No doubt we’re divided. The splits among different social groups based on ethnicity, education, guns, and religiosity was even more dramatic than predicted. And, sure. It was close. But not that close. Bush got a majority and more than 3 million more votes than Kerry. After a four year term that many on the left found unthinkably bad and after a solid year of terrible news, the President managed to extend his popularity. He got about 8 million more votes than he did in 2000 and four million more than Reagan during his landslide. And again, he did this in an incredibly divided country.
Let me point to a single moment in the campaign to try to explain one important element of the national divide, and to try to shed some light on why half of this country is not only in a state of depression, but utter disbelief.
A couple of weeks before the election, Ron Suskind wrote a much-read piece in the New York Times Magazine in which he described W’s faith-based presidency. For many of those in the blue states, the article read as a scary confirmation of the President’s refusal to allow reason or facts to deter him from carrying out his doubt-free version of god’s will. Many Dems (especially those with college educations and a healthy appetite for Sunday nights on HBO) thought to themselves, “There! Now people will finally understand how awful this guy really is!”
For the other half (well, slightly more than half) of Americans this article, if it registered at all, read like a multipage Bush campaign ad. Karl Rove couldn’t have said it better himself.
Forget terrorism and the Iraq war for a second. This election was largely about the cultural war (or maybe we should call it a cultureless war or a reality war). More than a fifth of all voters said that moral values was the most important issue in the campaign. Think about that number. Imagine how high it would have been if we were not currently in tough economic times and a couple of wars. Those moral values voters went for Bush in a landslide.
And the religification of the American electorate is not simple a red state, blue state trend. Voters in eleven states were confronted with the opportunity to proactively limit the rights of their fellow citizens by supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In eight of those states, the proposed amendments would also ban civil unions for same sex partners.
In every state, those amendments were passed by a large margin.
One half of this country woke up this morning worrying about the inevitable shift towards the right in this country which will first be felt as a slew of new, conservative federal judges are appointed. The other half is thrilled by the notion and would love to see Roy Moore back in his black robe, maybe in D.C.
Take a drive across this country. Monica Lewinsky (if you don’t think the “sex with that woman” still matters, you are totally missing the lesson of this election), the threat to guns, and gay marriage are what you’ll hear people talking about in coffee shops.
So where do the Dems stand on the issue of moral values? Well, neither Kerry nor Edwards supported gay marriage. Nearly every politician is fully supportive of the word god in the pledge. Few have spoken out about the shift of public money to religious groups. Which Democratic candidate even positioned things like free speech, minority rights and thousands of deaths in a pre-emptive war as moral issues? Only one side is really fighting these culture wars. When it comes to the morals debate, the pandering Dems are like the GOP-light. Why would any of the moralists choose diet god?
And what of the massive number of those voters who think that the version of morals being pedaled by the GOP and millions of evangelicals is way off the mark and ultimately bad for America? Well, at least through this election, they have no strong voice in American government. And until this election, I’m not sure they realized that they really needed one. They didn’t even know that this was that big of an issue.
Check the scoreboard. It is.