Did "moral values" cost the Democrats the election, and if so, what does the phrase "moral values" mean? A number of editorials today suggest that the mere inclusion of moral values in the exit polls was a red herring that liberals have chased while running right past the bloody wrench in the conservatory. I don't know. What do you think?
Slate: The Gay Marriage Myth
Paul Freedman says that morality issues didn't decide the election--terrorism issues did. You can't claim that putting an anti-gay marriage ban on the ballot drew out the moral values crowd when "a state's history of voting for Bush is more likely to lead to an anti-gay-marriage measure on that state's ballot than the other way around."
The NY Times: The Values-Vote Myth
David Brooks says the Democrats are making the same old intolerant mistake of dismissing all Republicans as ignorant Bible thumpers. "Much of the misinterpretation of this election derives from a poorly worded question in the exit polls. When asked about the issue that most influenced their vote, voters were given the option of saying "moral values." But that phrase can mean anything - or nothing. Who doesn't vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result."
The NY Times (again): On a Word and a Prayer
Steven Waldman says that many social conservatives chose "moral values" as their primary election rationale because to them the phrase means something broad regarding God's place in daily life and the rejection of moral relativism. While some evangelicals may have voted for Bush due to specific and extreme anti-gay and -abortion convictions, Bush himself has not committed to those agendas. Yet. "In the past, Mr. Bush has tried to appeal to the rank-and-file evangelicals through his broad thematic statements and personal story, while remaining noncommittal on some specific policies. Now that neither Mr. Bush nor the conservative activists have to worry about his re-election, the big question is whether he will continue with that approach - and, if he chooses to, whether conservative activists will let him get away with it."
The NY Times (again!): A Question of Values
Gary Langer, a director of polling for ABC News who voted against including moral values in the issues list on the poll, asserts that "moral values" is a loaded phrase that had no place on the exit poll and has produced distorted and misinformed conclusions. "The reporting accurately represents the exit poll data, but not reality. While morals and values are critical in informing political judgments, they represent personal characteristics far more than a discrete political issue. Conflating the two distorts the story of Tuesday's election."
There are other columns and essays out there spinning variations on this theme. So--is there a Great Divide or isn't there? I think all of the columns make good points in the relatively narrow context of this election, but I also think, and I wish I didn't, that there is a rising current of religious fundamentalism in this country that will tolerate no dissent. The Republicans control all three branches of government and have for four years, and yet they are still so angry. The Christian and evangelical right are crusading; they insist that they are under attack when, in fact, they are in power. What do they want if not to impose their will until all opposition ceases? When I had the radio on at work and heard George Bush say "I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals," I shivered. And that was before I watched the same press conference on television that night and saw the smirk he had on his face when he said it. There is an ebb and flow to history that we are unable to see because we can't stand back from it while we're in it, and we don't have 50 or 60 or 1,000 years to examine it while it's happening. I feel caught in a riptide. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong.