Sunday, November 07, 2004

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.


Anonymous said...


you are absolutely right about the importance of "gay marriage" in the election. I am dismayed by how many republicans are running away from the issue, pretending it had nothing to do with anything. What, they can't face their liberal friends and colleagues, can't see their "diversity"-loving corporate benefactors in the eyes without some spiel about how the election was decided by "leadership" and "the War on Terror"?

But you know what, four years from they'll be out there again, pleading for our votes, once again waving the "God, guns, and gays" flag. What a bunch of hypocritical bleeping weenies.

Anonymous said...

By all accounts black americans are the most religious segment of the us population--and even more deeply offended by gay marriage than are white evangelicals. but blacks voted overwhelmingly for democrats.
White voting patterns have changed very little since the Kennedy-Johnson years the the birth of the republican southern strategy.
It's not respectible to admit (even to yourself) that you are voting against blacks, so we have the flavor of the month. It used to be vietnam, but when the democrats ran war heroes against draft dodgers the war heroes lost. My guess is that Bush and Cheney could have announced their engagement without changing the numbers all that much. (I'm exagerating, of course, but I think more people would have voted the same and switched reasons, than would have switched votes.)
The blue vs red stuff may be shorthand for some legitimate differences but I'm skeptical that these cultural differences actually motivate people to change their votes.
The sad fact is that the "two nations" are not blue and red but black and white.

Anonymous said...

Dan, What are the conditions for a mandate?

Dan Kennedy said...

What's a mandate? As Justice Stewart said of obscenity, I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. Seriously - I don't know. In many respects it's irrelevant, because Bush didn't even win the last election, but he governed as though he had a mandate, and for the most part the Democrats let him get away with it.

My gut tells me that if you win, say, 56-44, or 58-42, you've entered mandate territory. Lyndon Johnson certainly won a mandate in 1964. So did Richard Nixon in 1972, and he could have governed as though he had one if he hadn't got caught subverting the Constitution.

With a margin of 51-48, Bush could go a long way toward uniting the country if he'd govern from the center. He won't, and with a Republican Congress he probably doesn't have to. But he'll continue to preside over a badly divided country with about half the citizens hating his guts. It doesn't have to be that way, but I'm not sure that he cares.

Vincentine Vermeille said...

I have a gay marriage and I don't see any penises being "inserted" into any anuses around here.

Anonymous said...

I'm dimly recalling some early Clinton-era media discussion over whether the margin of his victory was large enough to claim a mandate. (As you can imagine, it was pretty hotly debated.) The impression I emerged with was that a mandate could reasonably be claimed if the victor emerged with a greater-than-10% margin in the popular vote. (The electoral vote usually magnifies fairly small popular vote margins.) In which case you'd need at least a 55-45 result.

Of course this is proving a rather slippery measure, as one can see from Bush's (and his syncophants') rushing to claim a mandate now as he did four years ago with rather slim justification. Anyone notice Cathy Young's piece in this morning's Boston Globe? At the end of her first paragraph (see ), which opens with an acknowledgement of the deep division between roughly equal halves of the electorate, she makes the remarkable claim that "[Bush] is the first presidential election winner since 1988 to get a majority of the popular vote. This time, there's no disputing his mandate."

In other words, Young would have us believe that a 50.1%/49.9% split would have been enough to give Bush a mandate for any policies he now announces for his next administration. This not only contradicts the generally understood definition of "mandate" (as best I can determine), but it also strains credulity to imagine that the slight majority that favored the comparatively moderate platform Bush tends to run on will universally cheer the far more polarized policies he seems to turn to immediately following his victory. If a mandate gives popular sanction to tyrrany of the majority, successfully claiming it here would seem to enable tyrrany of a small but aggressive minority. It remains to be seen whether Bush will, as some think, attempt to govern from the center during this next administration, but I am doubtful of this (as I am that Cathy Young would have credited Kerry with a mandate had the vote percentages been reversed).

I can't help thinking of this rushing to claim as much political territory as possible as a new (to me, anyway) facet of political warfare. It wouldn't be the first time the tactics of the right wing have given me that impression, and I don't doubt that they have a great deal of strategy backing it up. I am saddened to find myself writing this, but I do think it high time that American liberalism find its generals and arm itself appropriately. It would seem a matter of survival.

--Thomas Donaghey

Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking to those exit poll numbers, but I agree with David Brooks. You can spin those numbers to point the margin of victory in many directions, so why are we focusing on the "moral values" piece? Maybe because those heartland fundamentalists make a more interesting interview than the Bush voters I know (not me) who just plain didn't like Kerry very much. The polls asked about voters' "most important issue," but not if people chose based on issues or their gut. On "most important quality" for President, 17% wanted a strong leader and 17% wanted a clear stand on issues; both these groups went strongly for Bush. Bush had a 53% favorable rating among voters; Kerry's was 47%--why don't we conclude that the margin was *there*?

How exactly did homophobia and "moral values" lead to *these* numbers: 22% of those who believe abortion should always be illegal voted for Kerry, 22% of those who believe gays should be able to legally marry voted for Bush, 23% of gay voters chose Bush. People are much more complex than their categories.

If "moral values" has become a code word for a narrow anti-gay, anti-choice world, we Democrats have no one to blame but ourselves, and shame on us.

Anonymous said...

Why in this world would you consider Brooks "sophisticated?" This guy's a parrot.