TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES. Sophisticated conservatives such as David Brooks don't want to believe that the margin of victory for George W. Bush came from homophobic evangelicals and fundamentalists who feared John Kerry's first official act as president would be to officiate at a mass gay wedding in Provincetown. (Never mind that Kerry opposes gay marriage.) "This theory certainly flatters liberals, and it is certainly wrong," Brooks wrote in Saturday's New York Times.
Brooks claimed those exit polls showing "moral values" was the leading issue for 22 percent of voters - beating all other issues, including the war in Iraq and the economy - were based on a flawed question. "[T]hat phrase can mean anything - or nothing. Who doesn't vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result," Brooks lectured. "The reality is that this was a broad victory for the president."
The reality is that this was a three-point win for the president, 51 percent to 48 percent. Yes, he's everyone's president, including mine (so don't accuse me of saying otherwise, you e-mailing wingnuts out there), but his victory was neither broad nor a mandate.
But back to the matter at hand. Was the "moral values" question really flawed? Perhaps. As Brooks notes, no less an authority than Andrew Kohut says it is. Still, I think it's pretty clear that we liberals have not been misinterpreting it. (Here is the exit poll that Brooks and others are talking about.)
For instance, if everyone votes on "moral values," as Brooks asserts, why did those choosing it as their number-one issue vote for Bush over Kerry by a margin of 80 percent to 18 percent? Now, I happen to believe that waging an unjust war, despoiling the environment, and pursuing tax policies that widen the gap between rich and poor are all immoral acts. But if I had been exit-polled, I wouldn't have chosen "moral values" as my chief concern, because I recognize the phrase for what it is: code words that translate to opposition to gay and lesbian civil rights, opposition to reproductive choice, and the like. We all know the drill.
Don't believe me? Here's another finding from the exit poll: 23 percent of those surveyed described themselves as white evangelical or born-again Christians. And they supported Bush by a margin of 73 percent to 21 percent. Note that this is almost identical to the "moral values" numbers. The reason it may not match up exactly is that, unlike the "moral values" question, it excludes culturally conservative Catholics.
Here's an e-mail I received earlier today that sheds some further light on the subject:
I applaud your general acknowledgement that it was, in the final analysis, a "God thing" that served as the deciding pro-Bush catalyst this past glorious Tuesday, but you yet seem to be perhaps vexed by it all. As a father of three young boys, perhaps I can put it in concrete terms that will give you at least a visceral sense of what was at work for me and, I am sure, for many of the millions who pulled the lever on Tuesday for the President.
Take homosexual "marriage." Because the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court has mischievously seen it fit to effectively codify the insertion by men of their penises into one another's anuses, that very "norm" will undoubtedly be disseminated in the public schools, and in some corners it already is in fact being preached. Such an ethos deeply insults the Catholicism that I am handing on to my children (not to mention the traditional mores of virtually every other faith system the world over), so I don't want them exposed to it through governmental channels; nor do I want to subsidize it. I'll spare you the additional examples of abortion (or your Orwellian term, "reproductive rights") and the creation of human life to destroy it. The bottom line is that Bush and his policies are sympathetic to my Judeo-Christian parental plight, while Kerry and his would be sympathetic to your neo-pagan ideals.
"It's the economy, stupid" is so yesterday. Us ignoramuses expressed a different priority last Tuesday, Mr. Kennedy; deal with it.
Does it get any clearer than this? Despite my basically secular outlook, I am, in fact, a regular church-goer. The denomination to which my family and I belong supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights. It goes without saying that we would never seek to force anyone to marry someone of the same gender, or to undergo an abortion. Yet my correspondent - and millions like him - has absolutely no problem with imposing his religious views on us.
In today's Boston Globe, Scott Greenberger reports how the religious right mobilized in Ohio around an anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative, an effort that very likely led to Kerry's defeat there. Elsewhere in the Globe, columnist Tom Oliphant notes that eight of the 11 state ballot questions on gay marriage - including Ohio's - actually ban other sorts of legal rights for gay and lesbian couples as well, including civil unions. Thus would the evangelicals go even further than the president is prepared to go in demonizing gays. Having helped to unleash this hatred upon the land, Bush now is responsible for trying to contain it.
As for David Brooks - who, almost one year ago, came out in favor of gay marriage - well, these are his new friends. He can spin it any way he likes. But the fact is that homophobia played a crucial role in Bush's election.