It’s been nearly a month, and everyone else has dissected Election 2004. But since I called it on election eve, I’m going to take my own belated turn.
The exit polls suggest that President Bush was saved from defeat by a strong performance among Catholics (especially in Ohio, where 65% of weekly mass-goers voted for him), and high turnout among other social conservatives. Bush’s party netted five Senate seats, two or three House seats (pending Louisiana runoffs), and apparently one governorship (pending a tedious recount in Washington State that will last until Christmas).
After months of anti-Bush hype and hundreds of millions spent, there were no bright spots for Democrats to point to, no way to spin the defeat. A friend who works for one state’s Democratic party talks of abject voters calling in to sob to a sympathetic listener — or even to cry into a sympathetic voice mail system. We have all heard the stories of liberals entering therapy, and even one unfortunate suicide at Ground Zero. Even as I write this, there are discussion sites full of leftists who can’t give it up and accept the defeat: after all, isn’t there some chance that Kerry could still win Ohio with overvotes and pregnant chads?
So how did it all happen?
Despite attempts by commentators on both sides to deny and spin the numbers, the so-called “moral values” voter, from whom Bush took the plurality of his support, is for real. Terrorism certainly figured, but enough voters rejected Bush’s Iraq policy to make the issue almost a wash. Meanwhile, both statistical and anecdotal evidence exists for the importance of social conservatives in the election. In fact, the numbers indicate that this this election was not the “moral issue” voter’s first — it was only the first in which this group of issues, “moral” ones, were lumped together by pollsters.
A quick look back to 2000 shows that 63% of more-than-weekly churchgoers voted for Bush, 36% for Al Gore. Of those who never attend church or synagogue, 61% voted for Gore, 32% for Bush. Between these two extremes, the margin grows and shrinks along with frequency of church attendance. The 2004 exit polls show strikingly similar numbers.
In other words, whether and how often you go to church is one of the most accurate indicators of how you vote. The “moral issues” results for 2004 are part of a longstanding reality that few have noticed or pointed out. Pat Buchanan had it right in 1992: it is a Culture War, not a Class War, that defines today’s American political experience.
This squares not only with the numbers but also with our human experiences. How many Catholics, like my mother, nearly put bullets through their television screens when they heard John Kerry boast of his career as an altar boy for taxpayer-funded partial-birth abortion? How many of these people were going to support a Catholic candidate who backs the creation of human life for the purpose of destruction, through experimental human cloning, over a Protestant who echoes the Pope’s words about a “culture of life?”
How many evangelical protestants voted on the issue of liberal judges stealing away Americans’ right to self-rule — this time attempting to impose, without a vote, same-sex marriage and public acceptance of sodomy?
And forget the so-called “religious right”: how many regular old Joe-six pack voters, whether they actually heard it or not, understand the significance of Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee’s (D-Tex.) commendation of Houston for its 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show: “We are proud of the family-oriented entertainment that we offered.” This for the raunchiest such show ever (not even including Boob-gate), which came two years after U2 brought tears to so many of our eyes with their halftime performance, commemorating the dead of 9-11. How many mothers were genuinely upset when their ten-year-old boys, innocently watching the football game, were suddenly subjected to the freakish vulgarity of what passes for culture today in Hollywood?
For many voters, Democrats represent cultural decline, even if they do not specifically advocate it in public. At the very least, they repeatedly demonstrate that they don’t care about the culture, but in most cases they show hostility and derision toward those who do. They oppose curbs on abortions and vote to let federally funded health providers punish doctors who don’t want to perform them. They vote to demean the institution of marriage and promote “alternative” families. They work behind the scenes against decency standards on television. Many Americans, especially parents, feel like they are under siege, and wherever culture touches politics, they notice signs that Democrats are mostly to blame.
At the very least, liberals insult the intelligence of social conservatives, believing them to be uneducated and easily fooled by rhetoric. But the joke’s on them. What careful observer could be fooled by John Kerry’s insistence that he opposes same-sex marriage? Kerry consistently opposes any legislation or policy action that would prevent it. If that isn’t support, what is? In a revealing 2003 speech to the Human Rights Campaign, Kerry validated conservatives’ fears about the Democrats’ plan for marriage. After the obligatory statement that marriage is between a man and a woman, Kerry went on (emphasis added): “What I said was we need to achieve what we can, and then we will see where we are. It may well be that if we achieve civil unions . . . we may all of us progress — as we have progressed in the last 15 years — to a place where there is a different understanding of it.” That “it,” of course, is marriage — this is the boldest public statement I have seen of the Left’s incrementalist social agenda.
At a post-election meeting of the left-wing Campaign for America’s Future this month, it was clear that the activists and ideologues on the Left remain clueless about their morals problem. “Democrats are comfortable in churches,” insisted Robert Borosage, the group’s co-director. He suggested that the Left must “talk about their programs in moral terms . . . I think Democrats, if they’re wise, all of them are going to Bible school, and they’re going to relearn the language of values again.”
Problem is, there may be more to “values” than terminology.
So does this vote mean that America will head in a more “moral” direction? Certainly not. In fact, this story has no happy ending for anyone: the Democrats lost the election, and the social conservatives who won it will see their hopes dashed by the men they helped elect and re-elect.
The rise of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to chairman of the Judiciary Committee bodes ill for hopes of overturning Roe v. Wade. Supposedly conservative Republican senators secretly joined with Democrats to keep FCC regulations on indecent programming out of this year’s spending bill. In the waning days of the campaign, Bush even made his half-hearted support for “civil unions” known.
And this Friday, a well-respected conservative scientist will jeopardize everything pro-lifers have done so far to ban human cloning. Stanford scientist Bill Hurlbut will propose before the President’s Council on Bioethics a “new” procedure that would essentially create crippled human clones that will not form properly, but will produce embryonic stem cells. If that does not sound promising from an ethical point of view, it is even less so from a political one. The Left-Right coalition of environmentalists, feminists, and pro-lifers that has propelled a cloning ban overwhelmingly through the U.S. House for two consecutive Congresses could be shattered. Pro-lifers will be split. Environmentalists will reject the proposal as an unnatural manipulation of the human species. Feminists, who oppose the exploitative use of poorer women as egg-donors-for-hire, will take no comfort in Hurlbut’s process because like all cloning, it will require massive egg collection. And this comes after the elections handed anti-cloners a net gain of five senators.
In many ways, but especially when it comes to social issues, the adage will be confirmed by the 109th Congress: conservatives can always win elections but never influence policy.
David Freddoso, a native of Indiana, is a political reporter for Evans and Novak Inside Report.