About Those 4 Million Evangelicals...
First, let me state that the discussion that we're having about values is important, and is something that is worth thinking about. However, along with this more abstract issue, we have to face the cold, hard political calculus: namely, what to do with the millions of rural and evangelical voters who put Bush over the top. I know some are arguing it was terrorism, not gay marriage, that was the deciding issue, but let's not kid ourselves: those hundreds of thousands of evangelicals who turned out in Ohio, for example, weren't primarily concerned about Osama, but rather "dudes kissing" as Jon Stewart put it. Anyway, the way I see it, there's two strategies the Democrats can pursue with regards to the evangelical vote.
The first approach is to find a way to persuade these groups to vote for a secular, Blue State liberals. I know many are urging that the Democrats nominate a Southern Dem in 2008, such as John Edwards to lure the rural/evangelical voters. This may be fine in the short term, but the harsh reality is that there simply aren't enough Southern moderates like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and John Edwards in the Democratic party--they are a rare (and dying) breed. Given that the Democratic Party's base of power is in the secular Blue States, we have to formulate ways to entice these groups to at least subordinate their regional/cultural prejudices.
This strategy, which Howard Dean has been pushing, is not to convert these voters to issues like gay rights (that's never gonna happen), but instead to persuade them to vote based on secular, economic concerns. This is what he means when he talked about the fact that Red Staters driving pickup trucks with Confederate flags need health care, too.
Unfortunately, I don't think this first strategy will succeed. Evangelicals view the world as being divided between Good and Evil. Republicans, being the cynical/manipulative bastards that they are, will always find some wedge issue that will convince these voters that the Blue State Democratic candidate is evil and/or un-Christian and un-American. This year, it was gay marriage. In 1988, it was Mike Dukakis vetoing a bill requiring teachers to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and being ridiculed for being a "card-carrying member of the ACLU" to boot. Got me?
The second, less appealing approach, is to actively neutralize/marginalize the evangelicals, and hope that a combination of the minority vote and liberal professionals will put the Democratic candidate over the top in states like Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina. I always thought the story of 4 million evangelicals staying at home in 2000 because of news about Bush's DUI was a myth. Apparently, I was wrong. To put it bluntly: if Republicans have been exploiting the prejudices of evangelical voters for decades, why can't we?
During the campaign, I was thinking about writing a post on the Bush abortion story, and how it could depress the evangelical turnout. I decided that this argument was too sleazy and underhanded (stupid liberal). Well, after this election, I am rid of this liberal, high-minded inhibition. If the Democrats can subtly insinuate that the Republican candidate isn't as "pure" as he appears, enough evangelicals will stay at home, as in 2000.
Obviously, the first approach that I outlined is instinctively appealing to liberals, while this second strategy is undoubtedly repugnant and decidedly illiberal to many of us. Interestingly, this tactic (suppressing turnout by ridiculing the opposing candidate) does have a history in the Democratic party, courtesy of Southern Democrats like LBJ and Sam Rayburn (see this legendary example). The question is, should we Blue State liberals resurrect this type of strategy to keep the evangelicals at home? We'll find out...