Engaging, And Holding Accountable, Those 'Moral Values' Voters
There will be many studies in the coming weeks and months about the flood of voters who were led from the pews to the polls by their pastors and the White House to vote for George W. Bush over John Kerry because of “moral values.” We will also see analyses and op-ed pieces that discuss to what degree the Democratic Party should embrace faith, religion, and the concerns of these moral values voters in its ideology in the coming elections in order to stay a viable opposition party.
As Josh Marshall argues, what the White House has done is turned our government into a parliamentary state, where the party in power controls all the organs of government through tight discipline and a major media machine, and all the Democrats are left with is to form an opposition party led for a while by a capable DNC leader, and in my mind, an opposition Cabinet that can articulate policy alternatives to what will be ordered from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the weeks ahead.
But aside from the governmental mechanics that currently favor Bush and how the Democrats should respond to this landscape, I think it is critical for Democrats to come to understand the typical “moral values” voter(s) that came from the pews to the polls to bury John Kerry by over 3 million voters. I say this because Democrats need to understand their alleged problem before they decide how to deal with it.
One great way to understand the mindset and “values” of these voters is to read the excellent piece in today’s Washington Post by David Finkel entitled in a Stepfordlike way “It’s a Victory For People Like Us.” Finkel does a profile on a couple from Ohio, Cary and Tara Leslie, who have three small children and probably more on the way. Cary has already suffered economic hardship during Bush’s first term, to the point that he now has a second job delivering pizzas on the weekend while his wife stays at home full time taking care of the kids and home schooling the oldest one, a five year old. They don’t hold Bush responsible for anything, and believe that they are responsible for themselves, not the government. They believe in a life of moral absolutes, and think that it is enough to know that Bush prays every day. And of course they get their news from Fox and talk radio.
They feel a kinship with Bush, even though George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have about as much in common with the Leslies as Ozzy Osbourne does with the Pope. Yet nothing that is going on in the world really matters to the Leslies as long as they are led by people they think are like them in faith. The war in Iraq and the resulting deaths of thousands of innocents don’t matter. The declining quality of jobs and the growing gap between rich and poor doesn’t matter. The Enron and Halliburton climate of corporate interest and greed condoned by this White House doesn’t matter. The rising cost and unavailability of affordable health care doesn’t matter. The complexity of the nation’s and the world’s problems doesn’t matter. All that matters to the Leslies is that Bush prays and is a moral absolutist.
Now there is no reason for any Democrat to look down their nose at people of such faith and conviction. But it is people like the Leslies that are now responsible for reinstalling this regime for another four years. By skillfully building the modern GOP on a base of voters who believe everything comes from God, to whom all that matters is that we have leadership that can be sold and packaged like moral absolutists doing God’s work, Karl Rove has created an entire cult of people who expect little from government except the appearance of morality. Appeals to these fine folks based on holding Bush accountable for incompetence, lies, a poor job record, a lack of affordable health care, poor school funding, and the like will fall on deaf ears.
Why? Because these folks won’t hear anything critical about the GOP unless they have reason to believe that there is a disconnect between Bush’s proclaimed piety and righteousness and his behavior. They won’t believe any of this until they see that the alternative isn’t a threat to their moral values either. As long as the choice is between the man of God sold and packaged by Fox News and Karl Rove, and the flip-flopper who wants to move a married gay couple in next door to your house, one of whom is an abortion-performing doctor and the other a public school teacher, nothing the Democrats try and do to reach these people will work.
Which begs the question of whether the Democrats should try and reach these people or simply write them off and conclude that such folks will have to come around on their own. Quite simply, when the 2006 election comes around, and the GOP plays the moral values card in the various Senate and House races to support their incumbents, Democrats need to ask voters in all parts of the country the following questions:
-What moral values are on display in invading another country and killing 100,000 innocent people?
-Would Jesus have condoned sending over a thousand of our troops to their deaths for a set of lies?
-Why did the Catholic Church allow the GOP to work through its churches in 2004 to support Bush’s election when the Pope opposed the Iraq war?
-How does your all-consuming priority to be against gays and abortion and your purported commitment to Christ’s teachings justify your support for leaders who demonstrate so many other non-Christian values such as acceptance of poverty, discrimination, intolerance, greed, corruption, and bias?
As you can see, I am not advocating that we walk away from these voters and cede them to the GOP. Rather, in a pluralistic society where every voter has a responsibility to their communities and their country, in addition to their faith, I believe that the Democrats need to fully engage these alleged moral values voters and show them that a commitment to Christ’s teachings doesn’t stop at whatever issues are fed to you by the White House.