Politics & Policy

The Big Post-Election Debate

It's big, that is, for the Democrats.

An extremely important debate is going on within both parties that will have a great impact on our nation’s future political direction. The question is: Why did George Bush win and John Kerry lose?

There are many different ways this can be answered. Many will look the question in purely geographical terms. Why did Kerry lose states that Al Gore won? Others will look at it in organizational terms. Why was Bush better able to turn out his base?

Others will frame the question tactically. For example, was it a mistake for Kerry to bring up Mary Cheney’s sexual orientation during the last debate? Many will also say that it all boiled down to the candidates. Bush was just a better candidate than Kerry.

The answers to these questions will do a lot to determine who represents each party in the 2008 presidential election. If Democrats conclude that Kerry was just a bad candidate, but everything else was fine, then they will simply look for someone who has whatever Kerry is perceived not to have or lacks whatever baggage he is thought to carry.

The post-election debate will also determine congressional strategy. Because many Democrats believed the 2000 election was essentially stolen, and that Bush was therefore not a legitimate president, they felt justified in following a scorched-earth policy. They blocked his judicial nominations, threw roadblocks in front of many of his initiatives, and resisted cooperation even on measures they basically supported, such as Medicare drug coverage.

Right now, Democrats seem to be leaning toward the idea that Bush’s victory is based primarily on turning out religious nuts to vote for him. These people are viewed in certain Democratic quarters as the American Taliban. It is thought that if they gain political power, not only will abortion and gay marriage be banned, but so will dancing, rock and roll, and any movie with an “R” rating.

This is nothing but nonsense, but it is commonly believed in places like Hollywood and New York’s Upper West Side. Some liberals in America really believe that Bush is the Ayatollah and that it’s only a matter of time before all women are walking around in burkas. No wonder they fought Bush so strenuously.

The truth is that the issue of values, which motivated many of Bush’s supporters according to exit polls, has much less to do with religion than Democrats believe. Ironically, the real problem is that liberals have imposed their beliefs on America in exactly the way they imagine what conservatives want to do. In many cases, the real frustration isn’t even with the liberal goals, but with the way in which they would achieve those goals.

Consider the most divisive issue of all: abortion. Had the courts left it alone, the states would gradually have changed their laws, with some being very permissive and others maintaining tight restrictions. This would have eventually led to one of two outcomes. Either it would have stabilized America, as people would move to states that suited their moral or religious beliefs, or it would have pressured Congress to adopt something that probably would look much like the trimester system we have today.

But the democratic process was not allowed to operate. It was too time consuming, too messy, and too uncertain for those who wanted legalized abortion immediately. So the Supreme Court imposed it by fiat, thus leaving those against abortion or even just uncomfortable with it feeling disenfranchised, as if their views count for nothing.

Moreover, the lack of a legislative solution also means that there is no way to tinker with the system to fix obvious flaws, such as the problem of partial-birth abortion, without reopening the whole question of abortion for debate.

A similar situation has arisen over gay marriage. Liberals are too quick to assume that all opposition to it is based solely on hatred of gays, when in fact it is based more on a fear that the courts will impose it by judicial fiat without the consent of the people.

Consequently, there are growing numbers of voters who are secular in their beliefs, but find themselves within the values coalition. They oppose making abortion illegal, but also oppose Roe v. Wade. They have no problem with gay marriage, but are appalled that a single court in our most liberal state is effectively imposing a national policy allowing gay marriage. Such people are not prudes, but they don’t want their children viewing nudity or listening to profanity on the public airwaves.

If Democrats conclude that there is nothing to the values issue except religion, they will be very mistaken. Unfortunately, they may conclude that they will have to rely even more on the courts to impose their agenda in the future, thus making the fight over Supreme Court appointments even more bitter.

– Bruce Bartlett is senior fellow for the National Center for Policy Analysis. Write to him here.


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