somebody has forgotten a basic law of life: Teenagers know everything, including how to do things they have never done.

Iraq Censorship

As U.S. troops fight in Fallouja as part of our effort to promote freedom and democracy in Iraq, the hand-picked interim government is acting like the Soviet style Politburo. Note that the 60-day state of emergency may mean the elections will be held under martial law.

Iraq’s media regulator warned news organizations Thursday to stick to the government line on the U.S.-led offensive in Fallouja or face legal action.

Invoking a 60-day state of emergency declared by Iraq’s interim government ahead of the assault that began Monday, Iraq’s Media High Commission said media should distinguish between insurgents and ordinary residents of the Sunni Muslim city.

The commission, set up by the former U.S. governor of Iraq, was intended to be independent of the government and to encourage investment in the media and deter state meddling after decades of strict control under President Saddam Hussein.

The commission statement bore the letterhead of the Iraqi prime minister’s office.

It said all media organizations operating in Iraq should “differentiate between the innocent Fallouja residents who are not targeted by military operations and terrorist groups that infiltrated the city and held its people hostage under the pretext of resistance and jihad.”

It said news organizations should “guide correspondents in Fallouja … not to promote unrealistic positions or project nationalist tags on terrorist gangs of criminals and killers.”

It also asked media to “set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear.”

“We hope you comply … otherwise we regret we will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests,” the statement said. It did not elaborate.

The state of emergency, which covers all of Iraq except the Kurdish north, gives the prime minister extra powers to try to crush the insurgency before elections set for January.

The media commission has not previously issued a call for media to take a certain line, and it was not clear what provoked Thursday’s statement.

In August, satellite television channel Al Jazeera said it had been asked to close its Baghdad office for one month for backing “criminals and gangsters” by airing parts of videotapes from groups claiming to have seized or killed foreign hostages.

A month later it said the ban had been extended indefinitely.

Computer Error Changes Election Result

Now that we’ve had conservatives dismissing exit polling because it inaccurately portrayed the final results and claiming no credible evidence has emerged that computer problems may have impacted the presidential election, we have evidence to the contrary. OK, not exactly impacting the presidential election, but an optical scanning voting devise, not unlike those used in Florida that gave birth to some conspiracy theories, made a colossal mistake.

A hand recount declared a new winner.The erroneous tally was caused when the Fidlar Election Co. scanning system recorded straight-Democratic Party votes as votes for Libertarians in southeastern Indiana’s Franklin County.

The recount Thursday pushed Democrat Carroll Lanning from fifth to third in the three-seat commissioners race, while Republican Roy Hall fell to fifth.

Democrats had suspected a glitch after preliminary election results included a Libertarian congressional candidate winning 7.7 percent of the vote in Franklin County, more than four times better than he did across the entire district.

Fidlar workers said no programming problems were found in the Accuvote 2000 ES system, but said the Rock Island, Ill.-based company is going over its programming elsewhere in the state and in Wisconsin and Michigan, which, like Indiana, have straight-party voting.

And Kevin Drum has a post outlining the concern among some that the exit polls and the final tallies couldn’t have been that far apart.

Questions, questions.

Moral Values, Revisited

“Much too much has been made of the moral values answer.”
–Cliff Zukin, a veteran pollster and professor of public policy at Rutgers University

The Pew Research Center conducted a poll asking voters what the most important issues were in the election. What they found not only brings into question whether “moral values,” defined by the right as code words for abortion and gay marriage, were the defining issues, but offers some guidance for progressives who might want to frame their issue with a moral halo.

The Pew Research Center polled 1,209 voters who said they cast ballots in the 2004 presidential election. When those voters were given a list, “moral values” was the most popular choice at 27 percent, followed by Iraq at 22 percent and the economy at 21 percent.

But when they were asked an open-ended question about the top issue, Iraq and the economy moved past moral values. Iraq was picked by 27 percent, the economy by 14 percent and moral values tied with terrorism at 9 percent.

“Moral values was an element in the Bush formula, but probably not the driving one,” said Lee Miringoff, president of the National Council of Public Polls.

The Pew poll found that voters’ reasons for picking “moral values” varies. Just over four in 10 of those who picked “moral values” from the list mentioned social issues like gay marriage and abortion, but others talked about qualities like religion, helping the poor, and candidates’ honesty and strength of leadership.

“Helping the poor and candidates’ honesty and strength of leadership.” Bush doesn’t do number 1, clearly has trouble with telling the truth and defines strength of leadership as stubbornness and rigidity. Just maybe six in 10 of the “moral values” voter pulled the lever for Kerry.

