Now that the rhetorical debris from the election and the analytical dust from the postmortems have settled, we can be more objective about what happened a fortnight ago.
If you believe the exit polls, a plurality of those voting for President George W. Bush did so on the basis of a moral agenda. Gay marriage and abortion, apparently, trumped the war on terror and the economy. The Christian fundamentalist right, it would seem, was turned on and turned out the vote.
First, that’s dumbfounding. Nothing in these United secular States is more important than security and the war on terror. Everything else – from protecting creationism and displaying the Ten Commandments in public places to partially privatizing Social Security and denting the deficit — is moot if we don’t win this one.
How will you feel, for example, about an otherwise mundane trip to Publix or a sortie to International Plaza after a suicide bomber detonates himself — or herself — at the Mall of the Americas? What will be the price in lives lost and economic chaos if a container-concealed dirty bomb goes off in a major American port? Nothing less than how we live the lives of free and free-enterprising Americans is at stake.
The question thus begged is: Have we helped or hurt our chances of maintaining those lives by what we’ve wrought in Iraq? While we hunt down whatever insurgents hadn’t already fled from Fallujah, are we addressing the root causes – ranging from being Ariel Sharon’s blank check-writing patron to being supporters of the corrupt Saudi royal family – that compel Islamic fanatics to attack America? Are we safer for having alienated a good chunk of the civilized world in a Middle East neo-con end game? Have we squandered the moral high ground we were accorded immediately after Sept. 11?
The election of 2004 should have been a referendum on Iraq. Nothing else should have been close. A foreign quagmire with American body bags is the sort of campaign crucible that deterred Lyndon Johnson from running for re-election in 1968 when much less was at stake. Ho Chi Minh was no Osama bin Laden.
But this time, according to exit polls, revenge for the Scopes trial might have mattered more than the security that guarantees such a debate in the first place.
Iraq is seen by some as a legitimate, pre-emptive extension of the war on terrorism that helps keep the homeland safer. Moreover, a time of war is never the right time to change commanders-in-chief. And, candidly, there’s never a good time to entrust a patrician liberal – even one with Super 8 footage of himself in Vietnam — with America’s security.
To others, Iraq is an ill-advised invasion followed by an ill-conceived occupation so botched that it has turned that country into a bloody, jihadi pep rally that imperils us even more. There’s no wiggle room here.
But back to those seemingly inexplicable exit polls that sited “moral values” as the overriding factor.
Here’s a possible explanation – one that doesn’t have anything to do with evangelicals. A sizable portion of that “moral values” vote might simply have been a cultural protest in the context of the United States now three years removed from Sept.11. The sort of message-sending vote that might have gone to George Wallace in another era.
Those voters, in effect, could have been echoing sentiments expressed memorably by the Peter Finch character in the movie “Network.” They were “mad as hell” and weren’t going “to take it any more.” The ballot as bullhorn.
Quite possibly, they were those who never fully recovered from trying to explain to their kids what it was that a former president actually did that brought on his impeachment. They were those who had nowhere else to turn and ranted against a popular culture that has never been more adversarial to those trying to raise kids properly. From Britney Spears to Grand Theft Auto. From “wardrobe malfunctions” to reality TV. From internet flotsam to vulgarian sports role models.
And in no particular order: Howard Stern, Michael Moore, Whoopie Goldberg, 50 Cent, institutionalized liberal media, champagne socialists, the ACLU, entitlement mentalities, mainstreamed hip-hop, in-your-face gaiety, diluted academic standards, celebrity trials, “edgy” anything, immigrants who don’t want to be Americans, diversity definitions that only apply to favored groups, the “Blame America First” crowd and get-out-the-vote campaigns that amount to little more than dragnets for the clueless. And Michael Moore…But, then again, that’s just a theory.