It's the Values, Stupid
In the last couple days, there's been a conscious effort to counter the growing consensus that the "moral values" issue (read: gay marriage) helped put Bush over the top. First, Tom Frank wrote an op-ed arguing that the Democrats' failure to offer "genuine economic populism" let the GOP push this wedge issue. Next, Paul Freedman argued that terrorism was the deciding factor, not values. Both these explanations, however, are wrong--gay marriage was the crucial factor in Bush's win, whether we like it or not, as the Legal Fiction blog points out:
[T]he relevant baseline is not 2000, but what Bush would have received in 2004 without the gay marriage issue on the radar. Second, the fact that the anti-values crowd voted for Bush by the same margin doesn't address the most important statistic. What's important, as Noam Scheiber writes, is that conservatives increased their share of the vote by five points nationally. That's a five-point increase of people voting for Bush by this margin. That wins Ohio and the presidency. Now, it's possible these people were so enthusiastic about Bush's bang-up job against terrorism that it drove them to the polls, but I doubt it.
But most importantly, this was an issue discussed all across the country in our nation's churches by their preachers. Both my parents and my in-laws mentioned that their preacher had talked about this issue a lot. I suspect this is true nationally as well. And because the national media isn't exactly aware of what goes on in these places, it flew under the radar. I suspect people heard about this issue Sunday after Sunday as the election grew near. It made Bush stronger in battleground states like Michigan and Ohio, and kept potential swing states like West Virginia and Arkansas out of reach.
This last paragraph is the key--gay marriage was the issue going into the election, but we didn't realize it, being the latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, sushi-eating coastal liberals that we are. More importantly, I think both Frank and Freedman are in denial about the tremendous hold that regional/cultural prejudice exerts on rural and evangelical voters. Thus, they concoct explanations that seem more appealing and logical to liberal minds. This is unfortunate, as liberals will have to drop their romanticized misconceptions about this voting bloc before we can make any real progress.
P.S.--I'm really getting tired of Tom Frank's schtick. The Kerry/Edwards campaign did run an economic populist message, attacking Bush's tax cuts for the rich and outsourcing, among other things. In addition, the DLC (Frank's bogeyman of choice) is a pale shadow of what it was during the Clinton era. Attacking the Democrats for pursuing the "usual soft centrism" is simply absurd. It's time to face the music, Tom--"economic populism" isn't the magic elixir you think it is.