Blue Values=Red Dollars

With all the trumpeting of red values after the election, I think Frank Rich’s upcoming column in the New York Times provides a prospective that Democrats need to keep in mind. The GOP may scream about “moral values” as the religious right interprets them to mean anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-pornography, but in reality, it is the general cultural coarseness, most often on display on your TV set, that has people upset. Yet, some of the worse purveyors of such coarseness are the big-time Red backers.

Those whose “moral values” are invested in cultural heroes like the accused loofah fetishist Bill O’Reilly and the self-gratifying drug consumer Rush Limbaugh are surely joking when they turn apoplectic over MTV. William Bennett’s name is now as synonymous with Las Vegas as silicone. The Democrats’ Ashton Kutcher is trumped by the Republicans’ Britney Spears. Excess and vulgarity, as always, enjoy a vast, bipartisan constituency, and in a democracy no political party will ever stamp them out.

If anyone is laughing all the way to the bank this election year, it must be the undisputed king of the red cultural elite, Rupert Murdoch. Fox News is a rising profit center within his News Corporation, and each red-state dollar that it makes can be plowed back into the rest of Fox’s very blue entertainment portfolio. The Murdoch cultural stable includes recent books like Jenna Jameson’s “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star” and the Vivid Girls’ “How to Have a XXX Sex Life,” which have both been synergistically, even joyously, promoted on Fox News by willing hosts like Rita Cosby and, needless to say, Mr. O’Reilly. There are “real fun parts and exciting parts,” said Ms. Cosby to Ms. Jameson on Fox News’s “Big Story Weekend,” an encounter broadcast on Saturday at 9 p.m., assuring its maximum exposure to unsupervised kids.

Almost unnoticed in the final weeks of the campaign was the record government indecency fine levied against another prime-time Fox television product, “Married by America.” The $1.2 million bill, a mere bagatelle to Murdoch stockholders, was more than twice the punishment inflicted on Viacom for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.” According to the F.C.C. complaint, one episode in this heterosexual marriage-promoting reality show included scenes in which “partygoers lick whipped cream from strippers’ bodies,” and two female strippers “playfully spank” a man on all fours in his underwear. “Married by America” is gone now, but Fox remains the go-to network for Paris Hilton (“The Simple Life”) and wife-swapping (“Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy”).

What the conservatives don’t realize, Rich writes, is that they’re getting taken for a ride.

It’s in the G.O.P.’s interest to pander to this far-right constituency – votes are votes – but you can be certain that a party joined at the hip to much of corporate America, Mr. Murdoch included, will take no action to curtail the blue culture these voters deplore. As Marshall Wittman, an independent-minded former associate of both Ralph Reed and John McCain, wrote before the election, “The only things the religious conservatives get are largely symbolic votes on proposals guaranteed to fail, such as the gay marriage constitutional amendment.” That amendment has never had a prayer of rounding up the two-thirds majority needed for passage and still doesn’t.

Mr. Wittman echoes Thomas Frank, the author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” by common consent the year’s most prescient political book. “Values,” Mr. Frank writes, “always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won.” Under this perennial “trick,” as he calls it, Republican politicians promise to stop abortion and force the culture industry “to clean up its act” – until the votes are counted. Then they return to their higher priorities, like cutting capital gains and estate taxes. Mr. Murdoch and his fellow cultural barons – from Sumner Redstone, the Bush-endorsing C.E.O. of Viacom, to Richard Parsons, the Republican C.E.O. of Time Warner, to Jeffrey Immelt, the Bush-contributing C.E.O. of G.E. (NBC Universal) – are about to be rewarded not just with more tax breaks but also with deregulatory goodies increasing their power to market salacious entertainment. It’s they, not Susan Sarandon and Bruce Springsteen, who actually set the cultural agenda Gary Bauer and company say they despise.

But they’re still getting the votes they need to win, until people like Cary and Tara Leslie wake up.

…values voters the Democrats must pander to are people like Cary and Tara Leslie, archetypal Ohio evangelical “Bush votes come to life” apotheosized by The Washington Post right after Election Day. The Leslies swear by “moral absolutes,” support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and mostly watch Fox News. Mr. Leslie has also watched his income drop from $55,000 to $35,000 since 2001, forcing himself, his wife and his three young children into the ranks of what he calls the “working poor.” Maybe by 2008 some Democrat will figure out how to persuade him that it might be a higher moral value to worry about the future of his own family than some gay family he hasn’t even met.

