On nearly every TV political chat-fest, journalists and Democrats are asking themselves with puzzled or plaintive expressions on their faces: “Values? What are these so-called ‘values’? And how do we get some?”
The convincing Bush victory last Tuesday was partly driven by moral issues. More voters (22 percent) said they cared about those issues than any other concern, including the economy (20 percent), terrorism (19 percent) and Iraq (15 percent). Those values-voters broke for Bush 80 percent to 18 percent, a wipeout that did much to secure his victory. So we are due another of those periodic moments when the chattering class discovers the strange continued existence of Christians and other exotic beings inhabiting locales not in New York, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C.
In a “values” discussion on CNN the other night, the Republican governor of Nebraska was queried and probed as if he were from another planet: “Bipedal, carbon-based life forms in Nebraska are sexually dimorphic and pair off in long-term commitments called–forgive me if I mispronounce this–’marriage’? Can you please describe, in as simple terms as possible, the concept of barbecue? Who is Brooks? And if I may follow up quickly, who is Dunn?”
It is extraordinary that liberals constantly forget about these voters, since their entire political strategy is based on them–getting around them, that is. The liberal reliance on the courts to effect social change is entirely driven by the fact that most of the country is not keen on social liberalism. Indeed, last Tuesday’s biggest loser was the Massachusetts supreme court. In its eagerness to slam gay marriage down the throats of Massachusetts–and, by extension, the rest of the country–it prompted a populist backlash that benefited President Bush.
All eleven state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage passed last week. All but two passed with more than 60 percent of the vote. In the crucial swing state of Ohio, support for the anti-gay-marriage amendment juiced up turnout in the GOP south and west of the state, and nudged swing voters in the Appalachian southeast Bush’s way. According to one estimate, one-fourth of Ohio voters identified themselves as born-again Christians, and they voted for Bush by a 3-1 margin.
Liberals will try to dodge the import of these results. Already there are complaints about the supposed stupidity of voters concentrating on moral issues when there are so many more urgent concerns. What about global warming? The minimum wage? But for many people, faith is an existential commitment. Expecting them to put their religious convictions aside in the voting booth–especially when they consider those convictions under assault by unelected judges–is simply to misunderstand faith’s power.
The election suggests Democrats should make some adjustments. First, nominate candidates who partake of the cultural sensibility of most voters. Ken Salazar, who won a Colorado Senate seat for the Democrats, is a bright spot for them this year. He has a rural background, wears cowboy hats and bolo ties, and has never been seen windsurfing. Second, be more moderate on the social issues. Abortion-on-demand in every possible circumstance shouldn’t be holy writ, and gay marriage will have to wait. Third, ground liberal positions in the deepest ethical imperatives of traditional religion. This is what Illinois senator-to-be Barack Obama did in his moving address at the Democratic Convention (and it has been a key to British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s political success).
Finally, it would be a mistake to draw a straight line between the votes of those people who say moral issues were important to them and the president’s positions on abortion and other hot buttons. They were probably swayed as well by his intangibles–his authenticity, his toughness, his instinctive patriotism, his disdain for elite affectation. Those are qualities that can’t be faked, and Democrats will never value them properly until they truly value–instead of misunderstand and disdain–fly-over-country moral-issues voters. The philosopher Jeremy Bentham once said the best way to convince people you like them…is to actually like them.
–Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.
(c) 2004 King Features Syndicate