That’s the challenge for Democrats, but one that can be met if they’re willing to make moral judgments condemning the coarse culture that both Republicans and Democrats exploit for profit. The great triumph of the Republican Party is to not only get people to vote against their pocketbook interests but also offend their moral values and then fail to deliver on that moral agenda.

Abortion Today, Contraception Tomorrow

A woman goes into a pharmacy to get her prescription for birth control pills filled. The pharmacist says, “No, I won’t fill your prescription because I don’t believe in contraception.” Two states pass laws allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill such prescriptions. Ten other states consider the same type of bill. This is not a fairy tale.

Falwell vs. Liberals

Jerry Falwell plans to revive the Moral Majority, although this time, he’s calling it the Faith and Values Coalition.

The coalition’s political goals take shape in a three-pronged offensive that it believes will shape Bush’s second term and lead to the nomination of a conservative, pro-life presidential candidate in 2008.

Among the coalition’s stated objectives is the appointment of strict constructionist judges to the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts.

It also will push for a Federal Marriage Amendment, which will define marriage as the union of one man with one woman.

After writing yesterday about the need for progressive Christians to speak out, as have many others, there is hope, perhaps just a small first step, but hope.

Battling the notion that “values voters” swept President Bush to victory because of opposition to gay marriage and abortion, three liberal groups released a post-election poll in which 33 percent of voters said the nation’s most urgent moral problem was “greed and materialism” and 31 percent said it was “poverty and economic justice.” Sixteen percent cited abortion, and 12 percent named same-sex marriage.

But the religious leaders acknowledged that the Christian right had reached more voters than the Christian left. Some said it was time for “moderate and progressive” religious groups, as well as the Democratic Party, to rethink their positions.

“One of the things a few of us are talking about is a reassessment of how the Democrats deal with an issue like abortion — could there be a more moderate ground, where even if they retained their pro-choice stance, they talked about uniting pro-choice people together to actually do something about the abortion rate?” said Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal evangelical journal Sojourners.

If the Democratic Party were to “welcome pro-life Democrats, Catholics and evangelicals and have a serious conversation with them” about ways to reduce teenage pregnancy, facilitate adoptions and improve conditions for low-income women, it would “work wonders” among centrist evangelicals and Catholics, Wallis said.

I’ve heard that criticism from the right: That we progressives advocate abortion but not ways of preventing it. Remember Clinton’s objective to make it legal and safe but rare? Of course, the same charge can be made of conservatives, who advocate against abortion but offer no plausible alternative for those who can’t afford a child.

This isn’t a formal coalition or organization with a specific agenda like Falwell’s new group, but it’s a start.

…Christian leaders argued that many religious Americans do not fall neatly into liberal or conservative camps.

They contended that there is a vast religious middle, including “progressive evangelicals,” “resurgent mainline Protestants” and “socially conservative African Americans,” that could be attracted by biblically based “prophetic” appeals to make peace, fight poverty and spread social justice.

“The values that were promoted most within the conservative religious community were almost always tied to a fear factor, and that was not necessarily the case in the Democratic strategy, and I would say should not be the case,” said the Rev. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance.

The nationwide telephone poll of 10,689 voters was conducted by Zogby International for the Catholic peace group Pax Christi, the New York-based civic advocacy group Res Publica and the Washington-based Center for American Progress, a think tank allied with Democrats. It had a margin of error of plus or minus one percentage point.

The poll found that 42 percent of voters cited the war in Iraq as the “moral issue” that most influenced their choice of candidates, while 13 percent cited abortion and 9 percent same-sex marriage. Asked to name the greatest threat to marriage, 31 percent said “infidelity,” 25 percent cited “rising financial burdens” and 22 percent named same-sex marriage.

Tom Perriello, an organizer at Res Publica, said the poll shows that “while there may be a solid 20 percent who are very focused on abortion and gay marriage, for most Americans of faith, there are other moral issues of greater urgency, and that’s where the religious middle is.”

Throughout the presidential campaign, opinion polls showed that frequent churchgoers were far more likely to support Bush than his Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry. Exit polls on Election Day found that 22 percent of voters cited “moral values” as the key to their vote, and they tilted 4 to 1 toward Bush.

The answer to this “God gap,” Perriello said, “is that progressives need to embrace the deep moral critique that people are looking for and make that case on poverty and Iraq, and not just try to talk more about God or outpace the Republicans on gay marriage or abortion.”